There are more than a dozen mid size SUVs for buyers to choose from with prices under $40,000. Most models in this class offer third row seating with room for up to seven occupants. After reviewing models in this category with criteria such as price, power, fuel-economy, safety, and interior space, our vote for the best 2011 mid size SUV is the Ford Explorer.
The 2011 Explorer is all-new. It is a midsize SUV model with three rows of seating for up to seven passengers. It is an important model for Ford as it hopes to regain its place as a top selling SUV. For the first time in the model’s 20 year history, the Explorer is built from a car platform, which it shares with the Taurus. All prior Explorers were built on a truck-based platform. This new body style means a quieter, lighter, more aerodynamic, more fuel efficient and better handling Explorer.
Ford has made significant improvements to the Explorer, beyond just the structure and attractive body styling. The Explorer is spacious inside with 80.7 total cubic feet of cargo room with the second and third row seats folded flat, 43.8 cubic feet with the third row folded flat, and 21 cubic feet of rear cargo room with all seats back up. The Explorer also has a relatively spacious 33.2 inches of third row legroom.
The 2011 Explorer is offered in three trim lines: base, XLT, and Limited. The XLT with all-wheel drive has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $33,190. It comes standard with air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, power seats, CD player, ABS brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, and driver, passenger, and side airbags. Optional features include sunroof, leather seats, and navigation.
The Explorer comes standard with a 3.5-liter 290-horsepower V-6 engine. It has fuel economy of 17-mpg city and 25-mpg highway in front-wheel drive and 17-mpg city and 23-mpg highway with all-wheel drive, which is class best among gas powered engines. This is impressive as the 290 horsepower engine is the most powerful in the class, along with the 2011 Dodge Durango. Fuel economy is helped by the Explorer’s standard six-speed automatic transmission.
Ford has done away with the V-8 option for the Explorer. However, it is introducing a turbo-charged four-cylinder Explorer later this year, which is expected to produce 237 horsepower while getting EPA rated fuel economy of 18-mpg city and 26-mpg highway.
The 2011 Explorer is a big step for Ford. It offers a great ride, solid handling, and a high quality interior in the mid size class. The Explorer was also earned a top safety pick rating from the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety making it one of the safest 2011 SUVs and was awarded North American Truck of the Year at the 2011 North American International Auto Show. These are some of the many reasons that in our opinion it is the best 2011 mid size SUV.
Other strong competitors in the mid size SUV class worth considering include the Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, and Ford Flex. The Highlander Hybrid is more expensive with a base 4X4 having an MSRP of $37,490. However, it offers great fuel economy for its class with 28-mpg city and 28-mpg highway while still delivering 280 horsepower from its gas-electric hybrid engine.
If your budget surpasses $40,000, buyers may wish to consider more luxurious seven-passenger SUV models such as the Acura MDX, Buick Enclave and Volvo XC90.