The more you drive it, the more you love it

Itís pretty easy to fall in love at first sight with the all-new Ford Explorer.

While I reviewed the 2011 Explorer during the initial product launch late last year, I had an opportunity for an extended test drive this week in the the top of the line Limited trim level.

The timing couldnít have been better. With our youngest son Alex graduating from high school, Kathy and I had family visiting from all over the country.

Needless to say, everyone was impressed with the new Explorer.

While the seven-passenger seating came in handy, I couldnít help but demonstrate several of the new features, including the award-winning MyFord Touch driver connect technology with Ford Sync.

To kind of give you an idea of how revolutionary this system is I have an analogy. Think of the old television sets that you had to physically get up, walk across the room and change the channel. Then think of todayís television with a single remote that controls the television, satellite and DVR, all from the comfort of your own chair.

Itís a lot like that, only instead of flipping channels via the remote, you just give a verbal command and the car does the rest.

It really is that simple to change the radio, adjust the temperature, program a destination on the navigation system and even make or receive a call from your cell phone without ever taking your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road.

And I would be remiss if I didnít mention how many comments Iíve received during the past week from my† ďpassengersĒ on noting impressed they were with the ride or how quiet the cabin is ó even when riding in the third row seat.

And yes, we were able to carry on conversations between the first and third rows easily ó something my father-in-law never thought possible in an SUV.

And while this weekís test vehicle featured the fully-loaded Explorer Limited trim level with all the bells and whistles, I have to point out that even the base Explorer (starting at $28,995) is very, very nicely equipped.

All 2011 Explorer models include MyFord Touch connect technology with a 4.2-inch LCD screen; MyKey owner control feature; air filtration system; media hub; Easy Fuel capless fuel filler; cruise control; power windows with one-touch down; power door locks with child safety rear door locks; tilt-telescoping steering column; four 12-volt power points and cargo hooks, among others.

Available in front- or four-wheel drive configurations, the 2011 Explorer is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that delivers 290 horsepower and 255 lbs.-ft. torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway for front-wheel drive (17/23 respectively for four-wheel drive models).

A 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo 1-4 offering even greater fuel economy will also be offered as an optional engine on the new Explorer.

And speaking of four-wheel drive, all 4WD Explorer models feature Fordís terrain management system that takes the guess work out of maximizing four-wheel drive capability. Rather than employment of four-high, four-low and auto settings, the terrain management system is selectable by situation ó normal, mud, sand or snow ó simply by selecting the proper icon on the dial (photo at right).

The new Explorer also features curve control technology, giving the vehicle the ability to sense when a driver is taking a curve too quickly and rapidly reduces engine torque and apply four-wheel braking, slowing the vehicle by up to 10 mph in about a second.

When it comes to safety, the new Explorer is absolutely loaded, making it one of the safest SUVs on the road.

While itís easy to fall in love with the all-new Explorer on the lot of your local Ford dealership, the more you drive it, the more you love it.

For those in the market for an SUV or crossover, the all-new Ford Explorer is an absolute must for the test drive list.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 20 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association.