Vehicle Comparison: The 2011 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD vs. the Honda Pilot Touring
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Let’s get straight to the point: The 2011 Ford Explorer leapfrogs competitors like the 2011 Honda Pilot, shifting the seven-passenger SUV paradigm to the point that it actually competes against luxury vehicles with price tags $20,000 higher.
Since its introduction in 1991, the Ford Explorer has been one of the brand’s – and the world’s – best-selling models. For 2011, Ford sought to not only convert owners from competitive brands, but to reignite the base of six million Explorer owners in the United States. It brought a vehicle that exceeds expectations in every single category: Styling, interior quality, performance, technology and safety. It doesn’t just improve upon the Explorer it replaces. It simply replaces every other SUV.
Styling is subjective and hard to compare vehicle-to-vehicle. What you can take a look at is some of the comments in the media, regarding the redesign of both the Explorer and the Pilot. The 2011 Ford Explorer received almost unanimous high marks for its exterior redesign. The Car Connection noted that the Explorer offered “a convincing SUV body,” that “gave the Explorer a visual leg up on almost every other [competitor], even the expensive German ones.” For the Pilot, back in 2009, the most significant revision was to the exterior, and the reaction to the redesign was tepid at best with complaints about its angular styling and garish grille. In particular, USA Today wrote that the Pilot’s design didn’t stack up against any of its competitors, and specifically gave the Pilot poor marks for a raised hood line that “makes it hard to see where the path goes when cresting an off-pavement hill.”
Inside, the Ford Explorer achieves high marks for an interior The Car Connection described as “visually striking” and “well executed” while it kvetched about the Honda Pilot’s “gimmicky” and “overwrought” interior themes. While the Pilot relies on a lot of hard plastics and chunky interior design, the Explorer offers a contemporary passenger cabin with materials that signal quality at every turn.
All the requisite equipment is there in the Explorer Limited and the Pilot Touring – heated leather seats, three rows of flexible seating and ample storage. Where the Explorer shines is in the attention to quality: Tight margin gaps between interior panels, best-in-class materials and near-obsessive attention to reduction in noise, vibration and harshness. Ford engineers went as far as utilizing advanced technology called NoiseVision – a ball with hundreds of tiny cameras and microphones – to pinpoint and address potential noise issues early in the development process. The result is an interior that not only exceeds expectations for this segment, but in the luxury SUV segment as well.
Both the 2011 Explorer and the 2011 Honda Pilot offer a 3.5-liter V6, but that’s like saying they both offer four wheels and doors that open. The difference is in the actual performance, and here, the Explorer leaves the Pilot in the weeds. With 283 hp, the Explorer outguns the Pilot by an astonishing 40 hp. When Edmunds.com reviewed the Pilot, it noted that the Pilot felt “rather flat-footed off the line.” And the Explorer’s engine seems to be designed for long-term use, thanks to its durable timing chain, versus the Pilot’s timing belt, which typically needs to be replaced at frequent intervals, consuming hours of expensive labor.
“Carlike” has become the benchmark for ride quality in this segment. The Explorer tackles the requirement with a refined four-wheel independent suspension and electric power steering that provides steering feel unlike that of any other vehicle in the class. The suspension isolates harshness on the road, but also provides a vehicle that’s surprisingly fun to corner with. When Car and Driver reviewed the Pilot’s handling performance, editors complained of its “torque steer when accelerating vigorously out of corners.”
In the quest to provide drivers with the most forward-looking technology available, Ford comes armed to the teeth while the Pilot soldiers on with the same level of technology it had several years ago. The Explorer Limited features standard MyFord Touch™ technology, which includes a pair of cluster-mounted driver-configurable displays, an eight-inch LCD color touchscreen in the center stack with compass and temperature display, a media hub with a pair of USB ports and an SD card reader and RCA video input jacks. The Explorer Limited also provides five-way supplemental controls on the steering wheel. MyFord Touch complements Ford’s revolutionary SYNC® voice-activated, hands-free communication and entertainment system that seamlessly integrates your mobile devices, allowing you to utilize all the functions of your devices without ever taking your hands off the wheel, or your eyes off the road. The Pilot Touring has a USB port and Bluetooth® connectivity.
In the safety arena, the Explorer is over-prepared in the event of a crash. Along with the requisite driver, passenger and side-curtain-style airbags that the Pilot offers, the Ford Explorer steps into battle with a suite of features not found in the class, or any other class for that matter. Example: Rear-seat passengers in the Explorer are not only protected by the Safety Canopy® full-length airbags, but also by available rear inflatable seatbelts that combine the security of a seatbelt with the crash protection of an airbag. And if those airbags do deploy, the Explorer incorporates pressure-based crash sensors that deploy side airbags 30 percent faster than the traditional side airbags in the Pilot, which use acceleration-based sensors.
For all this quality, performance, technology and safety equipment, you’d expect that the Explorer Limited 4WD would be thousands more than the Pilot Touring. But there’s the last surprise. The 2011 Explorer Limited 4WD starts at more than $1,000 less than the 2011 Pilot Touring ($39,365 versus $40,395).
Comparably equipped, the trend continues with the Explorer coming in at $40,170 to the Pilot’s $41,175, giving you 1,005 more reasons to stop by and test-drive the 2011 Explorer Limited 4WD today.
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