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Ford Explores Gentler Terrain With its Iconic SUV

The 2011 Ford Explorer . Base price: $28,360; MPG: 17 city / 25 highway

What it is : A more practical SUV. For nearly two decades, Ford’s old truck-based Explorer offered pavement-bound drivers the ability to go off-road if they ever needed to. Most never did, but imagining themselves as rugged individualists brought automotive satisfaction to millions of Explorer owners -- and earned Ford a lot of money. The new Explorer is less burly but more appealing. It’s more of a “crossover” than an SUV, built on a car chassis that might stumble over stumps, but offers a plusher highway ride and better handling on curves.

What’s worth knowing : Automakers are trying to lure families with spacious, stylish crossovers that have many of the comforts of a minivan, but look cooler. The redesigned Explorer, for instance, has a built-in third row seat and tons of convenience features.

Who it’s for : Families with two or more kids who contribute to the carpool, plus hunter-gatherer types who want lots of space and decent towing capability.

What’s good: A sharp, boxy design; a cushy interior, including wide seats fit for the modern American bottom; family hauling prowess without the minivan stigma; and a potent direct-injection V-6 that does the work of a V-8 with better mileage. Mileage is decent for a large vehicle. Note: No V-8 is available.

What’s bad : That muscular body can feel bulky in parking lots. Also, the “MyFord Touch” digital controls on upscale models can be overcomplicated and confusing.

What to do : If you used to love SUVs, follow Ford’s lead and consider a mellower crossover. Also check out the GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse and newly redesigned Dodge Durango.

Everything else you need to know : http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/Ford_Explorer

Rick Newman, who has written for U.S. News for more than 15 years, covers corporate and consumer trends from the magazine’s New York bureau. He is also the magazine’s car reviewer. He will be reviewing automobiles here on a regular basis, as well as writing about all things vehicular.

Follow Rick on Twitter, @rickjnewman.

Click here for e verything else you need to know .

Rick Newman, who has written for U.S. News for more than 15 years, covers corporate and consumer trends from the magazine's New York bureau. He is also the magazine's car reviewer. He will be reviewing automobiles here on a regular basis, as well as writing about all things vehicular.

Follow Rick on Twitter, @rickjnewman.

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