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by Matt Brogan

Our spy photographers have today caught a 2011 Ford Explorer prototype with some of the camouflage peeled away and managed to get off a few frames before it was hastily recovered.

We’re now able to see the cutline of the rear door, the shape of the rear glass and the chrome door handles you can expect to see on all four doors. We can see the rear doors on the new Explorer are not nearly as squared-off as the current (US) model. The cutline of the rear door also seems to reinforce the rumours we’ve heard of the new Explorer having a C-pillar very similar to the recently discontinued Taurus X.

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Code-named “U502,” this all-new Ford Explorer is in for a big change. While Ford’s iconic SUV has always ridden on a body-on-frame chassis, the 2011 model will switch to the D4 unibody platform. Ford’s D4 platform, a moderately updated version of the D3, currently underpins the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT.

Ford is hoping for a significant weight drop, and in turn, 20-25 per cent better fuel economy, by switching the Explorer to a unibody setup. The two powertrains we have confirmed for the Explorer are the 2.0-litre four-cylinder Ecoboost and the regular, naturally aspirted 3.5-litre V6. While the twin-turbo, Ecoboost V6 could still find its way into the Explorer sometime after launch, it may only be part of police of package.

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Under the camouflage, we can see a typical Ford three-bar grille. You also get a look at an impressive pair of projector headlights and trick set of LED taillights. On the inside, expect three rows of seats, with the third row being jump seats.

One thing you should not expect with this new Explorer is a Mercury or Lincoln variant. We’ve also learned there will be no Sport Trac model. Watch for production to start in the second half of 2010 at Chicago’s Torrence Avenue assembly plant.




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