With pandemic lockdowns making it difficult to get together with friends and family, Americans headed for the hills — and other natural locations — in record numbers this past year. Now, Ford wants to give them an SUV that’s comfortable and capable both on- and off-road.
The automaker is adding an all-new version of its Explorer line and hints the Timberline badge will be showing up on other Ford SUVs going forward.
“We’ve certainly seen a surge in the level of people looking to get outdoors during the pandemic,” said Lee Newcombie, marketing manager for the Explorer line-up. “We think we have (found) a little bit of white space in that (the 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline) is well balanced in terms of on-road manners … as well as some good off-roading capability.”
The Explorer Timberline is the seventh Ford truck introduced since 2019, including all-new models like the Bronco and Bronco Sport, makeovers like the 2020 Explorer, and new trim and performance lines like the 2021 Explorer Timberline.
The latter model undergoes a number of design changes, inside and out, with an effort on enhancing off-road capabilities.
The revised bumpers, for example, increase the standard Explorer’s approach and departure angles, as well as its ground clearance. New skidplates, front, center and rear, reduce the risk of damage from clambering over rocks, fallen trees and other obstacles. There are bright red functional tow hooks up front, as well.
Other exterior tweaks include an upper grille that is wired and ready for dealer-installed trail lighting. The new, 18-inch dark gloss aluminum wheels are shod with Bridgestone tires offering more bite on slippery trails.
Inside, the Explorer Timberline adds unique appliques and trim, with deep stitching around the seats and door. The seats include grippy cloth inserts to keep occupants in place while traveling off-road, and the seats and floors use easy-to-clean materials.
The 3-row Timberline will come standard with Ford’s turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine making 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission sending power to all four wheels. A Torsen limited-slip differential is the notable addition here, capable of directing power to one or both of the rear wheels, depending upon which of them have grip.
The new Explorer model will have the advantage of offering lots of room for those who “need (something) off-road capable,” said Newcombe, but “also need to have room for family and friends and … gear.”
While it won’t have the absolute go-anywhere capabilities of the new Bronco models, it offers more than most of today’s SUVs that can barely manage anything more than a gravel road, Ford officials said, with Newcombe billing this as “the most off-road capable Explorer ever.”
The package allows the Timberline to tow up to 5,300 pounds. It still manages an EPA rating of 19 mpg city, 23 highway and 21 combined.
Ford is now taking orders for the 2021 Explorer Timberline, with deliveries set to begin this summer. The off-road model starts at $45,765, before adding in $1,245 in delivery fees.
Competition getting tougher
Ford isn’t the only automaker hoping to take advantage of the boom in off-roading — industry data estimating Americans will spend about $900 billion this year on outdoor recreation activities like camping, skiing and kayaking.
Brands as diverse as Honda, Hyundai and Jeep have been adding more off-road capable packages and the trend is expected to continue.
“We don’t see that (trend) slowing,” Newcombe said during a media background briefing this week.
The Timberline badge is “something we’ll be looking to expand into the rest of the Ford SUV line-up,” the Explorer marketing exec said during the online briefing, adding that we can expect to hear “more news later this year.”