31st March 2011

Why We Tested a Preproduction Ford Explorer

posted in Car News Articles |
The internet has caught fire! In case you missed it, today’s basic gripe goes a little something like this. Us hacks at Motor Trend did a six-way SUV comparison test and put the brand spankin’ new Ford Explorer dead last. And – are you sitting down – we (gasp!) tested a… I can hardly type, my hands refuse to cease trembling… we tested a PREPRODUCTION VEHICLE!!! Please retroactively cancel my subscription for the last decade. Jerks. That’s fair, but here’s the thing. We didn’t know the Explorer was preproduction until after we handed it back to Ford in pieces.

A couple of points if I may. It’s not like we pulled a fast one on Ford. We ordered up a car for this comparison on December 20, 2010, seven weeks before before we took delivery of the vehicle on February 14, 2011. One would assume that’s more than enough time to get us a production vehicle. Why, the Dodge Durango launch was a few weeks after the Explorer’s, yet somehow Dodge managed to get us an actual production truck for our test.

Which brings up another point – how long has Ford been launching new cars? Put another way, how long have the new products Ford launches been instantly thrown into comparison tests against competitive products? Again, maybe you prefer our buff book competitors, but it’s not exactly like Motor Trend just crawled out from under a rock. Not only that, Ford knows full well what we do with not only their cars and trucks, but with all the cars, trucks, vans and SUVs that we test. We beat the snot out of them, for a week straight. Especially when we do comparison tests. Which is exactly what our road test editor told Ford we’d be doing with the Explorer almost two full months before they delivered it.

Back to the original point, when we took delivery of the Explorer, Ford never said one word about it being a preproduction vehicle. Now, on occasion a manufacturer does hand you over a preproduction product. When they do, two things tend to happen. The first is that they tell you about it. A phone call or an email materializes from a PR person explaining that the car is preproduction, it’s about 90% complete, don’t worry about part X, it’s being addressed, etc. We didn’t get that message until after Ford had the Explorer back in their possession. The other thing that happens with preproduction cars is that they get a warning tag on the passenger sun visor that states, “Preproduction Vehicle.” Not on the Explorer we tested.

I wrote the comparison and I’m the one making the excuses. I’m doing so because I feel a little hung out to dry. None of us here at Motor Trend had any notion that the Explorer was preproduction until after I’d turned in my story and the car was back in Ford’s hands. Once we were alerted to this, our entire editorial team went back and forth trying to figure out if we should even mention all the product defects we encountered. We felt we should, because not only were there so many of them, but because one in particular — MyFord Touch rebooting while the vehicle’s in motion — is affecting other Fords.

But let me be clear about one final point. A properly sorted production 2011 Ford Explorer still would have finished in last place. It’s simply not as good as the competition.

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