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Mark Phelan: 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline adds off-road capability, styling

Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

The popular Ford Explorer three-row SUV will add an off-road-oriented model this summer in a bid to attract new customers and compete with the upcoming Jeep Grand Cherokee L, which was developed to win some of the same family buyers the Explorer caters to.

The summer arrival of the 2021 Explorer Timberline opens a new front in the hotly competitive battle for SUV sales. SUVs now account for more than 55% of U.S. vehicle sales.

The Timberline gets a Torsen limited slip rear differential, 0.8-inch increased ride height, bright orange front tow hooks and other goodies to set it apart from run of the mill Explorers.

“Ford has put all its eggs in SUVs since basically getting out of car sales,” Motor Trend Detroit Editor Alisa Priddle said. “They don’t want to leave any part of the segment untapped.”

While Jeeps traditionally offer significant off-road capability, the Timberline’s emphasis is new for the Ford Explorer.

The Explorer and the Grand Cherokee L both have three rows of seats. Three-row SUVs have traditionally been either midsize suburban family haulers or bigger Ford Expedition-type SUVs with cavernous interiors and lots of towing capacity.


The Timberline and Grand Cherokee L arrive as automakers strive to make their SUVs stand out in a crowd of three-row family models that includes the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.

“People are doing more outdoorsy (things) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Auto Trader executive analyst Michelle Krebs said. “The Explorer Timberline plays into that lifestyle.”

2021 Ford Explorer Timberline features

—All-wheel drive


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