Code-named U-502, the next-generation 2011 Ford Explorer will feature advanced safety features including a new system dubbed Curve Control.

Code-named U-502, the next-generation 2011 Ford Explorer will feature advanced safety features including a new system dubbed Curve Control.

It’s similar in basic concept to the Electronic Stability Control systems that will become a requirement on all new cars, trucks and crossovers over the next few years. But where ESC helps prevent skids, technically known as “oversteer,” Curve Control is designed to prevent an equally dangerous condition known as “understeer.”

That situation occurs when you try to steer through a corner but the car doesn’t turn as much as necessary. Using sensors such as those that measure wheel speed, steering wheel angle and vehicle yaw – the way the vehicle is turning around its center access – Curve Control will be able to measure and correct for understeer by applying the brakes to one or more wheels and cutting engine power.

The 2011 Ford Explorer will also feature the first automotive use of an integrated seatbelt airbag system, which will be offered for rear-seat passengers.

Ford will also take a cue from Land Rover, the British sport-utility brand it recently sold, and integrate the new Terrain Management system into the 2011 Explorer. The technology allows a motorist to rotate a dial to adjust everything from brakes, transmission and throttle response to their optimum settings for specific road and driving conditions – everything from gravel and mud to snow and ice.

But the biggest change for 2011 will be out of sight of the average motorist. Since its introduction two decades ago, Explorer has been a classic, body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle. U-502 switches to a car-based unibody platform.

Though Ford claims it hasn’t compromised off-road or towing capabilities, the new model should deliver a more comfortable and stable ride – and better fuel economy. Some estimates suggest it could yield more than 25 mpg on the highway, though specific powertrain details won’t be released until later in the year.

The new model couldn’t come soon enough for Ford, which has seen sales of the once-dominant Explorer brand plunge over the last decade.

Few expect the new model to come close to the 445,000 Explorers sold during the 2000 model year -- not with all the competition today -- but considering Ford’s steadily improving reputation for quality, fuel economy and advanced technology, the next Explorer could pick up some old fans looking for a reason to return to the brand.

Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than 30 years covering the global auto industry. His work appears in a wide range of publications worldwide, and he is a frequent broadcast commentator on subjects automotive.

2011 Ford Explorer

Seating: Up to three rows, possibly up to eight passengers.

Advanced safety features: Curve Control, Electronic Stability Control, Terrain Management Control, rear seat belts with integrated airbags.

Anticipated fuel economy: Early reports predict highway mileage of up to 25 mpg.

Price: TBD, but likely similar to that of the outgoing 2010 Explorer.