The Ford Explorer has had a mixed past--rollover lawsuits, relatively ancient underpinnings and styling that hasn't always kept up with the pace of the industry. But that's all about to change with the 2011 Explorer, and despite its move to the unibody Taurus platform, it's upping the ante on off-road electronics with a new terrain management system to get the most out of its four-wheel drive system.

Ford says the new terrain management system will allow the vehicle to optimize its power application for conditions ranging from snow to sand to mud and hill descents. The new electronics also eliminate the need for a heavy and fuel-economy sapping transfer case by using existing powertrain and brake systems to modulate wheelspin and power distribution.

A single console-mounted knob lets the driver select the appropriate setting, much like the similar (though more hardcore) system found in Land Rover and Range Rover SUVs.

The new traction management system joins a lineup of EcoBoost four- and six-cylinder engines in the 2011 Explorer, which Ford hopes will help the new model deliver up to 25 percent better fuel economy than the current Explorer, without sacrificing power or much in the way of offroad capability.

For more on the 2011 Ford Explorer, check out our spy shot story here.