Ford had a better idea. With folks complaining about the high price of sport-utility vehicles, theautomaker came out with a bargain-basement version '98 Explorer with a baseprice of only $19,880. OK, maybe most folks don't carry $19,880 around with them, but in the SUVworld, that's a relatively low price considering most go out the door for$25,000 to $30,000. Only catch is that the low-cost Explorer Sport is a two-door, not the morepopular four-door. And the Sport we tested was a two-wheel-drive two-door, notthe more popular 4WD. Rather than work on a price that would make thefour-door more affordable, Ford simply went the two-door route. Ford says the intent was to have an Explorer that would attract attentionfrom the Jeep Wrangler, Chevrolet Tracker, Suzuki Sidekick, Honda CR-V andToyota RAV4. The Sport, no doubt, is a stopgap meant to give Ford a low-cost model untilthe new Mazda-developed Jeep Cherokee-size sport-ute is ready for market inthe fall of 1999. Ford will share it with its Japanese partner. Ironically, the upcoming sport-ute will have four doors, offer 2WD and 4WDand be powered by a 4-cylinder engine, the small power plant to keep thesticker price in Chevy Tracker and Jeep Wrangler territory. The Sport is a very nice SUV but to get in the second seat, you must firstsign up for Weight Watchers. Two more doors also would make it easier to loador unload cargo in back. Standard equipment includes dual bags, four-wheel disc brakes withfour-wheel ABS, power steering, heavy-duty gas shocks, rear-windowwiper/defroster, privacy glass, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with cassette,power windows/locks/mirrors, speed control, tilt wheel and a 12-volt powerplug. The two-door is aimed at youth on a budget, provided you don't get carriedaway with options. The test vehicle started at $19,880, to which was added preferredequipment, convenience and premium sport packages totaling more than $3,200.Ford typically talks in terms of packages without elaborating what theyinclude. If you call the option package information department (Ford's largestdivision, by the way), you find that the packages that added all that moneyalso added a luggage rack, all-terrain tires, cloth-covered captain's chairs,wheel-lip moldings, door steps, CD player, tow hooks and chrome wheels. To that you add $540 for the more powerful 4-liter, 205-horsepower singleoverhead cam V-6 rated at 15 m.p.g. city/20 m.p.g. highway, rather than thebase 4-liter, 160-h.p. V-6 rated at 16/20, and $1,065 for a 5-speed automaticrather than 5-speed manual. With a few more sundries that were equallyconfusing, plus a $525 freight charge, the $19,880 Sport became a $26,605SPORT. But $2,060 in Sport discounts brought the sticker down to $24,545, enoughto buy a Jeep Wrangler and a ticket so Chrysler Chairman Bob Eaton can fly toyour hous e to deliver it. In comparison to the "low-cost" 2WD, two-door Sport we tested, a 2WDfour-door Explorer XL starts at $21,560, a 2WD four-door Explorer XLT startsat $24,740. A two-door, 4WD Sport starts at $22,735; a four-door, 4WD XL at $23,480; afour-door 4WD XLT at $26,745. Lot of money, but you'll get most of that back at trade-in time if you livein the Snow Belt. The 4WD system in the two-door as in the four-door isControlTrac, the dial-up 4WD system that does away with a transfer case. Explorer pricing will bear watching over the next year. If Explorer startsat $19,880, the upcoming smaller entry-level SUV from Mazda would probablyhave to be priced around $16,000 to $16,500 to maintain the gap between it andExplorer. The higher Ford raises Explorer prices over the next year, the higher baseprice it can put on the entry-level model and boast about a $4,000 or $5,000price spread. Stay tuned. >>1998 Ford Explorer Sport
© 1998 Chicago TribuneWheelbase: 102 inchesLength: 178.6 inchesEngine: 4-liter, 205 h.p. V-6Transmission: 5-speed automaticFuel economy: 15 m.p.g. city/20 m.p.g. highwayBase price: $19,880Price as tested: $24,020. Includes $650 for preferred equipment package;$2,000 for premium sport package; $665 for convenience package; $540 for4-liter, SOHC V-6; $1,065 for 5-speed automatic; $1,020 for cloth bucketseats; $175 for cassette/CD player; and $85 for floor mats; minus $2,060 inSport discounts. Add $525 for freight.Pluses: Lower cost than 4WD or four-door Explorer. Dual air bags.Four-wheel ABS. Sits high to see down the road. Room to hold people andpackages.Minuses: Lower cost until you add the options. Option packages need moredetailed explanation. $1,065 for a 5-speed automatic.>>
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