Big changes are under way for the Explorer, the best-selling SUV, and they are coming in stages instead of one fell swoop. The two-door Explorer Sport was restyled and released in the spring as an early 2001 model. The new Explorer Sport Trac also arrived in the spring, based on the regular four-door Explorer but with an open cargo bed.
A new version of the four-door Explorer was anticipated this fall but now will arrive early next year as a 2002 model. Until then, the current four-door carries over.
The 2002 Explorer four-door is larger outside and roomier inside, though it looks much like the current model. However, it looks a lot different than the companion Mercury Mountaineer, which also will be redesigned.
Ford changed nearly every body panel on the two-door Explorer Sport, though in some areas the sheet metal changes little. The most noticeable changes are the new hood, grille and front bumper, which are shared with the Sport Trac. The Sport is 181 inches long about 10 inches shorter than the four-door.
The two-door Sport seats four, and the four-door holds five with a three-place rear bench providing the additional position. All models have front bucket seats, but fancier captains chairs and leather upholstery are available. The rear seatbacks are split and fold for extra cargo room on all models. Cargo volume is nearly 70 cubic feet on the Sport and 82 on the four-door model.
Among interior changes for 2001, the Sport has a new instrument cluster with black-on-white graphics.
Under the Hood
The base engine for Explorer is now a 4.0-liter V-6 with 210 horsepower and overhead camshafts. An overhead-valve 4.0-liter V-6 that was the base engine last year has been dropped. A 215-hp 5.0-liter V-8 with overhead valves is optional on the four-door Explorer.
Antilock brakes are standard, and side-impact airbags for the front seats and the Reverse Sensing System are optional. The Reverse Sensing System alerts drivers with warning beeps that objects behind the vehicle are within 6 feet. As the objects become closer, the beeps sound more frequently and become a continuous tone when the object is within 10 inches.
Though there is much to recommend on the current four-door Explorer, preliminary information indicates that the 2002 model is worth waiting for, with significant improvements to the interior and more carlike ride and handling. The current Explorer is a traditional SUV with more of a trucklike ride. If youre looking for a deal, however, the best bargains will be on leftover 2000 models and the 2001s.