Fords reworked Explorer sport utility vehicle arrived as an early 2002 model; it was enlarged from compact to midsize dimensions. A corporate twin to the Mercury Mountaineer, the fully redesigned Explorer promised significant improvements and a fresh look.
Engineers devised an innovative porthole-in-frame independent rear suspension that featured shafts that poke through holes drilled into the frame. In addition to a refined ride, this configuration allowed a lower step-in height and space for an optional third-row seat.
Second-row bucket seats go into 2004 Eddie Bauer and Limited models with third-row seating. The companys AdvanceTrac electronic stability system is now available on both V-6- and V-8-equipped Explorers. An Off-Road Package that features 17-inch wheels, black cladding and step bars is standard with the NBX edition.
Four-door Explorers come in five trim levels: XLS, XLT, NBX, Eddie Bauer and Limited; Sport versions of the XLS and XLT are also available. Ford no longer offers the two-door Explorer Sport model.
Certain styling touches, such as a brawny front end, are supposed to hark back to the original 1990s Explorer. Good-sized door openings coupled with the reduced step-in height make entry and exit easier.
Built on a 113.8-inch wheelbase, the Explorer measures 189.5 inches long overall. Ground clearance is 8.5 inches. Lowered bumpers are roughly compatible with a midsize sedan in a minor collision. Options include a power moonroof and running boards.
Seating for five people is standard, but a third-row seat that allows for a seven-passenger capacity may be installed. Standard XLS equipment includes a rear wiper and washer, remote keyless entry, cruise control and a CD player. The XLT adds a cargo cover, an overhead console, a six-way power drivers seat, an outside-temperature display and a compass.
The Eddie Bauer and Limited models include dual-zone automatic temperature control, power-adjustable pedals, an in-dash six-CD changer, heated leather bucket seats and heated mirrors. Cargo volume in the five-passenger Explorer totals 81.7 cubic feet with the rear seat folded forward. A DVD entertainment system for the rear seat is optional.
Under the Hood
A 4.0-liter V-6 engine develops 210 horsepower, while the optional 4.6-liter V-8 produces 239 hp. Both engines mate with a five-speed-automatic transmission. Explorers may have rear-wheel drive or ControlTrac four-wheel drive.
Antilock brakes are standard. Optional side curtain-type airbags may be augmented by a Safety Canopy system that features rollover sensors. Fords AdvanceTrac system combines traction control with electronic stability control. A Reverse Sensing System that detects obstacles while backing up is optional.
Unlike earlier Explorers, which were quite trucky, the current version is more refined and carlike. The suspension produces a ride experience thats suitable for a modern SUV.
The Explorers performance is adequate with V-6 power, but it falls short of vigorous. Acceleration isnt quite overpowering with the V-8, but its decidedly stronger. Shifts from the automatic transmission are noticeable, but the result isnt particularly bothersome. A moderate drone occurs during acceleration.
The Explorer is easy to drive and maneuver; it handles capably enough. Though it is stable in tight curves, this SUV might not instill the kind of higher-speed confidence that some drivers prefer. Interior space is abundant, but the moonroof cuts a bit into the drivers headroom.