Ford's reworked Explorer sport utility vehicle arrived as an early 2002 model. 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 with 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.
For 2005, Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability system with Roll Stability Control is standard on all models. During the 2005 model year, all audio systems gain MP3 and Sirius Satellite Radio capabilities. Four-door Explorers come in four basic trim levels: XLS, XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited.
Certain styling touches, like a brawny front end, are supposed to hark back to the original 1990s Explorer. Large door openings coupled with a reduced step-in height help ease entry and exit.
Built on a 114-inch wheelbase, the Explorer measures 189.5 inches long overall. Ground clearance is 9.4 inches. Ford says the bumpers are roughly compatible with a midsize sedan in a minor collision. A power moonroof is optional, and the Limited model features running boards.
Seating for five occupants is standard, but a fold-flat third-row seat that permits seven-passenger capacity may be installed. Standard XLS equipment includes a rear wiper/washer, remote keyless entry, cruise control and a CD player. The XLT adds an overhead console, a six-way power driver's seat, front lumbar adjustment, an outside-temperature display and a compass.
The Eddie Bauer and Limited models include dual-zone automatic temperature control, power-adjustable pedals with a memory feature, an in-dash six-CD changer, heated leather front bucket seats and heated mirrors. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is optional.
Under the Hood
Either a 210-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 or a 239-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 powers the Explorer. Both engines team with a five-speed-automatic transmission. Explorers may have rear- or four-wheel drive.
Antilock brakes and the AdvanceTrac electronic stability system with Roll Stability Control are standard. Ford's Safety Canopy side curtain-type airbag system and a Reverse Sensing System that detects obstacles while backing up are optional.
Unlike earlier Explorers, which were quite trucklike, the current version is more refined. The suspension produces a ride experience that's suitable for a modern SUV.
Performance is adequate with V-6 power, but it falls short of vigorous. Acceleration isn't quite overpowering with the V-8, but it's decidedly stronger. Shifts from the automatic transmission are noticeable but not particularly bothersome. A moderate drone occurs during acceleration.
The Explorer is easy to drive and maneuver, and it handles capably enough. Though it is stable in tight curves, this SUV might not instill higher-speed confidence in some drivers. Interior space is abundant, but the moonroof cuts a bit into driver headroom.
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