Versus the competiton:
Rather than park a BMW or Mercedes or even a Lincoln or Cadillac in the driveway, a growing number of folks are opting for a Ford Explorer or a Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicle.
In many cases, a sport utility vehicle-or SUV-is considered more socially acceptable than a luxury car. The brief experience with the counterculture called yuppies helped bring about the acceptance of SUVs. At $30,000, an SUV is less ostentatious than a $50,000 luxury car-and it keeps $20,000 in your pocket or purse.
Equally important, not only are you saving money, you are remaining fashionably correct because SUVs are the most popular “in” machine of the ’90s. You can spend $30,000 rather than $50,000 and still be the envy of friends, neighbors, relatives and fellow workers. Such a deal.
Why an SUV rather than a 500SL? We test-drove a 1993 Ford Explorer Limited,the creme de la creme of Ford’s SUV offerings, to find out. Appropriately, theLimited was finished in deep regal purple from hood to hatch and even the running boards in between. Ford calls the color “dark cranberry,” which is a misnomer; it should be called “deep grape.”
It’s easy to see why some luxury buyers are opting for an SUV rather than asedan. The Limited has everything-power brakes/steering/windows/mirrors/seats/door locks; AM/FM radio with cassette and digital clock; tilt steering wheel; trip odometer, body-color grille/bodyside moldings/bumper rub strips/fascia with integrated fog lights; overhead console with compass and temperature readings; remote keyless entry with key fob door lock/unlock controls; inside hood release; one-piece tailgate with flip-open rear window; dual cupholders along with stowage/coin holder in center console; and cruise control, to name the major items.
Our test vehicle covered all seasons and all circumstances. It came with push-button four-wheel drive, so you only needed to press the “4×4” switch on the dash to engage all four wheels. Rain, snow, sand and on or off the road were taken care of with 4WD. And four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard to provide straight stops regardless of road conditions.
For those who like to go off-road, 15-inch all-terrain tires are standard. All-terrain tires, however, seem to have minds of their own at times in corners and in turns on dry or even wet pavement. We’d opt for the narrower all-season tires instead.
SUVs have a higher center of gravity than cars, and all-terrain tires only serve to magnify the height difference and make for a feeling of uneasiness during aggressive maneuvering-especially on sharp corners at speed. The Limited’s suspension was a bit soft to begin with, and all-terrain tires at times added to handling vagueness.
We’d also prefer the smaller all-season tires because most 4WD vehicles never leave the pavement. All-season tires are more road-friendly than all-terrain tires. Plus, the Limited’s power-steering system is very r esponsive and requires only fingertip effort to head in the direction you point the nose. The slightly oversize all-terrain tires sometimes have a tendency to overreact to wheel input-another reason we’d choose the all-seasontires.
The Limited, like all Explorers, is powered by a 4-liter, 160-horsepower V-6 engine teamed with 4-speed automatic. Good performance, but the mileage rating is 15 miles per gallon city/20 m.p.g. highway. A couple more miles per gallon in both city/highway driving would be appreciated.
Explorer Limited is a good looking and pleasant-driving machine with room for four adults and all their vacation gear, but we’d like to see a few changes made when the Explorer comes up for its styling overhaul in the 1995 model year.
The first change that needs to be made-and thankfully it’s coming-is the addition of air bags. The 1993 has none, but the 1995 will have driver- and passenger-side cushions.
Also, the engineers need to give the s eat belts a look. The holder for the belts rests too low to the floor and is trapped between the seat and the center console. It makes attaching the metal clip to the holder more difficultthan it need be. Raising the holder 2 inches would help.
Then, too, our test vehicle came with a manual glass sunroof. You have to twist a large dial to open and close (raise or lower) the glass. In a luxury machine such as the Limited, a power glass top would seem more appropriate.
Some Ford folks have told us a power retractable roof couldn’t be done because the retracting glass would interfere with the luggage-rack hardware inthe headliner. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the option of a luggage rack (when’s the last time you saw anyone cart luggage on a roof rack?) or a power sunroof? Let’s hope the 1995 model design change will solve that problem.
While lack of a power sunroof was disappointing, the use of dual visors wasa clever and welcome feature to help block the sun. With dual visors-a big onehides a little one underneath-you can swing the big visor over to the side window to keep glare from your eyes, while leaving the little one in place to block the sun ahead.
Base price for the Explorer Limited 4×4 is $27,422. Our test vehicle added a performance axle ratio at $296, the tilt-open sunroof at $274, an upgraded JBL sound system for $301, plus a preferred equipment group consisting of air conditioning, all-terrain tires, privacy glass, cargo cover, rear-window wiper/washer/defroster, color-keyed carpet and floor mats, luggage rack and cast aluminum wheels for $884. With a $485 freight charge, but a $488 discounton the options, the vehicle stickered at $29,174.