This year Ford’s Explorer gets the award for Most Improved Player.
Since its introduction in 1990, the Explorer has been the best-selling sport-utility vehicle on the planet.
But when you are No. 1, down is the only place to go.
With the Grand Cherokee and the Discovery, Chrysler and Land Rover took aim at the Explorer and sliced nicely into its sales with vehicles that offered V-8 engines and dual air bags, things that the Explorer didn’t have.
And last year General Motors weighed in with redesigned versions of the Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy.
So the pressure was on Ford not only to answer the competition but to give buyers a reason to continue making the Explorer No. 1 in sales.
Ford engineers did more than just address the Explorer’s shortcomings: They made the 1995Explorer a world-class sport-utility in just about every area – handling, performance, safety, quality, value and styling.
This week’s test vehicle, a Sport model outfitted with a long list of features, is a tremendous buy. It’s proof that you can still get a well-equipped sport-utility vehicle for about $20,000.
In the 1996 model year, Ford will offer the Explorer with a 5.0-liter, 220-horsepower V-8. But for now, the only engine available in all six Explorer models is a 4.0-liter 160-horsepower V-6.
Although 160-horsepower is well short of the power available in the six-cylinder engines in the Blazer/Jimmy and Grand Cherokee, the Explorer’s performance is pleasing.
Our test vehicle came with a five-speed manual transmission. The clutch and shifter are the best I can remember sampling recently in a sport-utility vehicle. It took very little effort to press the clutch pedal, and the shifter slid smoothly into each gear.
The ease of shifting helped to make the Explorer very civilized in heavy, stop-and-go traffic. In fact, our bright blue Explorer offered a level of refined smoothness that one would associate with a luxury car such as Lexus or Infiniti. The engine runs so quietly and is so free of vibration that when it’s idling you would swear it wasn’t running at all.
Acceleration can be fairly brisk when you rev the engine high and start out in first gear. Because of the somewhat high gear ratio, you don’t have to shift into second gear until you reach 35 mph or so. That is somewhat unusual; in most vehicles, you shift into second gear at about 20 mph or so.
But I had to pay attention to the speed of the vehicle and the gear it was in. If the speed dropped too low for a certain gear, the Explorer would lug and strain.
Our test vehicle’s fuel mileage came in below EPA estimates. However, I was the first person to drive it. Once the vehicle is broken in, I would expect it to deliver better than 15 mpg in the city and 19 on the highway that I got.
The suspension system in the original Explorer – adapted from one of Ford’s trucks – left much to b e desired.
The new one does not.
Ford’s engineers did away with the twin I-beam setup used on the old Explorer and outfitted the ’95 Explorer with a short-long arm system that does a better job of keeping the body from bouncing and jerking roughly when you drive off the road.
It also smooths out minor bumps and gives the Explorer a more carlike ride on pavement. However, I blasted down several dirt roads and drove through a bumpy construction site and discovered the Explorer is well suited to off-road driving.
Ford’s marketing department recently quizzed Explorer owners and discovered that most don’t venture off-road often. With that in mind, engineers outfitted the Explorer with a power rack-and-pinion steering system. This is the same setup used on sports cars. The steering radius also was tightened, enabling the two-door Explorer to turn a circle in just 34.6 feet. The four-door Explorer can turn a circle in 37.3 feet. That means both vehicles are about as easy to maneuver ascars.
All Explorers come with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, a
FIT AND FINISH
At about $21,000, the two-door Explorer Sport ranks as one of the best values on the market. When you take a look at what 21 grand buys in the sport-utility market these days, you are going to have a hard time finding a vehicle that equals or beats the Explorer Sport’s generous level of equipment.
Here’s what came standard in our test vehicle:
Power windows, door locks and mirrors.
AM/FM cassette stereo.
Front and rear intermittent wipers.
Dual air bags and anti-lock brakes.
The only thing that one might want is an automatic transmission, which adds $750 or so to the price.
But the Explorer has a bunch of built-in features that makes it exceptionally user-friendly and versatile. Small items can be stowed in map pockets in the door panels or in the center console. There is also a place in the console for your wallet and for change – excellent when you are in a hurry at a toll booth or a drive-through restaurant.
You’ll find plenty of storage room when you flip the rear seats forward and expose the flat cargo area. The rear seat flips forward in one motion by lifting a lever. The rear passenger windows, which open outward, are another nice touch.
Ford’s interior designers made the dash and controls easier to find and use. The radio buttons are larger and labeled better than in the past. The instruments are unobstructed and easy to read.
For the week I drove the Explorer, I heard no rattles, and all the accessories worked perfectly.
The 1995 Explorer is a high-quality vehicle that has been setting sales records every month it has been on the market.
Right now it looks as if the Explorer will have a very long and successful run at the top.
Truett’s tip: Ford made the top-selling Explorer an even better sport-utility vehicle by overhauling the suspension and interior. The 1995 Explorer leaves most other competitors in the dust.