Why would anyone want a two-door, two-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle?

For a couple of reasons: In climates where winters are not severe, most sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) are hardly ever driven in four-wheel drive; and the two-door model is perfectly suitable for couples or singles who rarely haul adults in the back seat.

Oh, and one more reason. It costs less.

To check out this premise, I spent a few days behind the wheel of Ford's two-door Explorer Sport. It sits tall and rides on rugged all-terrain tires, just like four-wheel-drive. It seemed like the ride was slightly smoother despite the fact that its 101.7-inch wheelbase is nearly ten inches shorter than the four-door.

Overall length is 10 inches less, too, which makes it more maneuverable. Whipping into tight parking spots is a piece of cake.

Inside, the cargo space is correspondingly shorter, but that was not nearly as much of a drawback as I expected it to be. The split-folding back is one of the slickest I have encountered because the headrests pivot out of the way automatically as the seat folds forward. The cargo hold is three inches shy of six-feet long, and that was plenty for my bike, which has become my yardstick for measuring haul-ability.

Accessing the cargo space is done with a new, rounder tailgate, which is the major improvement to the Explorer for 1998. It glides open easily and doesn't take two hands to shut.

The passenger compartment is very similar to more expensive Explorers. The seats were upholstered in a tweed-like fabric that was comfortable in hot weather. The instrument panel has large, analog gauges, including a tachometer, while the radio and heating controls are clustered in a single center panel. The rear-wiper switch is on the right side of this center panel, but it would be handier for the driver if it were on the left side.

A center console divides the front seats. It has various sized bins and compartments, including a built-in tissue dispenser.

To me, two-door SUVs fall into the same category as sports coupes: The back seats are for occasional use at best because they are hard for adults to get into. Kids, or pets, on the other hand, have no problem. In fact, parents might actually rest easier with kids back there because there is no door to open.

Our test car was equipped with the 4.0-liter, 205-horsepower, single-overhead-cam (SOHC) V6 engine. This engine is a delight in the full-size Explorer, and even more livelier in the short two-wheel-drive model because the overall vehicle weight is nearly 500 pounds less than the four-wheel-drive four-door. This engine's responsiveness belies its size. It powers away from stops with plenty of enthusiasm, and it revs with the same kind of smoothness one expects from a passenger car.

Of course, the five-speed automatic transmission does a good job of providing the right gear at the right time, and that, too, makes the engine feel stron g.

In climates with moderate to mild winters, choosing a two-wheel-drive SUV is not much of a risk. For some, the cost of four-wheel-drive outweighs the number of days it is actually used, making a vehicle like this one a worthwhile choice.


The base price of our test vehicle was $19,880. Options included the premium Sport package, luxury group, luggage rack, fog lamps, 4.0-liter SOHC engine and convenience group.

The sticker price was $24,900.


The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles.

Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers.

Point: In climates with mild winters, two-wheel-drive SUVs make a certain amount of sense, especially for people who never take them off road. Although the two-door model is smaller inside, it is more maneuverable.

Counterpoint: Because it is small and not easy to get to, the back seat is best left for kids or pets


ENGINE: 4.0-liter, V6


WHEELBASE: 101.7 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 3,692 lbs.

BASE PRICE: $19,880


MPG RATING: 15 city, 20 hwy.