2002 Ford Explorer
Click image to enlarge

by Greg Wilson

Wider and roomier than the 2001 Explorer, the redesigned 2002 Ford Explorer four-door comes with a standard 210 horsepower 4.0 litre SOHC V6 engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, push-button Auto Trac four-wheel-drive, a new independent rear suspension, and available third-row seating. Prices range from $37,370 to $46,810.

Bigger, roomier and less truck-like

Completely redesigned for the first time since its introduction in 1991 (not counting a styling update in 1995), the 2002 Ford Explorer is bigger, roomier, safer, and more comfortable than the 2001 four-door model, and offers a more powerful standard 4.0 litre V6 engine, a new (optional) 4.6 litre V8 engine, a new independent rear suspension, an available third-row seat, and new safety features such as side curtain airbags.

At the moment, the 2002 model is available only as a four-door model with four-wheel-drive. The new Explorer is 30 mm (1.2 in.) shorter than the 2001 four-door Explorer, but is 48 mm (1.9 in.) wider and has a wheelbase that is 53 mm (2.1 in.) longer. Its extra width and longer wheelbase increase cabin spaciousness and cargo capacity significantly. The cargo area of the 2002 Explorer (behind the second row seat) is seven per cent bigger than that of the 2001 Explorer.

The 2002 Explorer’s standard engine is a 4.0 litre SOHC V6 that develops 210 horsepower at 5,250 rpm and 250 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. This engine was optional in 2001 models, but is now standard on 2002 Explorer XLS, XLT and Eddie Bauer models. It replaces the previous standard 160 horsepower 4.0 litre OHV V6 engine.

New to the Explorer for 2002 is a 4.6 litre SOHC V8 engine that offers 240 horsepower at 4,750 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. This engine is standard on the Explorer Limited and optional on all the other trim levels.

2002 Ford Explorer 4.0 litre engine
4.0 litre engine
Click image to enlarge

As many Explorer buyers use their vehicles for towing boats, horse trailers, car trailers, and recreational trailers, the 2002 Explorer is designed for greater towing capacities. With the standard Class 2 towing package on models equipped with the V6 or V8 engines, the Explorer has a towing capacity of 1588 kg (3,500 lb.). With a Class 3 or 4 towing package, V6-equipped models can tow up to 2,495 kg (5,500 lb.), and V8-equipped Explorers can tow up to 3,175 kg (7,000 lb.).

2002 Explorers come equipped with a standard five-speed automatic transmission and Ford’s Control Trac four-wheel-drive system, which includes push-button operation for 4X4 ‘auto’, 4X4 High, and 4X4 Low. 4X4 ‘Auto’ is a completely automatic 4WD system that runs in rear-wheel-drive most of the time, but transfers power to the front wheels when rear wheels lose traction. 4X4 High is a constant 50/50 front/rear split, and can only be used on loose or slippery road surfaces. 4X4 Low is a low range gear for climbing steep hills or travelling on very poor roads. It can be engaged only after the vehicle has been stopped.

Other standard features on base 2002 Explorers include four wheel disc brakes with ABS, ‘second-generation’ front airbags, front captain’s chairs and 2nd row 60/40 folding seats, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers, power windows and door locks, keyless entry, rear hatch with separate liftglass, and 16 inch tires.

2002 Explorer XLS models start at $37,370 – that compares to the 2001 Explorer XLS which starts at $35,400. Top-of-the-line Limited models go for $46,810, up from $45,090.

Interior is a big improvement

2002 Ford Explorer interior
2002 Ford Explorer interior
2002 Ford Explorer interior
2002 Ford Explorer interior
2002 Ford Explorer interior
Click an image to enlarge

I really liked the clean, uncluttered design of the new Explorer’s interior. My test vehicle, an Explorer Eddie Bauer edition, was finished in an earthy beige colour with two-tone leather seats and matching door inserts, and a black centre control panel with artifical woodgrain trim which looks attractive, if not real. There’s also some matching wood trim on the doors.

The layout of the centre control panel differs depending on which model you have – my Eddie Bauer model had an AM/FM stereo with a six-disc in-dash CD player at the top of the stack, and below that, twin air vents and a dual-zone climate control system that can be operated in single-zone or dual-zone modes.

Some noteworthy interior features on the 2002 Explorer are the easy-to-grip, pull-type interior door handles, large door map pockets with bottle holders built-in, a big open storage tray and penholder on the lower console, three cupholders, a 12 volt outlet, and deep covered storage bin between the front seats.

The round instruments, including a tachometer and coolant gauge, are easy to see, but I thought the lettering was rather cheap-looking, especially when compared with the overall high quality of the rest of the interior. The instrument cluster also includes a trip computer and a compass. An outside temperature gauge is located in the stereo display.

The Explorer’s front captains chairs are comfortable and offer a commanding view of the road – outward visibility is great to the front, rear and sides. The driver’s seat has a power fore-aft button on the side of the seat, and a power height adjustment that is capable of tilting the front or rear of the seat cushion. The driver’s seat also has a manual rotary adjustment for lumbar support. My test vehicle had front seat heaters – a button on the side of the seats offers one heat setting – but it’s hard to find because you can’t see it. After a while, you learn to find it by touch.

A unique feature is optional power adjustable brakes and accelerator pedals. For shorter drivers, these can make the driving position more comfortable.

Second-row passengers have plenty of legroom and headroom, two flip-down cupholders, a ventilation control, a 12 volt power outlet, and map pockets on the back of the front seats. The rear windows on my test vehicle went all the way down to the door ledge. The second row seat is split 70/30, and the folding rear seatbacks fold down flush with the cargo floor. In seven passenger models, the second row seat has a 40/20/40 split – outboard seats fold forward for access the rear seat, and the centre seatback can fold down to become an armrest.

My test vehicle did not have the optional third row seat, but I have tested this seat in other Explorer models. The seat cushion is lower than the other seats, and it’s not as comfortable to sit there, but headroom is generous and it’s OK for a short trip. The seatback folds down flat with the cargo floor – the bonus here is that you don’t have to remove it from the vehicle.

The carpeted cargo area has over 46 cu. ft. of cargo area behind the second row seats – that’s three times the size of a typical mid-size sedan’s trunk. And with one half of the second row seat folded down, you can carry long items and four passengers at the same time. The cargo area has a small open storage bin on the sidewall, four tie-down hooks, and a power door lock button just inside the tailgate. To keep the contents of the cargo area private, a roll-type cover pulls out from behind the rear seat. I had one criticism of the cargo compartment – the walls are made of a soft plastic than can be easily scratched by hard objects, and cannot be repaired short of replacing the interior panels.

The spare tire is located under the cargo floor – when needed, a special winch allows it to be lowered to the ground.

The tailgate, by the way (actually it’s a hatchback) lifts up from the bumper height with ease. Alternatively, the rear liftglass can lift separately – the lower edge of the liftglass is lower than in the last Explorer model for easier loading. There is a standard intermittent wiper and washer on the rear window.

For safety, the Explorer offers four outboard height-adjustable head restraints, and new side curtain airbags which deploy from the just above the side windows and cover 75% of the side window glass area. A new rollover sensor measures how fast the vehicle is tilting, and will deploy these side airbags if a rollover is detected to prevent passengers from being ejected out of the side windows. These airbags remain inflated up to six seconds, much longer than frontal or regular side airbags.

New second-generation front airbags now deploy at different speeds depending on the severity of the crash. In addition, Ford’s new Personal Safety System deploys the airbags differently depending on whether or not passengers are wearing seatbelts and the driver’s seat position.

2002 Explorers also include anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, and optional AdvanceTrac, a computerized anti-skid system.

An important crash-related feature is a bumper height that has been lowered by 50 mm (2 in.) to be on par with most passenger cars.

A new (optional) Reverse-Sensing system includes an audible warning system when backing up close to another vehicle or obstacle. The beeps become faster the closer you get to the object, and form a continuous tone when the Explorer is about eight inches away. This is a great safety feature, because some objects are too low to be seen through the rear window.

Driving impressions

2002 Ford Explorer
Click image to enlarge

The Explorer has a fairly high step in height, but it’s lower than the previous Explorer. A standard tubular step bar or optional sideboards help to make the step-up easier. For passengers, there are three grab handles on the inside door pillars to assist in getting in and out – these are really handy. Also, the 2002 Explorer has larger doors for easier ingress/egress.

As I mentioned, the driving position is very good, and combined with seat adjustments, pedal adjustments, and an available tilt/telescopic steering wheel, just about any driver can find a comfortable position.

With a 64 mm (2.5 in.) wider track and a longer wheelbase, the new four-door Explorer is more stable when cornering, and the ride is considerably less choppy than in the 2001 Explorer. The frame has been stiffened by 350% which improves safety and makes handling more responsive. A new independent rear suspension contributes to the Explorer’s improved ride – Ford designed a unique suspension where the rear driveshafts pass through a hole in the frame. This system allowed Ford engineers to raise the ground clearance without raising the ride height. The independent rear suspension also improves control and stability on rough roads because the rear wheels act independently.

The Explorer’s 4.6 litre V8 powertrain is considerably quieter than engines I’ve encountered in previous Explorer. On the freeway, the 4.6 litre engine does 2,000 rpm at 100 km/h, and 2,400 rpm at 120 km/h – both very low, comfortably-quiet engine speeds. Ford claims a 0 to 60 mph time of 8.6 seconds (10.2 seconds for the V6), very respectable for a 2000 kilogram SUV. Fuel consumption however, is poor. The EnerGuide fuel consumption guide rates my test vehicle at 16.8 l/100 km (17 mpg) in the city, and 11.5 l/100 km (25 mpg) on the highway. But with a full load on board and moderately aggressive driving, you can expect worse consumption.

2002 Ford Explorer
Click image to enlarge

The 5-speed automatic transmission provides crisp shifts that enhance the performance of the Explorer’s V8 engine. A manual overdrive button on the end of the column shifter allows the driver to lock out fifth gear when travelling in the city, or when climbing or descending slight grades. My only complaint with this transmission was the occasional jerky shift when changing from second to third under light acceleration.

Braking performance is very good. All Explorers have standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS, and Ford claims a 60 mph to 0 braking distance of 42 metres (137 feet) on dry pavement – an exceptionally short stopping distance for a mid-sized SUV. The Explorer’s advanced ABS system controls front wheels independently and rear wheels in tandem with dynamic proportioning. As well, the Explorer has Electronic Brake Force Distribution to even out front to rear brake forces and prevent rear wheel lockup.

The Explorer’s power rack and pinion steering offers good steering feel – not too heavy or too light, and straight-line tracking is very stable. I was surprised at how short the Explorer’s turning circle is – 11.2 metres (36.7 ft.) – that’s very tight for a mid-sized 4WD SUV.

Prices and features

2002 Ford Explorer
Click image to enlarge

The base price of the XLS model with the 4.0 litre V6 engine is $37,370. Most of the standard features are listed above. Explorer XLT models, priced at $39,105, add alloy wheels, fender mouldings, 6-way power driver’s seat, cassette player, fog lamps, and retractable cargo cover.

Eddie Bauer Explorers, for $45,060, add leather seats (front heated with memory), dual zone climate control, 140 watt 6 speaker sound system with 6-disc in-dash CD changer, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, overhead console, heated mirrors, running boards, and larger tires.

Top-of-the-line Explorer Limited models, for $46,810, add the 4.6 litre V8 engine, Reverse Sensing System, and Class 3/4 towing package which includes a Class 3 trailer hitch with 7 pin connector, an engine oil cooler, and a 3.73 limited slip rear axle. The third-row seat, side curtain airbags, and moonroof are optional.

Technical Data:

2002 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer
Base price $37,370
Price as tested $47,645
Freight $835
Type 4-door, 5 or 7 passenger mid-sized SUV
Layout longitudinal front engine/4WD
Engine 4.6 litre SOHC V8
Horsepower 240 @ 4750 rpm
Torque 280 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Tires P245/70 R-16 inch OWL all-terrain tires
Curb weight 1968 kg (4339 lb.)
Wheelbase 2889 mm (113.7 in.)
Length 4813 mm (189.5 in.)
Width 1832 mm (72.1 in.)
Height (w/roof rack) 1827 mm (71.9 in.)
Cargo capacity 2,491 litres (88.0 cu. ft.) behind 1st seat
  1,320 litres (46.6 cu. ft.) behind 2nd seat
Fuel consumption City: 16.8 L/100km (17 mpg)
  Hwy 11.5 L/100km (25 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca