by Greg Wilson
The all-new Ford Explorer is expected to arrive in showrooms in the Spring of 2001. Autos Editor, Greg Wilson, was one of the first auto journalists to drive the new Explorer, and here is his report:
Think of the things you don’t like about the current four-door Explorer, and chances are Ford has addressed those concerns with the all-new 2002 model.
Don’t like the current Explorer’s choppy ride? The 2002 Explorer has a considerably more stable and comfortable ride due to a 2.5 inch wider stance, 2 inch longer wheelbase, and a new independent rear suspension. The 2002 Explorer’s overall length remains the same making it just as easy to parallel park and drive into your garage.
Think the current Explorer could use more passenger and cargo space? The new Explorer now has an optional third row seat which brings total seating capacity to seven people. The design of the new rear suspension made it possible to lower the rear floor by 7 inches, thus accommodating a third row seat. The two-person rear seat is not just for small children – I sat back there and found adequate hiproom, headroom and kneeroom. The seat cushion is a bit low and needs more padding, but otherwise the third seat is usable. Access to the third seat from either side is accomplished by flipping the split second row seats forwards. The second row 40/20/40 seats are very comfortable and include a fold-down centre armrest when the centre seat is not being used. The front buckets are wider than before and are also very comfortable.
Cargo space has been increased primarily because of the extra body width, but in addition, both the third row and second row seatbacks will fold almost flat, creating a long loading floor. There’s also a hidden storage compartment beneath the cargo floor. Of course, with the third row seat upright, there is less cargo room behind the seat. Another innovation is a rear liftglass panel with a much lower lift-over height that’s designed to be about the same height as a shopping cart.
If you thought the previous Explorer’s step-in height was high, you’ll be happy to know that the new model has a lower step-in height, and the four doors are larger for easier entry and exit.
Had trouble finding a comfortable driving position in the current Explorer? Now that the new model has optional power adjustable foot pedals and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel (not to mention power front seats), finding a comfortable driving position is easy. If you hate backing up because it’s hard to see where you’re going, you’ll now be able to take advantage of an optional reverse sensing system that sounds warning tones as you get closer to an object behind the vehicle.
Worried about rollover safety? The 2002 Explorer’s wider track gives it much improved lateral stability, but should a rollover occur, available side head curtain airbags protect the heads of front and rear occupants. In addition, an anti-skid stability control system that automatically corrects skids will be available.
2002 Explorers will have a standard 210 horsepower 4.0 litre SOHC V6 engine, and a newly-available 240 horsepower 4.6 litre V8 engine which offers 25 more horsepower than the current 5.0 litre V8 engine. Towing capacity with the 4.6 litre engine is 3500 lb, or up to 7300 lb with an optional towing package.
As well, the 2002 Explorer has revised automatic and manual transmissions, improved Control Trac 4WD system, and one inch more ground clearance.
The 2002 Explorer will be offered only in a four-door bodystyle – a two-door will not be offered.
I spent about three hours driving the new Explorer with the 4.6 litre V8 and 5-speed automatic transmission. Apart from the roomier cabin, the biggest difference between the current Explorer and the new one is its ride and handling – there’s a BIG improvement. The wider track, big 16 inch tires, and independent rear suspension endow the bigger Explorer with more stable handling, less body lean, and improved steering control over bumpy surfaces – bumps that would upset the balance of the current Explorer are soaked up by the new independent rear suspension. The new Explorer’s highway ride is much smoother and more comfortable than the current 4-door model. Pitch and dive under braking and side-to-side sway have been reduced significantly.
I found the new Explorer’s cabin quieter with less engine noise in particular. Outward visibility is excellent, and it’s easy to see where the long, flat hood ends, an attribute when parking. The optional 4.6 litre V8 is more powerful than the 5.0 litre V8, but the new Explorer is also heavier by about 70 kg (200 lb), and my subjective impression is that the new Explorer is not any quicker in a straight line. Fuel consumption figures were not available, but I wouldn’t expect much of an improvement over the previous Explorer’s fuel consumption of 16.9 L/100 km (17 mpg) city and 11.1 L/100 km (25 mpg) highway.
I really enjoyed the 5-speed automatic transmission – the extra gear enhances performance and makes the driving experience more enjoyable. With standard four wheel disc brakes, the Explorer stops quickly even for a 1969 kg (4339 lb) vehicle.
The 2002 Explorer has more of everything and improves upon the weak points of the current model. All this assumes however that the market for bigger, gas-thirsty SUV’s will continue to thrive. Do current Explorer owners want a bigger, roomier SUV? And what about price? Official prices probably won’t be released until the Spring, but with so many improvements and new options, prices aren’t likely to be any lower. If you can afford the price-tag, and don’t mind the lousy gas mileage, this is a very comfortable, practical all-around vehicle to own.