Introduced in the 1990s, the Ford Explorer was Ford’s answer to the Jeep Cherokee. Emphasizing its off road capability in a family friendly package, the Explorer was met with success. In 1995, the Ford Explorer was redesigned, and it became America’s quintessential family SUV thanks to its ideal combination of decent looks, strong engines, high level of comfort, and affordability. However, despite the favorable reaction from the consumers, the Explorer was notably affected by the notorious Firestone debacle. These Explorers were equipped with Firestone tires which had low durability, and they were prone to tipping the SUV over. As a result, there was a huge recall in 2000 which also affected the Explorer’s twins, the Mercury Mountaineer, and the Mazda Navajo. The Explorer was completely revamped in 2002, with a new focus on regaining its best seller status back.
When it comes to the styling, there is no doubt that it exudes a certain soccer-mom quality. With that said, it is an inoffensive design. The front is dominated by two large headlights and a well defined grille. The side profile is nothing special. The rear uses black pillars which creates a wraparound look to the rear. The best part I like about the design is the two tone paint job. The two unlikely colors actually match well, and they accentuate the design. The interior is plain with unappealing wood trim.
This Explorer is based off a truck chassis, and it drives like a truck. The steering is lacking in road feel, and it is slow to respond. The handling is clumsy. Turn into a corner, and it wallows with relentless understeer. The ride quality is jiggly, and road imperfections are felt in the cabin. Even on smooth roads, the suspension never really settles. There is always constant movement. However, one good thing came from its outdated truck platform. It feels remarkably solid. On bad roads, the ride quality may be jiggly but there were no rattles or squeaks. Whenever I drove over dips and creaks, the Explorer did not protest.
This Explorer is powered by a 210 horsepower V6 mated to a five speed automatic transmission. Higher trims come with a 239 horsepower 4.6 liter V8 engine. The V6 has decent mid range pull but overall it is tepid in its response. Whenever you are wanting for power, it feels strained. The five speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Fun fact: This four door (Not the two door Sport) was available with a five speed manual transmission in the entry level XLS trim when it debuted in 2002. Fuel economy is lackluster, averaging around 16 mpg overall but it is still better than the V8.
The cabin is where the Explorer shines. The driving position is decent, and it is easy to get comfortable. There is a commanding view of the road ahead, and visibility is tolerable. The seats are more than adequate although I feel like the cloth seats would lose support over long trips. It is spacious inside, and access is easy. The rear seats are slightly too low but legroom and headroom are generous. The cargo room is spacious as well. The fit and finish could be better. Some controls feel flimsy, and there are several misgaps. The controls are hard to read and to distinguish at a glance. The gauges wash out in direct sunlight but are legible. The space in the underfloor storage in the cargo area is hampered by the protruding rear suspension (It’s a rear wheel drive SUV). Cabin storage is moderate. The separate rear window is a nice touch.
Even with the Explorer’s shortcomings, solace can be found in its personality. Sure, the driving experience could be better, fuel economy is poor, and the fit and finish is subpar but the Explorer feels human. No car is perfect, and when you really get to know this SUV, it becomes lovable. It arrived in a time when car makers switched to car-based SUVs such as the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander but the Explorer stood by its truck origins. Despite its flaws, it more than made up for it with its all around competence. Reliability is a virtue but only with the V6 version. This particular Explorer has over 130 thousand miles with no major problems. When it comes to looking for an used American family SUV, the Explorer is a sound buy.