- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

Sport utility vehicle bashing is all the rage among the mass media today.

It's as though television, radio and "consumer advocate" groups have suddenly discovered the same SUVs that have been on the road for years. Sadly, it's a trendy thing to bash SUVs now, and in the interest of ratings and dollars, it's likely we'll continue to see hyped-up coverage until some other subject comes along to distract the ratings hounds.

If you own an SUV or are considering the purchase of one, and you either use it or plan to do so as a tow rig for your RV travel trailer, there's no reason you shouldn't go ahead with your plans.

The qualifier, of course, is that you should stick to and not exceed the manufacturer's tow rating or the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or Gross Combination Weight Rating for the tow rig. It's also important to remember that an SUV is not a race car, and you need to keep its driving characteristics in mind at all times.

SUVs can seem to cause problems for people when the vehicles aren't driven with awareness of their design features. An SUV is not a family automobile or sports car, and it shouldn't be driven that way. It's a multipurpose vehicle that's designed for a specific type of use. As long as the driver operates the vehicle in a safe and sane way, for example by not exceeding the speed limit or not cornering as though it was a sports car, an SUV is perfectly safe to drive.

Proper tire care and maintenance is a vitally important aspect of safe SUV driving. Dangerously underinflated or overloaded tires can overheat, especially at today's faster highway speeds, and that can lead to premature tire failure in any brand or size of tire.

The same cautionary notes apply to both the small rigs, such as the Chevy Blazer or Toyota 4Runner, or the big rigs, such as the GM Suburban/Tahoe or Ford Excursion. The Ford Explorer, in light of the recent Firestone tire fracas, has been especially hard hit in the image department. This is unfortunate because Explorers make terrific downsized tow rigs, as well as being fun, versatile vehicles to drive.

Is an Explorer safe to use as an RV tow rig? Definitely yes. I've driven many miles in Explorers of several different vintages and models, with different-size trailers in tow, and have had wonderful experiences with them.

Would I personally buy an Explorer as a family and/or tow vehicle? Absolutely — if I were in the market for a downsized SUV. In fact, I'm a rather tall and large person, and a 6-foot-6, 270-pound individual is simply a bit too big for an Explorer, so I'd choose an Expedition or the biggest of the line, the Ford Excursion, as my full-time family rig.

Ford's newest Explorer model, set to debut as a 2002 model year rig, has several design elements that make it an even better tow rig of choice for RV trailers. The 2002 Explorer has an all-new fully independent rear suspension (IRS) that helps increase towing stability because it eliminates some of the side-to-side body movement that's inherent in a solid-axle, leaf-sprung vehicle. Older-style solid-axle rigs are good tow vehicles, but Ford's new IRS takes a good rig and makes it even better.

A powerful new optional all-aluminum 4.6-liter V-8 engine, rated at 240-horsepower and 280-pound-feet of torque, cranks out the low-end towing muscle needed to wrangle a trailer over hills and across the rolling prairies. At the same time, new four-wheel disc brakes provide the kind of secure stopping power that creates a feeling of confidence behind the wheel.

The combined Explorer package is able to tow up to 7,300 pounds in the 2WD version and 7,000 pounds in the 4WD truck. That's a heck of a good-sized RV trailer. A recent test-drive we did with a 2002 Explorer and a 6,300-pound trailer had us wandering the freeways and mountain grades east of the San Diego area, and the Explorer felt exactly as a tow rig should. It was in full control of the load at all times.

An SUV like the Explorer is not a sports car. If it's driven with the respect due a multipurpose motor vehicle, it can deliver many miles and years of satisfactory service. Keep the special nature of an SUV in mind when towing; and, you can enjoy a lot of happy RVing miles behind the wheel of your SUV.

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