- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

More like a car, yet every bit a truck for the off-road, the 2002 Ford Explorer seats seven has more ground clearance and steers like a sedan.
The one single design decision that begat countless results was the move to give the Explorer an independent rear suspension. That resulted in a smoother ride on the 2002 model. Customers told Ford engineers they wanted a sport utility vehicle that is easier to drive and has better ride and handling qualities. The independent rear suspension replaces the previous solid axle design, providing the Explorer with wheels that react independently of each other in response to bumps in the road.
The addition of the new suspension has also resulted in for the first time an optional third-row seat. The Explorer now has a lower step-in height, a larger passenger compartment, a wider stance, as well as one inch more ground clearance. As always, the Explorer retains its solid-truck looks with bold, square shoulders and uncluttered body panels.
My test-drive model was the 4x4 XLT with a base price of $29,745. The tester featured the optional $670 third-row seating, making the Explorer a comfortable seven-passenger SUV. If absolutely necessary, this third row accommodates two adults. However, the makeshift bench seat, which does double-duty as a fold-down cargo area, is primarily suitable for smaller occupants. A raised platform allows for children to ride with their feet touching the floor. A lever on the side of the seat backs brings the second-row seats forward for climbing into the back. Red latches at the base of the forward seats release when pulled so that the second row tumbles forward for easy exiting.
One of the thoughtful revisions is the elimination of the awkward flip-up paddle handle on the exterior doors. Ford replaced this design with real door "handles" that the driver or passenger can grip with the hand top-down or bottom-up.
The new door handles even include finger indents on the inside. When opening the door, grab handles are more visible and conveniently built onto the B-pillars (instead of overhead) for people who need a grip entering and exiting.
Twenty-five more horsepower is under the hood of the Explorer. The 4.6-liter V-8 generates 240 horsepower, up from the 215 hp from the older 5.0-liter V-8 engine. This power plant is built to travel 100,000 miles before the first tune-up.
My test-drive model was equipped with this very responsive engine mated to a smooth-shifting automatic transmission and included the optional $395 Class III/IV trailering package for a towing capacity of 7,300 pounds. The base engine on the Ford is the 4.0-liter V-6 mated to a manual transmission.
Available for the first time on a Ford sport utility vehicle is AdvanceTrac, a stability control system usually found only on luxury cars. The Explorer also has an improved Control Trac system, an electronic traction and stability control system for off-road use. One of the nice features on the 2002 Explorer is the power rack-and-pinion steering. It makes negotiating the 4,339-pound SUV around U-turns and into parking spaces as easy as when driving a sedan.
Offered for the first time on an SUV are side-curtain air bags and a rollover sensor. Called the Safety Canopy, these sensors determine whether to deploy the side-curtain air bags in the event of a side impact or a rollover.
With the 2002 model, the Explorer is now more capable of handling the everyday activities of SUV drivers.
MOTOR MATTERS


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