- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

With all the sport utility vehicles on the market, why has the Ford Explorer been the best-selling SUV for the past 12 years? Here’s my explanation.

One reason could be that the overall appearance is easy on the eyes.

The tester, the XLT Sport model, has smooth, simple body panels with running boards that make entry easy. Also, the polished 16-inch steel wheels give it great eye appeal and could attract buyers, which could account for the outstanding sales record.

The spacious interior has the inviting look of comfort. Those who open the doors on the Eddie Bauer or Limited models will see second-row bucket seats with a center console. For those who don’t require seven seats, the comfort of the center seats could be a lure. Or, another factor: The third-row seats have plenty of headroom and legroom. In the basic models, the second-row seat has a 40/20/40 split back, allowing for hauling of odd-size cargo.

If the third-row seats aren’t required, they can be easily folded down, leaving a large flat floor for storage of cargo. Although many SUVs have a roof rack, the running boards on the Explorer made it convenient to lift and tie down articles on the rack.

Thoughtful features like this one could also nail down sales.

Another incentive to buy the Explorer is the choice of powertrains. The tester had a V-8 engine that produced 239 horsepower, compared with the V-6 engine that produces 210 horsepower.

These engines provide a towing capacity of either 7,000 or 5,380 pounds on the 4WD models.

Those Explorers equipped with four-wheel drive are genuine off-road vehicles, yet the ride over rugged roads is comparatively gentle because of its independent rear suspension. On paved roads, the ride is very comfortable and reasonably quiet. Ride comfort is definitely a selling point.

One aspect that everyone can find comforting is knowing how well the Explorer rates with safety features. In crash tests, the 2002 Explorer has a four-star rating for the driver and five-star rating for the front-seat passenger. Also, the Insurance Institute named the Explorer as the “Best Pick” in 40-mph offset frontal crash tests. This vehicle has steel beams in the doors to prevent intrusion in side impact. It also has side air bag systems and rollover protection. In addition, anti-lock brakes are standard equipment. Those points could swing a deal.

In some SUVs, the spare tire is in the rear cargo area, which takes up valuable storage space. In the Explorer, the spare is under the rear floor — and it isn’t too difficult to access. Having extra storage space is a plus.

What makes this report confusing is that there are numerous models from which to choose.

The Ford people explained that for 2004, there is an XLS, XLT, XLT Premium and Adrenalin. For example, the XLS equipment includes power mirrors, keyless entry, tilt steering wheel, speed control and woven floor mats. The XLT Premium has that, plus a new monochromatic look that includes the bumpers, fascia, molding and step bars; the Adrenalin has a premium audio system.

Although determining which model has what equipment is confusing, I know the tester has a base price of $33,375, plus a load of options bringing the price to $40,555. At this price, I doubt the Explorer sales would be record-setting for the past 12 years.

But when I consider the various models available — with prices considerably lower — it is understandable that this vehicle is the best-seller. Ford has something appealing to every shopper and all have one thing in common: the name Explorer.

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