2003 Explorer New Car Test Drive
All new for 2002, the Ford Explorer is better than the previous version in every respect. Handling and ride quality are improved with a new frame and an independent rear suspension. Performance is quicker with new or improved overhead-cam engines. It's a quieter, more refined vehicle with an all-new interior. New safety features are being introduced.
But the biggest news for the Explorer is the availability of third-row seating, allowing it to carry up to seven passengers. It's roomier and more comfortable, benefits of its longer wheelbase, wider track and some clever engineering.
In spite of all this, the new Explorer looks familiar inside and out. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. In all likelihood, the Ford Explorer will continue to be America's most popular station wagon. Ford Explorer Sport Track offers the comfort of an Explorer sport-utility with the hauling capability of a short-bed pickup truck.
The Sport Trac is basically an SUV with a pickup truck bed grafted to its tail. The Ford Explorer has been the best selling of all sport-utility vehicles. The Sport Trac is based on the previous-generation Explorer, so it does not benefit from the new Explorer's independent rear suspension and other advancements. But it's a nice design with an outdoorsman's interior, and offers the utility of a thoughtfully designed pickup bed for large, and dirty, cargo.
Four trim levels are available: XLS, XLT, Eddie Bauer, Limited. XLS and XLT come standard with cloth; Eddie Bauer and Limited come with leather.
An overhead-cam V6 engine is now standard on all models, boosting the Explorer's power considerably. A new overhead-cam V8 ($695) is optional on all models. All trim levels offer a choice of two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive models.
XLS ($24,020) comes with cloth upholstery, a high level of standard equipment, and a five-speed manual transmission. Ford's new five-speed automatic transmission ($1095) is optional. Four-wheel drive adds $1800. XLS does not offer some of the high-zoot options available on the other models, including the V8.
XLT ($27,780) gets nicer sport cloth upholstery, a six-way power driver's seat, body-colored exterior trim, a CD stereo instead of cassette, and more interior features, such as a temperature gauge and compass, map lights and dome lights, outside approach lighting, extra power outlets, illuminated keypad for keyless entry. The new five-speed automatic transmission is standard, and aluminum alloy wheels replace steel wheels. Four-wheel drive adds $1965. Leather upholstery with a six-way power driver's seat is available for $655.
Limited and Eddie Bauer models (both $34,055) come with leather seating surfaces, automatic dual-zone climate control, a 290-watt six-CD stereo with six speakers, adjustable power pedals, fog lights, and wider tires. Six-way adjustable heated power seats with dual manual lumbar supports are used in front, and the driver's seat has a three-position memory feature.
The top two Explorer models differ only in their distinctive trim: Eddie Bauer comes with Arizona beige bumpers, moldings, lower bodyside cladding, and satin-nickel wheels and grille. Limited uses monochromatic bumpers, moldings and cladding with a silver grille and special wheels; there's also a white pearl coat Limited that uses frost accents.
Third-row seating ($670), auxiliary air conditioning ($610), running boards ($395), Reverse Sensing System ($255), and power moonroof ($800) are options available on all models. A Trailer Towing Prep Package ($395) replaces the Class II hitch (standard) with a Class III hitch, and adds a 3.73 limited-slip rear axle and other hardware.
Front side-impact (side curtain) airbags ($495) are optional, which are designed to protect front and second-row occupants. Dual front airbags are standard. Anti-lock brakes are standard. Seatbelts use retractors and pretensioners designed to reduce injuries in a hard crash. The second-row center seat offers only a lap belt rather than the preferred shoulder harness, however.
Significant safety improvements will be added as a running change to the 2002 model shortly before the beginning of calendar year 2002. The headliner is a new safety canopy (that replaces the side curtain airbags) designed to protect occupants during a rollover in addition to protecting them from a side impact by staying inflated for a much longer period of time. Smarter airbags, Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability program, power-adjustable pedals, and a telescoping steering wheel will also be added near the end of 2001. There's no obvious way to tell whether an Explorer has this new set of features, so you'll need to check with the dealership regarding their availability. Ford Explorer Sport Trac comes in two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive models. Three equipment packages are available: Value, Choice, and Premium.
The 2WD Value ($22,040) and 4WD Value ($24,810) versions come with a long list of standard equipment. Value packages actually give the buyer a credit over the base models by deleting the five-speed automatic transmission, leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry, cruise control, and a tilt steering column.
Make Choice your choice and you get cruise control, power door locks, a more powerful version of the 4.0-liter V6 engine, remote keyless entry, a tilting steering column and an automatic transmission. Choice 2WD ($23,880) and Choice 4WD ($26,650) versions are considered the base models.
Pick the Premium package ($1560) and you get a 4.10 axle, floor and overhead consoles, fog lights, captains chairs with six-way power for the driver's seat, step bars to ease entry and exit from the cabin and upgraded tires.
For 2002, all Explorer Sport Tracs get 16-inch alloy wheels (instead of the old 15-inch versions). There's also a new 23-gallon fuel tank that replaces the 20.5-capacity tank in the 2001 model.
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