2004 Explorer New Car Test Drive
Ford Explorer is the modern American station wagon. Ford sells more than 400,000 Explorers a year, making it the best-selling SUV and the sixth best-selling vehicle in America, and it's held these titles for a dozen years. Though quite capable as a tow vehicle and able to venture off the highway, most Explorers, like most SUVs, spend their entire lives shuttling people and performing the duties station wagons performed when Baby Boomers were growing up. The Explorer answers this call admirably and comfortably, which is part of the reason it's so popular.
The Explorer is roomy and comfortable. It's capable of seating seven people when equipped with the optional third-row seat that folds flat into the cargo floor when not being used. For more luxurious comfort, second-row sport bucket seating is now available on Eddie Bauer and Limited models.
Buyers can choose between V6 and V8 engines, but the V6 provides plenty of power unless you're pulling trailers or live in the Rocky Mountain states where the air is thin. Part of the reason for this is that the Explorer benefits from a superb five-speed automatic transmission.
Safety features abound: Anti-lock brakes come standard, and side-curtain air bags, designed to provide rollover protection, are optional and highly recommended. Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability system is available for all XLT, Eddie Bauer, and Limited models, providing improved traction and safety. Full-time all-wheel drive is available, providing better handling stability on slippery surfaces, and a tire-pressure monitoring system is available.
Ford redesigned and completely re-engineered the four-door Explorer two years ago (for model year 2002), and it's a much better vehicle. The current model rides on a wider track and a longer wheelbase, giving it a more solid, more stable stance. Its newly developed independent rear suspension gives it a smoother ride and better handling than SUVs with traditional live rear axles.
New Car Test Drive chose the Explorer as the best all-around sport-utility vehicle for 2003. It earned this title for its ability to carry four to seven people in comfort, pull a trailer, and venture off-road. The Explorer is rated to pull a trailer of up to 7,140 pounds when properly equipped, and though it does not excel at off-road travel, it can go most of the places most of us need to go.
The four-door Ford Explorer is available in a full range of trim levels: XLS, XLT, NBX, Eddie Bauer, and Limited. (We specify 'four-door' because the two-door Explorer Sport and Explorer Sport Trac versions are built on the previous-generation platform and are not covered here. All references to the Explorer in this review refer to the four-door models.)
An overhead-cam V6 engine is standard on all models. An overhead-cam V8 ($800) is an option for all models except the XLS. All models come standard with the five-speed automatic. Most offer a choice of two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive.
XLS ($26,285), XLS 4WD ($28,510), and XLS AWD ($28,510) come with cloth upholstery, AM/FM/CD/cassette, and a center console with a storage bin and cup holders. (And yes, 4WD and AWD are the same retail price.) An optional XLS Sport package ($1,175) adds the high series center console, black step bars, Medium Dark Platinum wheel lip moldings, 16-inch painted cast aluminum wheels (to replace the standard steel wheels) and front and rear floormats.
XLT ($29,025) gets nicer sport cloth upholstery, a six-way power driver's seat, the Medium Dark Platinum exterior trim, and more luxury features, such as a temperature gauge and compass, rear map/dome lights with second row reading lamp, outside approach lighting, fog lamps, extra power outlets, and an illuminated keypad for keyless entry. An upgraded center console offers a tissue box, power points, pencil holder, and coin holder in addition to cup holders and a storage bin. XLT comes with aluminum alloy wheels, a new chrome grille and black-grain outside door handles. Four-wheel-drive Control Trac and All Wheel Drive models retail for $31,250. Leather trimmed upholstery with a six-way power driver's seat is available for $655. XLT buyers can choose a $1,175 Sport package consisting of 17-inch machined aluminum wheels, P245/65R17 All-Terrain OWL tires, Platinum gloss step bars, cladding, wheel lip moldings and two-tone front and rear fascias.
NBX ($1,175) is actually a package designed for outdoor enthusiasts. NBX includes a Yakima LoadWarrior roof rack, which features a cargo basket made of heavy-duty steel, two-tone bumpers, body cladding, wheel-lip moldings, step bars, front tow hooks, and 17-inch aluminum wheels with P245/65R17 all-terrain tires. The NBX interior is trimmed with unique seat fabric, special rubber floormats, and a soft liner for the cargo area with a storage bag.
Eddie Bauer ($33,100) and Limited ($33,975) come with leather trimmed seating surfaces, automatic dual-zone climate control, 290-watt six-CD stereo with seven speakers, and wider tires. Six-way adjustable heated power seats with dual lumbar supports are used in front, and the driver's seat has a three-position memory feature. Four-wheel drive adds $1965. The top two Explorer models differ in their distinctive trim: Eddie Bauer comes with Arizona beige bumpers, moldings, lower bodyside cladding, 17-inch satin-nickel wheels and grille, and P245/65R17 all-terrain tires. Limited uses monochromatic bumpers, moldings and cladding with a chrome grille and unique 17-inch chrome wheels. The Limited model is available in new Ceramic White Tri-Coat.
Options include third-row seating ($670), auxiliary air conditioning ($610), power-adjustable pedals ($120), Reverse Sensing System ($255), and a power moonroof ($800). A Trailer Towing Prep Package ($395) replaces the standard Class II hitch with a Class III hitch and adds a 3.73 limited-slip rear axle.
Instead of conventional front side-impact airbags, Explorer offers an optional ($560) Safety Canopy Air Curtain System. Located in the roof, it is designed to help protect first- and second-row outboard occupants during side-impact or rollover accidents. The safety canopy is designed to improve side-impact protection by staying inflated for a longer period. Ford has done a great deal of research on this technology and we strongly reco.