What's the significance of all these numbers? Simply this: Ford must be doing something right to sell so many Explorers. Indeed, the Explorer offers something for just about everyone, from budget-priced XLS models to feature-laden Eddie Bauer and premium Limited models. There are two-door and four-door Explorers with V6 and V8 engines and two- and 4-wheel drive.
As if that's not enough, the 2-door Sport model gets its own identity with special styling cues and a new model, the Explorer Sport Trac, will combine the features of a sport-utility and a pickup truck.
The 4-door Explorer is available in several trim levels. (The XL, with its vinyl seats and manual locks and windows, has been relegated to fleet-buyers only.) The XLS is now the base retail model, listing for $23,290 with two-wheel drive. The XLS includes such niceties as power mirrors, locks and windows, an AM/FM stereo cassette audio system, and aluminum wheels. With 4-wheel drive, the XLS starts at $25,170.
Explorer drivers can move up to the $27,185 XLT, which adds fog lights, privacy glass and interior trim items; the 4x4 XLT lists for $29,150.
Further up the Explorer hierarchy is the Eddie Bauer edition for $31,740 with two-wheel drive. This Explorer adds 16-inch wheels, automatic temperature controls, electrochromatic rearview mirror, upgraded audio and trim items, including leather upholstery. The Eddie Bauer 4x4 starts at $33,705, or $34,120 with all-wheel drive. The Limited is the top of the Explorer line, with more leather plus simulated woodgrain, special wheels and exterior trim, and retails for $31,995 for 4x2, $33,960 for 4x4, $34,375 for AWD.
The XLT is the typical Explorer, well equipped but not overly fancy or too expensive. It features a bright front and rear bumper with an integrated rub strip. Its compound headlamp array includes the headlights plus parking lights, turn signals and side marker lights in a single aero-curved assembly set into the bright grille surround. The grille itself is simple, with a large crossbar decorated with the Ford blue oval badge and three smaller vertical bars. The rear bumper echoes the front in appearance, but comes standard with a 3500-pound trailer towing capacity. Tri-color taillights and a liftgate with a flip-open rear window finish off the rear.
The Explorer uses an independent short/long arm front suspension with torsion bars and a live axle mounted on two-stage variable-rate leaf springs at the rear. A 4.0-liter pushrod V6 is standard in the XLS and can be upgraded to the 4.0-liter overhead-cam V6 for those wanting more performance. These engines come with a choice of 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. The XLT and more expensive models, however, come standard with a 5.0-liter overhead-valve V8 with a 4-speed automatic. The 215-horsepower V8 cranks out 288 foot-pounds of torque. Ford made its trailer towing package standard on all V8-equipped Explorers.
The Explorer has its automatic shifter mounted on the column with an overdrive-off button located on the end, handy when hauling or towing a trailer to prevent automatic transmission hunting (and overheating) in hilly areas. The dash features full instrumentation in a neatly laid out nacelle. The radio and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) controls are centered on the dash in a pod; that pod also houses a knob that controls the 4WD operation. The audio and cabin temperature controls are easy enough to use though we'd prefer an old-fashioned twist knob to control station tuning on the radio. The XLT has a handy center console/arm rest.
Front seat side-impact airbags are optional. Also optional is an ultrasonic sonar system that beeps ever faster as you back up within 6 feet or less of objects behind the vehicle. Considering the poor rear vision SUVs have when backing up, this rear sensing system is an important safety option.
The V6 is the most popular engine. But the 5.0-liter V8 assures a certain command of the road with an ability to accelerate with all but the sportiest of automobiles, handy for merging or passing. It's the best choice for doing any towing, with reserve power for climbing hills and bucking headwinds. The V8 offers quiet cruising on the highway.
The Explorer is relatively free of wind noise and only a modicum of road noise filters up to remind you that you're in a truck. But the Explorer is indeed a truck. It's responsive to its rack-and-pinion steering, reacting smartly to a turn of the wheel, but there's no denying the high-mounted center of gravity and overall mass of the vehicle. It handles like a truck. The Explorer's relatively heavy tires and live rear axle arrangement also work against a luxury car ride. On a smooth road, you won't notice, but bumpy roads bring out the truck in the Explorer. It offers a stiffer ride than most cars, but at the same time it provides the feeling that it won't be swallowed up by the next pothole.
Model as tested
XLT AWD ($29,900)
3 years/36,000 miles
St. Louis, Missouri; Louisville, Kentucky
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
Towing package (wiring harness, heavy duty flasher, limited slip rear differential), ($355)
Model Line Overview
2-door models: Sport 2WD ($19,970), Sport 4WD $23,070; 4-door 2WD models: XLS ($23,290), XLT ($27,185), Eddie Bauer ($31,740), Limited ($31,995); 4-door 4WD models: XLS ($25,170), XLT ($29,150), Eddie Bauer ($33,705), Limited ($33,960); 4-door AWD models: XLT ($29,900), Eddie Bauer ($34,120), Limited ($34,375)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual second-generation front airbags, ABS standard; door-mounted side air bags, reverse sensing system optional
Safety equipment (optional)
5.0-liter ohv 16v V8
Specifications as Tested
(XLT AWD) V8, anti-lock brakes, power steering, air conditioning, AM/FM/single CD, power windows, mirrors and locks, keyless entry pad, cruise control, speed-sensitive intermittent wiper, floor mats with reversible cargo mat, sport cloth front bucket seats w/power driver 6-way, black leather-wrapped tilt wheel, floor console w/rear radio and rear heater/AC controls, fog lamps, liftgate with flip-open rear window, luggage rack, aluminum wheels, rear wiper/washer and defroster, cargo cover, privacy glass, 60/40 split-folding rear seat
Engine & Transmission
5.0-liter ohv 16v V8
front-engine, all-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
215 @ 4200
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear