The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer


Nicholas Frankl
TACH European Bureau


SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

Funny things these four wheel drives. How many people do you know who have one? - Lovely, yes very good, and now how many of those fortunate families live on farms? au! What a surprise! A bit of a lack of hands there. eh? Well thatís because figures show that the vast majority of 4*4 users (excluding tractors that is) are more likely to get stuck as a result of locking there keys in the car then of having to resort to plow-ing their way out of a muddy bog- the low gear full 4 wheel -torsion diff locked gismo wrestling against natures toughest elements. Why then is it that, not so very long ago, the motor industry went U.A V. crazy (urban.assult.vehicle), the bah sheep public ex-orcised there right to follow the crowd and take offensive off-asphalt action and the jeep suddenly morphed in to the "off-road utility" segment.

I ask all this because right now Iím starring at the latest (and some cynics might argue too late) addition to the European market the "new" Ford Explorer. "New" because itís actually been around quite a while, living State side, where it happens to be the best selling vehicle in the country. GOLLY! What a lot of farmers they must have in America. Well, would you believe -call me Henry VIII and spank me thrice - they do, but not quite enough to support sales of 600,000+ vehicles.

Amazingly Ford clearly produces more than enough Explorers to keep up with de-mand down in Dodge City with some left over, as it even has time to re-engineer and built a right hand drive version and YeHa! Cowboy itís a bigín and damn fine too.

The most obvious asset of this 4.8m long, 1.7 m high motor is itís size. If lining up beside a double decker bus always intimidated you then peace of mind is at hand. ALL, yes even Range Rover drivers, made way for the muscles from Michigan, and I didnít even have to flex. The "car" poses an immense presence from it gapping mouth (reminiscent of a whale sharks at feeding time) along itís contoured and wheel arch extended body and down to the massive three spoke chromed wheels and "wilderness" tyres - oh yes you just canít fail to notice thereís a new bully in the play-ground - and with a name like explorer-your just praying it doesnít take a dislike to you.

Iím pleased -I think- I took a liking to the high driving position, Captain of the USS Nimitz like long range 360í visibility, and endearing performance from the -genuinely- new 206bhp 4.0 V6 which around town (London) never left me asking for more. In fact many passengers were surprised at itís eagerness to sprint to 50mph and these days thatís all the time you have before joining the next traffic jam. Peculiarly, when first driving (and after climbing out of my cart like 16v Renault Clio) I noticed that the suspension seemed to forever be wobbling below me - the car almost see-sawing from side to side a little like those playground horses on giant springs we all climb on to impress small children. Itís takes getting used to, reminiscent of being asleep onboard a small boat bobbing quietly in tune with the currents. Sure enough itís not long before you get into the rhythm and start looking for trouble.

And thatís really the carís Achilles heel, not suspension dynamics, engine manage-ment or good toe in, no , the problem is the brain in control of it - or supposedly in control - as I found piloting the Explorer great fun, on the road , except at all opportu-nities I was looking for a man-whole cover to traverse or a pavement to ascend, scar-ily you donít even notice when obstacles that would normally leave the average mo-torist stranded are consumed and swallowed up without so much as a whiff of indi-gestion.

Cruising around town and down London Kings Road (a veritable must for the self aware and therefore all UAV drivers) I discovered what really appealed to me about the Explorer: AMERICANA. Yup, if you got more of a kick out of watching the Atlanta Olympics and the incessant Uuuu.Sssss. Aaaa. chanting crowds than the actual physical feats themselves, then heaven awaits at your nearest specialist Ford dealer. The Explorer is a car designed, developed, and to a large degree manufactured by, and for, the apple pie Country - powering around the Cities back alleys all I could think of was the Canadian Rockies - where last year I ran around with a Explorer Limited five-up with the bob team at the Calgary World Championshipís -stuck?? You must be kidding we did more pulling than a wine de-corker at one of those post-Oscar parties!!

4 litre V6
205 bhp
5 speed Automatic
110 mph top speed
0-60 10 seconds
On sale across Europe from Ford specialst dealers