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Review: 2002 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4

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SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

By Annabelle Frankl

With a drive up to San Francisco, then on to Lake Tahoe, looming over the holidays, what better than a rugged 4x4 to transport me? A call to the always-accommodating Brad at Ford, and an Explorer was mine for the week. Thankfully traffic was light out of LA and I was soon bombing along the 5 Freeway, headed north.

The Explorer boasts a meaty 4.6 liter, V8 fuel injected engine, so cruising and passing with ease was no problem. Producing 210 hp at 5100 revs and 254 lb-ft of torque at 3700 revs, I was never lacking in pulling power. However, I was traveling light, and even with the addition of 1 extra person (Dad), skis and extra luggage, I could feel the difference. I have no doubt the Explorer is quite capable of carrying the 7-8 people for which it has room, but you’d be punching the accelerator rather more aggressively than I needed to. However, one of the delights of such a light load – amazing fuel efficiency. The 22.5 gallon tank (which given LA’s low gas prices at time of testing meant a fill-up was just a tad over $20) gave me well over 350 miles to the tank, just short of the distance I was traveling. A nice surprise, given most SUVs guzzling reputations.

One point to note – a definite shaking of the steering wheel at high speeds. Admittedly I was driving at a little over the speed limit, but given the Explorer’s engine capability, and that I was only at around 3,000 revs, more speed is not a problem; road stability would be. This effect was heightened on even the shallowest of curves in the freeway, possibly also due to the all-terrain tires. Riding on 16” cast aluminium wheels and P245/70R16 all-terrain SBR owl tires, the Explorer generally holds the road well, and doesn’t bounce around either.

Of course the true test came on the trip to Tahoe. A leisurely 3 hour jaunt soon turned into an 8 hour traffic jam, as rain soon became sleet and then snow. Whilst others fumbled with chains at the side of the road, we could happily sail past, the auto 4x4 effortlessly dealing with the snow and slush on the road. No slipping or sliding whatsoever, even under braking, but then it does come equipped with ABS too. However, I wish the same efficiency could be said of the windscreen wipers. A truly dismal performance. No matter how much heat was piped onto the windscreen, the sleet froze to it, and the wipers merely slid over the top of the ice. Admittedly we had no anti-freeze, but surely, if a 4x4 is designed for driving in conditions more testing than the local grocery run, it’s been tested at altitude, off road etc? Unimpressed, to say the least. And visually impaired too.

Wiper trouble aside, no other real complaints. The Explorer Limited is extremely comfortable, the leather bucket power seats adjustable enough that bottoms did not go to sleep, even on the long stretch up the hill. Equipped with a 6-CD in dash, adjustable pedals with memory, dual temperature control, homelink, audio, cruise and temp controls on the tilt steering wheel and a well-thought out dash design, which includes a message center (mpg, miles to go etc) the cabin is roomy and comfy, with buttons etc well-placed.

Though it offers great visibility, the Explorer is not ridiculously high off the ground as to make entry a problem, even for placing objects/children into the roomy back seats. The optional 3rd row of seats is extra, but the seating is sturdy, comfortable and doesn’t leave passengers with their legs around their chins. The 3rd row does mean that luggage space is limited, but for our purposes, it could be folded flat, along with a portion of 60/40 second row, to make room for bags and skis.

The Explorer comes equipped with ABS, 2nd generation driver and front passenger air bags, a (very noisy) seatbelt reminder, and, as extra, a reverse sensing system.

Quiet, comfortable, fuel efficient, I thoroughly enjoyed driving the Explorer Limited. Including optional equipment, listed below, you’re looking at an MSRP of just over $38,000. A good chunk of change, but given the new styling of the 2002 models, it’s unlikely to look dated anytime soon.

MSRP: $38,110

Engine: 4.6 liter, SOHC V8 w/ feedback fuel injection. Transmission: 5-speed automatic Brakes: 4 wheel disc w/ ABS HP: 210 @ 5100 Torque: 254 @ 3700 Suspension: Independent short/long arm, front/rear w/ coil springs Steering: Rack & pinion, speed sensitive

Optional Equipment (included in price above)

4.6 liter engine $695 Telescopic steering $ 60 Running boards $395 Side curtain air bags $495 Trailer tow package $395 Aux Climate control $610 Reverse sense system $255 3rd row seating $670 Destination $600