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New Car/Review



By Tom Hagin

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 33,705
     Price As Tested                                    $ 36,540
     Engine Type              SOHC 12-valve 4.0 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 245 cid/4015 cc
     Horsepower                                   205 @ 5250 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               240 @ 3250 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  111.6"/70.2"/190.7"
     Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     4142 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  21.0 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                         P255/70R16 all-terrain
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 75 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            16/20/18          
     0-60 MPH                                        9.0 seconds
     Maximum payload capacity                        1025 pounds
     Maximum towing capacity                         5800 pounds

    * Sequential multi-point fuel injection                              

Ford has been cleaning up in the light truck segment of the auto industry. Its F-series pickup is the overall sales leader, car or truck. Ford's Taurus sedan is the corporate king of fleet and rental sales, and its Explorer continues the trend. It's the best-selling compact SUV in the country, selling a staggering 431,488 units in 1998. It comes in XLS, XLT, top-line Limited or as our test vehicle, the Eddie Bauer.

OUTSIDE - Explorer's shape has slowly evolved from its original boxy look of the early '90s. An improvement in the front suspension in the mid-90s allowed a lowering of the hood and a larger engine bay. The exterior was updated for 1998, so the 2000 model soldiers on with minimal changes. A new lift gate arrived in 1998, which made opening and closing the rear hatch easier. At the same time, larger rear glass and a wet-arm type rear wiper improved visibility. Other changes included new tail lights, front valance panel, rear bumper and door handles. We found the keyless remote-operated "puddle" lamps to be handy for lighting the ground next to the vehicle. New this year is a Reverse Sensing System that includes sensors mounted in the rear bumper to gauge the distance to objects behind the vehicle. Eddie Bauer models come standard with fender flares painted a different color than the body, while 16-inch alloy wheels mated to all-terrain tires are standard as well.

INSIDE - To keep it from being too utilitarian, Explorer's dashboard uses smooth contours and artful curves, along with a host of creature comforts. Our test Explorer came with five-passenger seating, though three adults in back is a squeeze. Eddie Bauer models come with sport bucket front seats that are supportive and comfortable. Six-way power adjustments for them assure comfortable positions. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has built-in audio and climate controls, while large, easy-to-read gauges dominate the instrument panel. The center console houses small buttons for various controls, along with a sizable storage area and cupholders. Other standard features include cruise control, power windows, door locks and mirrors, intermittent wipers, climate control, overhead console and an AM/FM/Cassette/CD stereo system. ON THE ROAD - There are several engines available with Explorer - two V6s and one V8. The first V6 is a 160-horse 4.0 liter unit that comes standard with the XLS model. A pushrod 5.0 liter V8 that produces 215 horsepower is standard on XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited Explorers. This engine has been used for many years with various Ford products, most notably the Mustang GT of several years back. A no-charge option on Eddie Bauer and Limited models is another 4.0 liter V6, though this unit uses a single overhead camshaft instead of pushrods as in the base engine. It produces 205 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque in smooth fashion, a noticeable difference from the other V6. It gives good acceleration and reasonable fuel mileage, and it's the engine of choice for us. Mated to this is a smooth five-speed automatic transmission.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Explorer is one of those SUVs that doesn't feel like a truck. It has a relatively low center of gravity, which keeps it flat in the corners. Consequently, it doesn't have much ground clearance, so its off-road capabilities are limited to light-duty four- wheeling. It uses a ladder-type frame with an independent front suspension and a solid rear axle, and, if properly equipped, can tow up to 5800 pounds. Our tester came with optional load-leveling rear springs, which helps keep it on a level plane when weight is added in back. In addition, our test model was a 4X4, so it came with Ford's excellent Control-Trac four-wheel drive system that engages with the twist of a dashboard knob. It has a low range for extra pulling power. Power rack-and-pinion steering is standard, as are four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, ABS and side-impact door beams are standard; side-impact airbags are optional.

OPTIONS - Side airbags: $395; power moonroof: $800; trailer tow package: $355; load leveling: $350; reverse sensing: $255; underbody skid plates: $125; CD changer: $395; destination: $525.