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SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

by Annabelle Frankl

Hallelujah, I have seen the light. Or should that be (head)lights, and all I can say is ďPraise The FordĒ. Yes, indeed, I can finally comprehend why this SUV is so ridiculously popular: for it is, indeed, good. No repenting, hail Maryís or flagellation required upon the purchase of this vehicle, for you know that the Powers That Be are shining down upon you! Yes indeed.

Youíll have to excuse all the sermonizing, but this is the closest Iíve come to a religious experience in a long time, and I didnít even have to put money into the collection tin. The 2001 Sport is sleek, quick, comfortable and handles amazingly well. Its gives a firm ride and offers excellent cornering ability. And donít even get me started on the turning circle! (Letís just say it gives a London black taxi a very good run for its money, i.e.: turns on a sixpence).

The 4 liter SOHC SEFI V6 engine is extremely gutsy, producing excellent acceleration (HP 205 @ 5000, torque 240 @ 4000) which, when paired with such great suspension and handling, makes for a rather enjoyable ride. Indeed, the Explorer Sport is so lacking in the rolling-round-corners department, it feels like youíre driving a regular sedan, except of course the view is far better. The independent short & long arm front suspension with torsion bars gives a European-style firmness to the ride, ably-aided in the handling department by 16Ē 5-spoke cast aluminum wheels, all-terrain tires and HD gas shocks. The 4-wheel ABS disc brakes proved to be efficient and smooth, with little nose-diving under heavy braking.

Rack-and-pinion steering is light and precise, although Iíve never liked having the gear-shifter on the steering column. The 2001 Sport has been slightly remodeled inside and out, giving off a newer, sleeker, smoother image. I particularly like the body shape of this model - rounder, and sexier, with bulbous lights and moldings.

Inside, the Leather Comfort Group provided me with leather low-back bucket seats, 6-way driver adjust, floor console with rear climate/audio controls, and overhead console with temp and compass (always useful!). Fordís seats always feel a little strange upon first sitting, but once used to their particular angle and position, they prove very comfy! The dash is regular-Ford layout, although the orange illumination of white dials is very fetching, and brushed-metal door facia and smooth interior lines prove easy on the eye. Electric everything, in-dash CD, cruise and A/C round out the package.

Interior space is good, although access to the rear seats is an ungainly affair, and to be avoided whilst wearing a skirt! Room for rear passengers is not bad at 36.6Ē, although a squish if 5-up. The trunk, accessed through a lift-gate, provides plentiful room for bags etc, and comes with a pull-close cover.

With 15/19 mpg you wonít go broke on the fill-ups, and coming in at under $24K on the base model, the Sport proves extremely competitive in the SUV market, particularly given that it actually drives well too - bonus! Thereís a lot to be said for being different. But I have had a revelation, and I donít mind following the crowd, this time! Because for once, they make sense. The 2001 Explorer Sport is a gift from (the) Ford, and it is indeed good. So enjoy it, because given itís price and performance, buying it doesnít even count as a sin, just a pleasure. And not even a guilty one at thatÖ

Base Price        $23860
Model Tested      $27725
Engine            4L SEFI SOHC V6
Transmission      5-speed automatic w/ OD
HP                205 @ 5000
Torque            240 @ 4000
Brakes            4-Wheel ABS disc 
Steering          Power rack & pinion
Fuel              15/19 (auto)
                  16/19 (manual)
Leather Pack      $1495 
Premium Sport     $700
Destination       $595