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SEE ALSO:Ford Buyer's Guide

Not too long ago the station wagon was the vehicle of choice for many suburban and urban families. It provided a lot of space for passengers, groceries and gear, and could be used for transporting kids to school and commuters to work Lately the station wagon has been overshadowed by the sports utility vehicle. What once was a rugged two or four-wheel drive roustabout has developed into quite a sophisticated, luxurious and yet practical sports utility vehicle that can not only perform most of the duties of a station wagon, but also offer the versatility of go-anywhere, anytime four-wheel drive.

Three years ago Ford brought out the Explorer, its all-new version of a sports utility vehicle. In a very short time it became a national best seller as well as a trend setter. To celebrate its third birthday, a new top-of-the-line luxury Limited model was introduced this year as a 1994 model.. This latest edition reflects the desires of many of today's buyers for an all-purpose vehicle that affords practical luxury as well as significant upgrades and distinctive exterior trim.

APPEARANCE: What distinguishes the Limited from the rest of the easily recognizable Explorer four-door lineup is its special trim. Integrated running boards are a prominent feature, as are the special color-keyed grille, bumpers, driving lights and side trim. Special distinctive monochromatic colors highlighted by black trim, lower body plastic cladding and styled alloy wheels are also part of its exterior package. A large expanse of tinted glass and slight fender flares complement its slightly curved, smooth clean lines. The large, balanced rear hatch opens two-ways, and is equipped with a washer/wiper/defogger.

COMFORT: Luxury and convenience are what set apart a lot of sport utility vehicles, and this is where the Limited shines. Its package includes full leather trim and plush carpet all around, seating for five with power adjustable bucket seats in front and a 60/40 easy fold down bench seat in back, along with a large flat cargo area and a security cover. An adjustable roof rack provides even more luggage space, while the rear bumper is set up for a trailer ball. Power windows, locks and heated side mirrors, plus remote lock/unlock enhance visibility and security. A great sounding JBL AM/FM/CD sound system and a heater/air conditioner with rear seat ducting provide ambience. The overhead console has pockets for a garage door opener and sunglasses, plus an outside temperature and compass readout.

ROADABILITY: The Explorer's suspension is tuned to provide a smooth passenger-car ride along with an off-road potential. Ride rigidity is derived from its body being mounted on a ladder-type box frame, while smoothness comes from its time-proven modified truck suspension and large all-season tires. Safety is delivered through four-wheel anti- lock brakes for quick safe stops, and power-assisted steering aids its maneuverability on tight turns and in parking. Whenever road and weather conditions dictate a switch on the dashboard allows the driver to change from two to four-wheel drive at the touch of a button. Excellent insulation and soundproofing minimize road, engine and wind noise .

PERFORMANCE: The Explorer's powertrain displays Ford's international character. Its German-built 4.0 liter, overhead valve, multiport fuel injected engine is mated to a French-made four-speed automatic transmission and installed in a Kentucky assembly plant. It delivers smooth power to the rear wheels in normal driving, and four- wheel drive when desired or required. With 160 horsepower and 230 foot pounds of torque, plus the trailer towing package and the 3.73 performance rear axle it tow up to 5400 pounds, with sufficient pulling power to travel confidently. in most adverse weather and road conditions..

ECONOMY: EPA averages are 15 city/20 highway. My combined average worked out to 16.3 mpg SUGGESTIONS: Add adjustable shoulder height to front seat belts. Add a center-mounted parking brake.

CONCLUSIONS: The popularity and acceptability of the Explorer is demonstrated by the fact that in just a little over three-and-a-half years a million of these sport utility vehicles will soon have been produced. Ford's Louisville, plant has been running at capacity, and to meet the steady demand another plant in St. Louis is being converted and will be on line in 1994 to produce additional Explorers. This all-purpose vehicle is proof that a good product can create a market for itself.

PRICE AS TESTED: 29,380 including tilt-up sunroof, plus trailer and rear axle package.

BASE PRICE: $ 27,422 for 4x4 drive and Limited package.


           Base Price              $  27,422
           Price As Tested         $  29,380
           Engine Type             V-6, ohv - pushrod, mpfi
           Engine Size             4.0 liter/245 cid
           Horsepower              160 @ 4500
           Torque (ft/lbs)         220 @ 2200
           Wheelbase/Length        112"/184"
           Transmission            four-speed automatic w/od
           Curb Weight             4400
           Pounds per Horsepower   27
           Towing Capacity (4x2)   5400
           Fuel Capacity           19
           Fuel Requirement        Unleaded regular (87 oct)
           Tires                   Firestone Radial ATX  P235/75R15 M+S
           Brakes                  anti-lock standard  disc/drum
           Drive Train             front engine/rear drive/part time 4x4   
                      (in two-wheel drive)
           EPA Economy - miles per gallon,
             city/highway/observed    15/20/16.3
           0 to 60 mph                10.9 sec
           1/4 mi (E.T.)              18.0 sec
           Coefficient of Drag  (Cd)  .43