Exterior Design: *
In the 70 s, former NBC President Brandon Tartikoff restored the network s fortunes with his Least Objectionable Program principle: viewers don t want the best program, they want the least offensive. Mr. and Mrs. America, your Ford Explorer awaits — faux bling chrome 18 s and all.
By adding three valves and variable cam timing, Ford has transformed its rough-and-ready 4.6-liter V8 into a suave and sophisticated performer. The 300hp powerplant still doesn t pack the kind of wallop you d expect — and pay for at the pump. (It might have a little something to do with the Explorer s 4777lbs. curb weight.) In fact, at cruising speeds, in kickdown, the Explorer struggles to get out of its own way. Our test vehicle was a no-miles pre-production model, so real world examples might eventually loosen-up and fly right. You hope.
The Explorer s stoppers are phenomenal: strong, fade free and completely predictable. If only Audi could offer binders with such perfectly modulated pedal feel. The Explorer s new brake design increases the beast s towing capacity to 7300lbs., which will please owners of similarly gas-hungry powerboats no end.
All hail the Explorer s tube-through-tube frame, originally developed for the F150. With such great bones to build on, Ford kicked some major league Noise, Vibration and Harsh-nass. For example, the stiffer frame allowed the fitment of monotube shocks at all four corners, reducing impact harshness (that's crashing to you and me) and increasing primary ride control (that s not crashing to you and me). The last star is withheld on account of a minor case of the floaty drifties at highway velocities.
Lest we forget, the Explorer had this annoying habit of falling over. And over. And over. You don t have to be a contingency lawyer to know that s gone. In its place Ford has bestowed reasonably flat cornering (although some more aggressive seat bolsters would be appreciated) and understeer aplenty. It s all very safe and incredibly dull — until you drive the Explorer off-road. Thrashed on gravel, choppy surfaces or snow, the Explorer s chassis shucks its inherent worthiness and kicks out the jams. Turn off the traction control and you can even modulate the throttle for some major league drifting action. Wikkid!
The Explorer s six-speed is a class first and first-class. Working in harmony with the creamy V8, the autobox delivers a Merc-level cog-swapping experience. Any SUV manufacturer that doesn t follow suit risks being turned away at the door.
The stereo sucks. Crank it up and every muscle, nerve, cell and fiber of your body wills you to turn it down. Given the gang-banger chic infecting the SUV genre, Ford missed a keep-it-real opportunity to expand their truck's appeal. The optional video system saved our test Explorer from single star oblivion. The screen quality is excellent, the buttons sensible and the head unit s ceiling position ideal.
Did you know that Eddie Bauer sold his outdoor clothing company to the people who make Cheerios? You can t really expect a techno-feast from a company with that sort of background, and you don t get one.
The SUV s adult-friendly third row seats make it OK to buy an Explorer. The fact that they re raised slightly to help stop kids from claustro-puking is a genuine bonus, as are the buttons that lower them- the seats — to the floor. A security curtain is notable by its absence, and you can t schlep much seven-up, but the Explorer is still versatility incarnate.
Overall Rating: ****