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Each redesign of the Explorer only seems to makes it better -- although bigger.

2002 Ford Explorer Road Test
Bigger and better

By Bill Roebuck

Technology is a focus of the 2002 Ford Explorer. There wasn't a lot to complain about in the design of the previous Explorer, but in a nutshell, the new model is much better in almost every aspect. Ride and comfort are significantly improved, it is larger (2 1/2-in. wider and 2-in. longer) to provide more interior room, a third-row seat is now optional to provide seven-passenger capacity, and the off-road capability has been improved through increased ground clearance and better approach and departure angles.

There's far too many changes to describe, but suffice to say that Ford improved safety, engines, transmissions, body, noise -- and even claims the new Explorer will cost close to 15% less annually in operating costs over five years because it is easier to service and there are longer intervals between scheduled maintenance dates.

Despite the larger size, it drives like a well-mannered vehicle of much smaller proportions. Handling is surprisingly responsive, thanks in part to a new fully independent suspension and a frame that is 350% stiffer than the previous model. Body lean on cornering is minimal.

The standard engine is a 4.0-litre V6 producing 210 hp with a five-speed automatic transmission. We tested an Eddie Bauer edition with a more powerful 4.6-litre V8 at 240 hp. It sounded no louder than a typical car despite its adequate pep and power.

There's new technology in the vehicle's four-wheel drive system that makes it more transparent to the driver in the automatic setting. A push-button control selects auto, high or low modes.

Entry and exit are easier than the previous design; the door openings are larger and the step-in height is lower. Even my vertically-challenged daughter had no trouble hopping in. Also, my 6-ft, 2-in. teenage son fitted into the third row seat without any trouble. Every seating position has access to cupholders -- there are eight in all.

Cargo volume is 46.6 cu ft behind the second seat. The rear liftgate glass is huge, so much so that it was easy to load in groceries without opening the whole rear hatch.

One drawback is the wider running boards -- it's difficult to get out of the Explorer without dragging your pants over them.

The turning radius of the Explorer is now 36.7 ft, 1.7 ft less than before. And the steering wheel includes redundant controls for both the radio and climate control.

Four-wheel drive Explorers are equipped with a new ControlSlip rear drive shaft that is designed to telescope, not buckle, in a frontal crash. A built-in hitch receiver offers towing capability of up to 1,500 kg (3,500 lb) right from the factory. An upgraded towing package, which includes a limited slip rear differential, provides towing capability of up to 7,300 pounds.

With so many changes, the 2002 Explorer certainly qualifies as all-new. And with little to complain about, it should justify its price range of $37,370 to $46,810 for many SUV enthusiasts.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.

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