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2002 Ford Explorer: A Not So Rocky Road

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A Clean Slate

I shouldn't have wondered. While the previous Explorer had felt solid and in control in most situations, this version was even more so - the evidence of the widened track that pushed the four tires further into the corners for greater stability.

And it rode a little lower than its predecessor, thanks to the relocation of the fuel tank up and under the passenger side, allowing the frame to sit a shade closer to the ground.

Those might seem like fine points, but on a vehicle type that has drawn vehement criticism as being unsafe at any speed from some corners, such refinements can make a huge difference, especially when coupled with some new, industry-surpassing safety features.

Getting Down and Dirty

I've become one of those people who really does like to take a vehicle off-road, not a lumpy little dirt path or a muddy stretch of meadow.

Off-roading means off the road, where a vehicle climbs up rocky embankments, sometimes seems suspended on its sidewalls as it maneuvers the length of a trench, looks skyward at the crest of a hill before skittering down a sharp incline, or lurches into a deep rut on one side while it maneuvers over a log on the other.

The folks at Ford gave us a chance to test a number of challenges.

The Explorer had cruised along some snow-brushed, curving mountain roads, without losing a sense of stability. Despite the altitude, it didn't labor against the thinning mountain air, but seemed to accelerate and corner with acceptible ease.

During an in-town comparison test with the previous year's Explorer, the kind of driving that would face most Explorer owners, the "next gen" model maneuvered deftly through traffic and parked easily.

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