Ford Explorer: A Not So Rocky Road
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The beefier-looking pre-production vehicle drew some appreciative glances for the wrap-around glass effect in the rear disguising a sensible load level for groceries or packages, the usable third row seating, and return to its original side pillar lines. It definitely was not the previous generation design.
A hot lap around a test course in its Mercury Mountaineer sister had given me a sense of the stability that's been built into this next generation version.
"Just jump in and do a comparison," said Ford spokesman, Jon Harmon. So I did.
Ford has added a unique, independent rear suspension that lets it flex in awkward configurations while stiffening the frame for strength, a combination that doesn't revive long-ago backaches. Plus there are front seat grab handles for a squeamish passenger or errant driver.
Those were among additions that, at nearly full throttle, were evident when compared with a Mercedes M class and Jeep Grand Cherokee with sharp, fast cornering at speed.
Testing the Spirit
But on a respectable off-road, mountain course, I was able to put the new, all-aluminum 4.6 liter, SOHC V-8 version to a special test. This was the kind of challenge that could prove the new Explorer's true mettle.
It lurched down a rugged mountain pathway, leaning far to the right or the left, depending on the angle of incline.
But the Explorer never felt out of control. There was no sense of tippiness that can make an off-roader pull back from a challenging edge. The widened stance was not overdone enough to create a hang-up problem. And a shorter overhang allowed for greater maneuverability around sharp, tree-filled corners or rock walls.
It gripped the track, climbed out of deep holes, clambered up a slick, rutted hill then maneuvered out of the way of a fallen log at the crest at the last moment.
The only disappointment was the shortness of the test course. I would have been happy doing many more miles and pushing it further towards its limits. - Martha Hindes
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