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Ford Explorer & Mercury Mountaineer for 2002

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Beyond U.S. Borders

The new Explorer never was intended solely for the U.S. market, but had Europe and the rest of the world in its sights.

Current Explorer owners are the prime target for now, with the European introduction slated for months after the vehicle's launch. Those American owners were a major consideration in the redesign, with four items tops on the wishlist. It had to be safer, offer more functionality, be more refined, and have better handling dynamics. They got their wishes. This time, all the fancy language and smoke that a company can issue to kick off a new product was justified.

"Explorer is now best in its class. ... By comparison Durango feels like a truck, and a Lexus RX300 comes across as more like a minivan."

With some few minor points - silly things really to be touched on later - the Explorer is now the best in its class. An ML430 has more prestige and better seats, to be sure. But the Explorer will out handle that Mercedes and the steering is far superior. By comparison, the Dodge Durango feels like a truck. And a Lexus RX300 comes across as more like a minivan (you can easily out pace the steering of an RX300 in quick maneuvers, but not on the Explorer.)

The Explorer's only real competition is the Jeep Grand Cherokee - but not on the highway. There, your big Cherokee will feel like a kite in the wind, and a short-tailed kite at that.

Let's check the Explorer's all new package. There's a cleaner, bolder look that improves on its rather classic styling. Glass, particularly at the front and side beltline, is little changed except for aerodynamic tweaks and a 15 mm lift at the rear makes it look even speedier.

Bagging it

There was no need to change the Explorer's side proportions and Ford was smart enough not to do it. But the rear window is bigger and it opens at the liftover height to accommodate shopping carts, although that feature is disguised by connecting the lower edge of the glass to the belt line. That's minivan-type usefulness without being obvious.

A deep rear bumper helps for loading luggage gear and hides a frame-mounted trailer hitch. To address owner safety, both bumpers were lowered to be closer to passenger car heights and are visually integrated into the package instead of bolted on.

If you examine the point where headlight, bumper, and side body panel join, you'll notice a fine line instead of multiple surfaces. This is superior craftsmanship. The front bumper also disguises lower frame horns, rotated downwards about 50 mm to closely meet passenger car bumpers in a front end crash. That way they share the energy and the car is less likely to run under the heavier truck.

The vehicles we tested were all supplied with new, wider, running boards. Those were nice for stepping in and spectacular for collecting mud. Contrasting body cladding anchored the visual line around the entire vehicle, as well as protecting the body from stone chips. During drives in the dirt and mud of Arizona, no one reported stone damage.


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