By on July 24, 2010

As we roll along towards tomorrow’s social-media-focused reveal of the 2011 Explorer, I thought we’d take one last time to discuss the old trucks and their general merits. It’s possible to argue that the Explorer has provided quality transport for millions of American families; it’s also possible to cast the vehicle in the role of villain, with its victims being those same families, the environment, and the shape of the American auto market.

I’ll make both arguments below, and then I’d like to hear your opinion.

Pro: When the Explorer debuted, CAFE regulations and changing perceptions had all but killed-off the family station wagon. The last all-new family-sized RWD American wagons debuted from Ford and General Motors in 1978, twelve full years before the Explorer’s arrival.

The price, performance, available four-wheel-drive, and interior space suited customers exceptionally well, and even if 95% of potential customers would have been better-served by a modern RWD station wagon, there simply wasn’t one to be had at a reasonable price.

As pointed out in the TTAC comments, the Explorer has always had a decent overall safety record, and the 2002-forward model has been much better than average in this regard. It’s an all-purpose vehicle, giving families the ability to tow, haul, and make through nearly any weather conditions. Until the arrival of the crossovers, it was the most “real-world” of the SUVs, with a focus on over-the-road competence instead of imaginary off-road heroics.

It’s a good truck.

Con: The Ford Explorer is the vehicle that took Americans out of family sedans and wagons, putting them in a heavy, fuel-sucking, rollover-prone, unsafe pickup truck with a cap on it. It’s been a scam from Day One, earning Ford billions of dollars and dodging both CAFE and safety regulations thanks to its truck roots.

The vast majority of Explorer purchasers bought too much truck, paid too much, and received too little. The fuel consumption differences between an Explorer and a Taurus wagon, multiplied by the millions of units sold, amount to a staggering waste of the planet’s resources.

The Explorer was a bad product that drove good product out of the marketplace. It encouraged automakers to sell more converted pickups and was directly responsible for such abominations as the four-door S-10 Blazer and TrailBlazer. The sales volume of the Explorer effectively killed-off Taurus development, most notably Taurus wagon development, depriving hundreds of thousands of families of safer, more economical, and more reasonable transportation.

The Explorer helped teach America to get back in two-ton vehicles that got 14 miles per gallon, just when Toyota and Honda had taught them to get out of those vehicles. And some of them died for the privilege of riding “high and mighty” above their neighbors.

It’s a national disgrace.

I won’t say how I personally feel about the old Explorer. I’m also prohibited from talking about the new Explorer, but suffice it to say that I feel the new vehicle helps address both viewpoints above. Until you can see it, though, let’s talk about the old ones…

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

95 Comments on “Ask the Best And Brightest: Has The Explorer Been A Bright Spot Or Low Light?...”


  • avatar
    Sam P

    I always thought that the Explorer was Suburban Lite. A dilettante soccer mom’s SUV in the 1990s.

    To me, the more rugged Jeep Grand Cherokee (with solid axles from 1993-2004, relatively compact exterior dimensions, and V-8 power from the inception) was the best mainstream SUV of the 1990s – a truck that could blast down forest service roads in the Cascade Mountains during the day, then after a trip to the car wash, look good parked outside any fancy restaurant in Seattle at night.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      The Grand Cherokee had horrible interior space utilization and an abysmal reliability record. Yes, it was the better vehicle off road, but for over 90% of the buyers that didn’t matter.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      150k on the one in my family, with the 4.0 liter six and the automatic transmission, and all it seems to need is new brakes and fluid changes.

      There may be some unreliable JGC’s out there, but my folks seem to have gotten a good one. Interior room is good for how short it is (same length as my BMW 3-series).

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      That’s an affront to Suburbans everywhere. At best it’s a Durango-Lite. Irrespective of which was available first.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      It’s a minivan disguised as a truck.

      It isn’t a “low light,” whatever that means. It was a pot-hole.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Both. If the Explorer didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it.

    I personally am a lover of wagons big and small, I would rather have a Freestyle, Taurus X, or a Flex over whatever the new Explorer turns out to be. So I personally hate the orginal for driving the final nail in the family wagon coffin. I also hate it’s truck based roots which contributed to everything that’s wrong with it.

    Having said that, I’m sure that the Explorer saved Ford’s butt and is part of the reason it didn’t join Chrysler and GM in bankrupcy. Perhaps with a savvyer marketing department, AMC/Chrysler would have sold more (non-Grand)Cherokees. If Ford had never created the Explorer, one of the Japanese firms would have figured it out at some point, instead of everyone scrambling to catch up.

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    Even as a lefty treehugger, I have to admit that the truth is closer to the first point of view than the second.

    The Explorer was a perfectly logical response to the flawed CAFE regulations and myopic carmakers and customers who spawned and sustained it.

    Even the latest rules leave the light truck exemptions almost untouched, leaving buyers with the choice of a sedan or an upright CUV with severely compromised fuel mileage and handling.

    The SUV to CUV changeover, stability control, and tall wheels that can have a tire blow out with little loss of ride height seem to have helped some with the safety compromises of the older SUVs.

    I still don’t like the fact that I would have to buy a $50K Audi or BMW to get a conventional station wagon of any size on the U.S. market.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    The Explorer in its original incarnation was a Jeep Cherokee wanna-be and not a very good one at that. At 4,000 lbs, a wheezing 150 HP engine and a tipsy gate that required 25 PSI tires to keep from going belly up it was a weak execution. It got better over time but it was never a true off-roader, just an over- wrought suburban boulevard cruiser.

    Compared to the modern Fusion or new Taurus, I think the Explorer was a huge distraction from getting Ford where it needed to be. Of course “bull$&*%’s cheap and whiskey costs money” so Ford went with where they could make a buck; a lot of them. Ford is in a better place now.

  • avatar
    ajla

    2-door Explorers are awesome. The 4-door ones I could take or leave.
    ____
    Plus, if the Explorer never made GM build the Envoy/Trailblazer then the Vortec 4200 engine probably never would have existed. And, neither would have the Saab 9-7x, which is one of the most hilarious vehicles ever.

  • avatar
    tced2

    You forgot to list the “other” problem and the Explorer’s contribution to the auto world.
    The Explorer (with the Ranger suspension) had a bad ride and so Ford recommended 26 psi inflation for the tires to improve the ride. The rest is history. People died. Lawyers got richer. The government regulators moved in and we are now paying for (overpriced) tire pressure monitoring systems.
    One long term industry contribution: Because Firestone didn’t howl about the (under)inflation recommendation and the resultant bad results, they are now no longer a supplier to Ford. This relationship dates back to Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone being personal friends (early 1900′s).
    But the folks got to drive in their body-on-frame V8 vehicles for some years longer.

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      Having owned a 94 Mazda Navajo (Ford Explorer 2 door), the 26 psi was strange. My understanding was that Firestone originally wanted 30 psi while Ford wanted 22 psi. Fords reasoning was that the vehicle handled better in emergency situations with 22 psi. 22 psi also lowered the vehicle’s center of gravity, making it less prone to rollover than at 30 psi. Firestone refused to go with 22 psi, knowing their tires were designed for 30 psi. Ford had already counted on Firestone being their supplier and couldn’t come up with an alternate supplier without delaying the release of the Explorer. So Ford and Firestone compromised, splitting the difference and agreeing on 26 psi, with neither side truly happy. And look what happened.

      After the tire blow out debacle (“Ford Explosion”), Ford and Mazda sent out new stickers for the door jambs and a supplement page for owners manuals for tire pressure. They upped the recommended pressure from 26 to 30 psi.

      My personal experience was that 26 psi rode too soft and wallowy. My Navajo rode like the parking brake was partially engaged. My gas mileage suffered and the tires wore on the edges. I took it upon myself to go with 30 psi long before the tire blowout debacle. It just “felt” better when driving at 30 psi. And when my original Firestones were replaced, it wasn’t because the tread was worn but because of dry rotted sidewalls. I went with Big O tires for the rest my the 11 years of ownership. I miss that Navajo.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Firestone was the reason that the blowouts occured. You could potentially pin the rollovers post-blowout on Ford, but the Explorer wasn’t any more rollover prone than other SUVs of the era during the conditions that arise when a tire suddenly disintegrates.

      If the Firestone tires hadn’t been subpar and unable to deal with the 26psi inflation, the whole debacle would have never come up. Ford also used Goodyear tires on the Explorers at the same time, and inflated to the same 26psi the Goodyears has no issues with tread separation. Yes, Ford was partially to blame for trusting a supplier and overlooking a subpar product, but it wasn’t poor engineering on the Explorer, it was poor engineering on the Firestones.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      @dastanley,
      Wow. 22 psi was considered. I have owned autos for 40 years and never heard of an auto that recommended such a low value – nearly all were 30 psi + or -. Of course, tires can be designed to operate properly at any pressure but 22 psi is very low – especially when the original recommendation was 30 psi.
      I am still baffled by a tire that Ford would recommend 26 psi for a tire designed for 30 psi. There are safety factors but this is “tinkering” with one of the most important parts of tire maintenance.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      Down here there’s a theory that says it was a transfer case failure the cause of the rollovers.

      The legend says that at 100 mph, one of the tyres would explode (since they weren’t rated for that speed) then the speed difference would cause the TC to lock and the vehicle to rollover.

      Of course, this is not confirmed and may be just an urban legend.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      sting: transfer case is for the front axle. the blow outs ot deflations that caused the swerve or over-correction leading to the death roll supposedly were related to the rear axle.

      the theory could be studied to see if there were any 2wd variants that rolled, and if they did so in a similar proportion to those 4wd variants that decided to perform gymnastics.

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      Stingray: I haven’t heard that one.

      My Navajo (Explorer) had an auto tranny, so my transfer case was the push-button on-off type with only two positions, ON-OFF (no AUTO). The front hubs were auto locking, but to unlock required stopping the vehicle and reversing for a couple of feet. A neighbor of mine had one of the manual transmission 90-94 Explorers, and she had a manual transfer case (with a “second” shift lever) and old fashioned but more durable manual hubs that required leaving the driver seat to manually engage-disengage. Regardless of which type of transfer case (either lever or push-button), there was no “AUTO” setting on the TC. It was either ON or OFF, with ON locking the TC (the owners manual prohibited against driving in 4 wheel drive on paved surfaces unless slippery for risk of binding up the drive train around corners), or OFF opening the TC, allowing power only to the rear axle. A limited slip rear differential was optional while the front diff was always open. So the TC only would have been a factor if the TC was engaged in the ON position (4 wheel drive). I suspect that most of these blow outs took place on interstates in summer temperatures and that the TC was probably OFF or open (the normal position in 2 wheel drive), with no mechanical link between the front and rear halves of the drive trains – the front drive shaft idle and the rear powered.

      In short, I doubt the TCs had a role in the blowouts/turnovers. And besides, my Navajo couldn’t even make 100 mph. Besides the speedo topping out at 85, the rough, crude, cologne pushrod 4.0 V6 with short gearing just wasn’t good for 100 or greater. I floored my Navajo (stupid, I know) many times on empty highways, and the vehicle shook and bounced around so bad above 80-85, that I was afraid to push it any further. It just wasn’t designed for high speed cruising.

      As an aside, I was amused that the Mass Airflow Sensor was a plastic door that was held open at varying positions by differing airflow into the intake (throttle settings). A potentiometer at the door sent verying analog signals to the computer. The plastic door seemed so primitive compared to the hot wire systems I had seen before, but apparently it worked.

    • 0 avatar
      trk2

      I posted this in one of the other recent Explorer reviews, but 95-2001 the four door 4wd Explorer was rated in the top 40% for fewest fatalities per million registered vehicles-years according to IIHS. This was rated against all vehicles, meaning that the most common Explorer was also one of the safer (or at least above average) vehicles you could be driving. The 2dr 4wd variant was rated average. The 2wd variants were far more accident prone, with 4 door rated worse 40% and the 2-door version right behind the Toyota Tacoma at worse 10%.

      After the 2002 redesign, the Explorer achieved top 25% of all vehicles for lowest fatality rate.

      The most dangerous vehicle was the 94-97 Camaro and the 99-02 Blazer 2dr 2wd. Somewhat interesting is that all variants of the 90′s Blazer were rated in the worst 10%.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Split decision.

    The Explorer kicked off the mainstream soft-roader SUV boom, bringing in a huge wad of cash for Ford in the ’90s. Ford then spent that wad on a silly buying spree instead of rolling it into better product and almost went kaput a decade later.

    The SUV boom brought in enough cash to stave off GM’s bankruptcy for a decade, but also made GM contemptuous of its car lines which did bring about its bankruptcy.

    The Explorer itself gave us those stupid TPMS sensors, and the SUV in general gave us tank-turret car styling and an irrational fear of being crushed to death in human-sized automobiles. On the other hand, it did preserve the V8 in mass-market applications for a while longer.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Are you arguing that TPMS sensors are a bad thing? They are one of the coolest features of modern vehicles. I love the fact that I can trust a sensor to let me know a tire is low and I don’t have to get down on my knees to unscrew valve caps and check tire pressure every couple months at a service station anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      Granted tire pressure sensors are nifty, but we did without having them and without paying for them for decades. Stooping down on your hands and knees to unscrew the valve is for measuring the exact pressure. When a tire is dangerously low it _looks_ flat and common sense is enough to tell the difference.

      I’ll admit I’ve started up my car without noticing a flat tire and driven it a short distance because I wasn’t paying enough attention- but technology is a poor substitute for plain old paying attention and a crutch for the lazy!

      Alas, I’ve turned into a curmudgeon :)

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      JimC –

      Fair enough point, but we also did without seatbelts and airbags for decades, and I think most people would agree that they are positive developments.

      I would actually love to see an advancement of the TPMS to show exact tire pressure in all four tires so that the information you get is a bit more detailed than pass/fail. With proper tire pressure being a measurable factor in fuel economy, everyone, or at least more people, driving with tires inflated to the proper PSI would help reduce fuel use and emissions.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      Nullo,

      I don’t know much about the current crop of Ford products, but many Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep products with the uplevel “driver information” feature have the ability to show the exact PSI of each tire and it shows them in a way that clearly indicates the position of said tires. The only one it doesn’t show is the spare. Base cars have the “pass/fail” system that meets the minimum requirements.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      and why not monitor the spare? fat lotta good a flat or severely under-inflated spare will do for you when you need it…

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The BroncoII is my favorite car of all time. So you needed to be a stunt driver to operate it safely. So what? Today we have stability control so let’s bring it back.
    I drove a Tacoma PreRunner w/standard cab & bed and it’s just as tipsy. OK, most American drivers are too stupid but how about a special driver’s test? Just like the one cycle riders take. It’s the same concept; steer into the roll…

  • avatar
    dwford

    The Explorer really is the first crossover. People wanted the image of the old Jeep Wagoneers, but couldn’t stand the trucky ride and primative accomodations. Ford saw a need and filled it brilliantly for a decade.

    The classic arguement of “give them what they want vs give them what they need” can be argued, but you can’t argue with success.

    Now those who want such a vehicle won’t have the option of a V8, but a 4cylinder turbo instead. Is that what people want now, or what they “need?”

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      I would argue that the downsized Jeep Cherokee launched in 1984 was the first crossover – it was a unibody vehicle vs. the body-on-frame construction found in the Explorer.

  • avatar
    daga

    I take a slightly different tack on this, so I’d say that I don’t agree with either position. The explorer (and GC, …, but primarily the Explorer) was just following the vehicle segment boom that has followed the Boomers throughout their lives. In the late seventies they needed cheap basic transport. in the eighties they needed minivans for the value proposition as a family (and they really killed the wagon by being the alternative to wagons. It was not the SUV). In the nineties they are coming into better earning years and feeling the need to have some status, thus the boom in SUVs and entry lux.

  • avatar
    mikey

    So the pretty litle thing behind the car rental counter says”sorry,we don’t have any Mustang convertibles available”. “We wiil give you an Explorer at a discount price.” So my wife,and I set off to tour the island of Kauai.

    Well we stop for lunch, and Mikey has more than a couple of beer. My lovely bride takes the wheel.

    Ten minutes later I hear “I like this”. Up to this point in her life she has only drove medium and full size cars,and pick ups. “Darling” I tell her “this is a pick up with a cap on it”…”No its not, you have a truck this is a lot nicer and I want one” “It a Ford,sweet heart,and I work for GM remember”

    Six months later my mint 97 WT 1500 has turned into a 2003 Jimmy 2dr. Wifey says “its not as nice as the Ford we rented in Hawaii”{she is right,its not} “but I like it anyway” she tells me.

    Seven years later, I’m retired, and my little woman wants to join me. “OK darling either your Jimmy or my Firebird got’ta go”. “There is no way we can afford to keep three cars”.

    Yup.. I’m looking out my window right now,at our Jimmy thinking if I hadn’t rented that f—n Explorer.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    At the risk of grave cognitive dissonance, both the Pro and Con arguments are true. I don’t know what to do with that :(.

    However, as others have noted, leaving the Firestone / tire pressure debacle out of the story sure misses something. The 2002 redesign did indeed address the safety shortcomings of the old Ranger with a lid original. I have friends who use one both for everyday purposes and to tow a small horse trailer. It is the perfect multi-purpose vehicle for their needs.

    • 0 avatar
      Richard Chen

      +1. Agreed, it’s quite complicated.

      Ironically, the two people I heard of who died in Explorers inadvertently going off road were in post-2002 models.

  • avatar
    charleywhiskey

    I owned a Taurus wagon and an Explorer, circa early 90’s, both in top of the line trims, and both at the same time. The real world fuel efficiency difference between the two was minor, no more than 3mpg. The Explorer with the 4.0 V6 seemed to be quicker than the Taurus with the 3.8 V6 and it didn’t need to have the hydraulic motor mounts regularly changed. The Taurus tranny disintegrated at 58k miles while the Explorer was like a rock when I traded it at 95k miles. Fully loaded, the Taurus rear suspension quickly crapped out; shocks, brakes, and tires had to be replaced after just a few thousand miles while the Explorer was absolutely unbreakable, no matter what you put in it. The Explorer would carry many times the volume and/or weight of cargo and it was a heck of a lot easier to load. Overall, though I favored the looks of the Taurus, the Explorer was much more practical and I ended up liking it a lot more.

  • avatar
    SomeDude

    The Explorer simply was a successful vehicle of its time. Ford never tried any kind of demand management or social engineering tricks with the Explorer, like you first create a product and then manipulate people into believing they need it. Ford simply gave people what they wanted.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    1) The Explorer was always more reliable than the Taurus.

    2) As a kid, I preferred riding in the Explorer. It was well designed, comfortable in the back, even had nice amentities such as rear A/C (I’m not talking vents, I mean fan control and everything)

    3) For those who lived in the rust/snow belt, having 4WD was a godsend in the winter.

    • 0 avatar
      SherbornSean

      godsend? 4WD is more expensive than winter tires, less effective in ice and snow, reduces fuel economy, slows acceleration, and increases maintenance costs.

      What kind of god sends that?

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Why do people on this site keep arguing that winter tires are better than 4WD? Anyone with any sense who drives on real snow takes it for granted that you should have winter tires. (Where I live, you have to have snow tires by law between December 15 and March 15.) 4WD is in addition to that. You are aware that the two aren’t mutually exclusive features, right?

      Yeah, you can drive through snow on all seasons and 2WD (I drove a ’92 Jetta on performance all seasons through 5 Montreal winters, but wouldn’t recommend it), you can do it on snow tires, and you can do it with snows + 4WD. Guess which one gives the best results.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve driven in 38 Michigan winters, in cars with RWD, FWD, AWD and 4WD. I’ve only gotten stuck a couple of times and both of those had little to do with which wheels were driven, at least in terms of getting stuck in the first place since one involved sliding into a deep rut and the other involved sliding over a curb on a very icy parking lot which left one front wheel on a FWD car hanging in mid-air (with a conventional differential). However, in both cases AWD or 4WD would have allowed me to get unstuck without help.

      I’ve had an AWD Chrysler minivan and an Explorer and though I think a competent driver can get through most winter driving with 2WD and the right tires, particularly FWD, for all around safety in winter driving I’d prefer having all four wheels driven.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Why do people on this site keep arguing that winter tires are better than 4WD?

      Because they are. 4WD helps you get going; snow tires do that, as well as help you stop and steer.

      Anyone with any sense who drives on real snow takes it for granted that you should have winter tires.

      Many know they’re not mutually exclusive, but not everyone. I think you’re giving the average car owner too much credit, especially when 4WD/AWD can actually make things worse by giving the driver a false sense of confidence because he/she can start moving without slip.

      I had several Subaru- or Ford Escape-owning friends who thought like that, including one who drove his Outback into a ditch and another who spun out and smacked up her Forester. The former lived northwest of Ottawa, the latter north of Toronto.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      For those of us who don’t live in the snowbelt, a 4wd drive system is great for those occasional times where you need the extra traction but it would be silly to buy a set of snow tires since it doesn’t actually snow.

      Pulling a boat up a slick and algae covered boat ramp is much easier with 4wd, as is getting a trailer moving when both it and your two vehicle are sitting in muddy ground. 4wd is also good if you drive out onto the beach or into the sand dunes.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      I remember driving in climates with significant, ahem, seasonal variety. On the snowiest days I’d find a straight stretch early in the drive- usually coming up to the first stop sign. With no one in front me or behind me I would test my traction by giving the brakes a good press at a slow speed. Once in a while I’d be surprised by how little traction I had which really just meant to drive even more slowly and carefully.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      NulloModo – winter tires are just as much about the design of the tread compound for temperature as the tread shape. Even on dry roads in cold temps, a winter tire will outperform an all season based on the tread compound being designed to be in low temperatures. All season tires get very hard, and thus grip poorly, when the temps really start getting low.

      I have a 4WD 4Runner that I bought largely for winter driving, but I still plan to have snow tires on it.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Quentin –

      Fair enough, and I didn’t mean for my post to come across as an argument against winter tires, I can see how they would be useful in areas where it gets cold.

      I just wanted to point out that 4WD isn’t just for snow and rock climbing. Even here where the temperature might dip so low as to barely kiss the freezing point in the middle of the coldest night of the year, 4WD can be useful for things that aren’t snow related.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Why do people on this site keep arguing that winter tires are better than 4WD? Because so many other people spend their winters rolling their 4WD’s into ditches, no doubt due to their ‘superior traction’. 4WD doesn’t do a thing to correct bad driving, it just makes the end result happen at higher speed.

      I will admit it’s great for launching boats and off-roading.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      boy the stupid AWD/4WD debates go on.

      Fact is people buy AWD/4WD because it is like an insurance policy for lazy people who wouldn’t bother to change tires seasonally.

      All the know-it-alls here on the site can give it a rest, we know tires are more important than anything else, you are preaching to choir. Its OK we know you are smart, you don’t need to prove it on the Internet.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Why do people on this site keep arguing that winter tires are better than 4WD? Anyone with any sense who drives on real snow takes it for granted that you should have winter tires. (Where I live, you have to have snow tires by law between December 15 and March 15.) 4WD is in addition to that. You are aware that the two aren’t mutually exclusive features, right?

      I also am not entirely sure why people bring this subject up so often. I figure that they either have some deep hatred for rally car racing that the 4WD concept triggers, they’re jealous of those who can accelerate like it’s summer in winter conditions (I suffer a bit of that every winter in my 1WD Mazda3), or they have simply never had the pleasure of driving a 4WD with winter tires through a real winter. Almost every one of my friends with 4WD has a set of studded winter tires, as did I when I owned a Pathfinder (an off-road-capable vehicle was a job requirement for me at the time). Deep snow days become good days, where you go out at night when the roads aren’t as busy just for the fun of driving.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Jack poses a real chicken or egg type of question with regards to SUVs and station wagons. And it extends beyond just station wagons to other types of vehicles such as compact and mid-sized pickup trucks and now compact SUVs.

    Are the sales low because people don’t want these kinds of vehicles? Or are sales low because the current market offerings of these kinds of vehicles are mediocre and unattractive.

  • avatar

    I leased a 2000 four door Explorer with their mid level 4wd system and a towing package that included a limited slip rear end and I thought it handled great for a truck, both with the original equipment Firestones and the replacements they did under the recall.

    In 2002 they went to a fully independent rear suspension, so I’m sure the later Explorers handled fine, but the solid axle one that I drove was perfectly adequate as far as I’m concerned.

    My guess is that while some rollovers were the result of tire and suspension design, many of the accidents ascribed to design and equipment were really the result of bonehead drivers not realizing that the laws of physics cannot be overcome even with all wheel drive and that trucks have a higher center of gravity than cars.

    As for demonizing the Explorer, SUVs and Detroit automakers in general, the shift to SUVs was driven, as most consumer tastes are, by women. The con side of the argument Jack gave assumes that the Explorer prospered at the expense of the Taurus wagon. That ignores that by then soccer moms were driving minivans, not station wagons. Then, as women’s tastes changed and they didn’t want to be seen as minivan driving moms, they moved to SUVs. Lots of women liked the high driving position and not just a few liked the macho chick aspect of SUVs.

    When you look at size and weight, whether its a full size wagon, a minivan, or an SUV, it’s going to weight 3500-4000 lbs no matter what. As long as people have children, they’ll need something to drive carpool and go on vacation.

    Of course the prevailing narrative says that SUVs are bought by men to compensate for small penises. I’ve never been one much for prevailing narratives.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      >Of course the prevailing narrative says that SUVs
      >are bought by men to compensate for small penises.

      I think you are mistaking SUV’s for muscle/sports cars.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Men who have little in terms of material wealth often tend to justify it to themselves by assuming the guy who can afford the big SUV or sports car must be lacking in other areas.

    • 0 avatar

      A lady I worked with, who had a Ph. D. in chemistry, was talking in the office one day about how many suv’s were involved in rollovers. I explained to her that they had a higher center of gravity than cars, and that they had to be driven somewhat differently to minimize the rollover risk. This absolutely floored her…the idea that a taller vehicle could roll over more easily was completely foreign to her. I think that a lot of suv rollovers were caused by drivers like her.

  • avatar

    @John Horner: you embrace the dialectic

    I agree with PatrickJ that the explorer was a logical response to the CAFE loopholes (as Keith Bradsher described in his book, the title of which I can’t remember).

    My own reaction driving one in the mid-90s was that it was awful. I didn’t see what my friend liked about it, and he would have had more space for his business equipment with a minivan. A lot of accidents that wouldn’t otherwise have happened probably took place because SUVs are so not nimble.

    They have also undoubtedly contributed to road rage by blocking automobile drivers’ views of the road ahead. I suspect alot of SUVs sold just because the buyers didn’t want to have their view blocked; in fact I was told that by a woman who lives in Wellesley, which at the time (early ’00s) had a very high density of SUVs.

  • avatar
    KIM1963

    My parents both close to retirement got a Explorer xlt mainly for the use of traveling /vacation . It gave them the room to take another couple with them and luggage ,the gas was always split half and half . They never had any problems with theirs and drove it for several yrs till they upgraded to a Expedition and now to a Lincoln Navaigator .

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    My brother’s Explorer and his wife’s Grand Caravan both get the same mpg give or take a mile. The Explorer has been far more reliable.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    For what its worth we get more trade ins of Explorers, Expeditions, and F-150s with well over 100K on the odometer than anything else. The Explorer can last, and while the 4.0 Cologne V6 is crude, inefficient, and underpowered, it is at least incredibly reliable.

    I like a lot about the current Explorer. It shares little with other Ford vehicles in terms of gauges, door handles, and other details, so that makes it feel unique. The owners of past versions for the most part have seemed very happy with them, and many won’t even consider and Edge even when I try to explain how it would really work out better for what they do, and be a more enjoyable car for them.

    For myself, the price of an Explorer with the equipment I would like takes it too close to an Expedition, which is far more comfortable and roomy, and gets about the same fuel economy.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Profitwise the Explorer was definitely a bright spot for Ford but at the same time it (along with the other SUV’s and light trucks) took their focus (no pun intended) completely off the car side. Same for GM and Chryco. As stated, if Ford hadn’t come out with the Explorer another manufacturer(s) would have brought out mid sized truck based SUV’s.

    IMO the Explorer and the other similar mid sized SUV’s must be taken in the context of their time. They were products buyers wanted. For domestic manufacturers the tragedy of SUV’s and light trucks was literally giving away the car market to the Japanese. Instead of trying to compete the domestics concentrated on the higher profits and we all know how that turned out.

    As for the tree hugger side of the equation the car buying population didn’t have the environmental awareness 15 years ago they they do today, neither did the general population.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I’ll take the “pro” argument.

    All the “con” arguments are bogus; Americans weren’t forced to buy Explorers that got 14 mpg. They bought 14 mpg vehicles (lots of other trucks & cars, too) because gas was cheap.

    The Blazer and TrailBlazer are GM’s fault, not Ford’s.

    And nobody “died for the privilege of riding ‘high and mighty’ above their neighbors”. They died in accidents, just like people in other cars.

    I’ll probably never own an Explorer, but to answer the question of whether the Explorer has been a bright spot or low light… ask Ford.

  • avatar

    I always request a compact, or a convertible when I rent a car. One time (circa when the video above was made) I received an Explorer as an impromptu “Upgrade” at the airport. I tried to refuse it, as I really do prefer small cars, but no… it was the only car available.

    Driving this monstrosity was awful. The handling is best described as “Lay-Z-Boy strapped to a shopping cart.”

    So here’s my vote on the con side.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Chuck – that is exactly the same opinion I’ve had with the domestic body on frame trucks/SUVs. Jiggly suspension was the first problem…

      If I needed one I guess I’d put up with it but I don’t so I won’t.

      Give me a well done sporty wagon any day… Turbo diesel with a manual tranny would be even better.

  • avatar
    michaelC

    Jack, I think you’ve traced rather the wrong line in history. BOF SUVs ala the Explorer were not a natural evolution of the station wagon niche. At least not as the mass phenomenon they became. CAFE and BOF SUVs as a strategic product have a common origin.

    The CAFE standards were designed to have loopholes for the Big Three specifically to allow them to exploit their only real strength over imports, especially Japanese manufacturers. You may recall there were ‘voluntary’ import restrictions on trucks by the Japanese at that time, as they were sensitive to the fact that they were eating the Big Three’s lunch in cars. This agreement to stay out of light trucks for awhile was coupled with major investment in US production facilities. A strategic investment by the Japanese in the US market to avoid political problems.

    So the Explorer was not really a response to CAFE. The causation was in essence the other way around. The Explorer BOF SUVs designed the loopholes in CAFE. It provided a profitable niche for American car manufacturers that was free of Japanese competition. Ironically the argument was that this would give the Big Three a breather to become more competitive in cars. Of course, the segment (SUV + trucks) became so profitable and important that it received the development dollars instead of making the investment to fix the car business.

    So, the historical importance of the Explorer is not so much about its success as a vehicle. It (or rather BOF SUVs) became the petard upon which the Big Three hoisted themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      SomeDude

      Care to provide some proof of your theory?

    • 0 avatar
      michaelC

      The political fingerprints can be seen here:
      http://www.policyalmanac.org/environment/archive/crs_cafe_standards.shtml
      That’s a report from the CRS.

      More generally, research in the 1991 period (prior to the 1992 energy act) will provide a flavor of the dynamics. The fact is that when CAFE was initiated there was a separation between cars and trucks and the standards specified increasingly strict requirements for cars and basically static requirements for light trucks (Wikipedia has a graph showing the mileage requirements by class).

      The technical feasibility and impact of increased CAFE regulations in 1992 is covered in http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=1806&page=1 . Data in that book shows the capacity to achieve significant improvement in light trucks against the previous standard. BTW, the analysis of the state of the Big Three vs. Japanese is well covered in the book, as well as the safety concerns of encouraging a shift in the car/light truck mix.

      This should be sufficient to connect the dots. If you want to make the effort, Automotive News from 1991 and again in 1995 will have several articles discussing the shift to light truck production and CAFE standards.

      The “voluntary” import restraints in car imports ran through 1993 or so (http://www.perc.org/articles/article416.php provides a short history and http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/japan/scohenwp.htm a detailed analysis of the policy development and history).

  • avatar
    don1967

    Cars are not good or bad. They are just cars, each one built to a particular purpose.

    My brother-in-law’s Exploder has proven itself a faithful all-season workhorse for over 10 years with only minor driveway maintenance… exactly what he wanted. So two thumbs-up. But festooned with Eddie Bauer decals and driven by a latte-sipping soccer mom, on the other hand, the Explorer was the poster boy for one of the more ridiculous periods of social excess in my lifetime. It was outdone only by the Tahoe, Escalade and Excursion, which marked the technical peak of the bubble.

  • avatar
    william442

    Bring back the Country Squire. Great wood.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Imagine if Harvey Firestone hadn’t been so chummy with Henry Ford, and the price of oil had never spiked, there would have been no debate on this topic.

  • avatar
    john.fritz

    Pro. It’s just a vehicle people like. Nothing more. No on held a gun to anyone’s head (as you so eloquently pointed out) to buy one. Your ‘Con’ argument read like it was written to go straight on the Sierra Club website.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    A lot of events came together in the early 90s to enable the runaway success of the SUV, led by the Ford Explorer. First, thanks to the first Gulf War, the Saudis gratefully repaid the West by cranking up oil production and essentially collapsing the Oil Cartel pricing structure. I remember when gasoline prices dipped briefly below $1 a gallon. That enabled truck buyers to not really worry about gas mileage. Two, as Baby Boomers aged, they showed behavior similar to their parents, who as they got older wanted big American iron. But instead of Olds 98s, Chrylser Imperials, and Cadillac Sedan de Villes, they chose Chevy Suburbans, Dodge Durangos, and Ford Explorers. Why trucks instead of luxury cars? Well, a higher seating position to see over the daily traffic slowdowns, an upright seating position that made it easier on artificial hips and knee replacements for entry and exit, lots of headroom, something modern cars don’t provide much of owing to ubiquitous sunroofs, the (mistaken) perception that SUVs were safer in an accident with another vehicle because of the principles of conservation of momentum, and finally, a more macho image that was an anti-minivan statement. The last point cannot be overstated. SUVs promised freedom (rarely delivered) of blasting through the great American countryside without the physical limitations of paved roads.

    Americans like big. Americans like brashy. Americans like comfort. Enter the Eddie Bauer edition of the Explorer. Later, the Cadillac Escalade embodied all of these traits and rappers and NBA stars sang their praises.

    SUVs saved Detroit when they were on the ropes from the 80s rise of the Japanese import. Unfortunately, that saving only delayed the inevitable two decades later. American manufacturers focused their investment on high profit trucks and SUVs and all but abandoned the bread and butter car market.

    Despite the common sense notion that a minivan or small pickup truck can better serve their owners, we will never see the complete demise of SUVs in the US. When gasoline goes over the $4 a gallon mark we’ll see another retrenchment, but Americans will never relinquish their infatuation with the testosterone-fueled notion of a big truck.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Leek – let me correct that for you… (GRIN!)

      SOME Americans like big. SOME Americans like brashy. MANY Americans PLACE HIGH PRIROTIY ON SOFA LIKE SEATING. Enter the Eddie Bauer edition of the Explorer. Later, the Cadillac Escalade embodied all of these traits and rappers and NBA stars sang their praises.

      (You might even replace my SOME with MOST. Not ALL. The problem is Detroit figured things the same way so they put too many of their eggs in one basket and lost customers like me).

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Both positions have valid points. Even as one who is more pro environment than most posters here (Where have you gone , Pete Moran) I can’t blame Ford one bit for making Explorers. People bought ‘em because they filled a need and gas was cheap. Most Americans really don’t put much thought into the ramifications of fossil fuel consumption, so most saw no biggie in buying such a fuel swiller. You can argue all you want about it’s CAFE driven or because of the lack of modern RWD wagons but it really doesn’t matter. I personally think the way minivans are avoided today, wagons were avoided then.

    So, gas consumption aside, what’s so bad? Well let’s consider that the Gen 1 Explorers really were very close to being a Ranger with a cap. As a result of this, the max weight capacity of the Explorer was less than that of a Taurus wagon, yet there was more physical space. That’s a recipe for overloading. Or the handling/rollover issues had Ford requiring much lower tire pressures than Firestone recommended. So, built right in were factors that would compromise its safety; factors that could have been designed out but weren’t. Like it or not, the simple fact is any tall vehicle like this is more likely to roll than one with a lower center of gravity. So for Ford to have green lighted a compromised design is shameful.

    So now Ford is rolling in massive profits…what to do? Well, they could have revamped the Taurus to keep it competitive with the Camry, they could have tried to make a good minivan, they could have built a good small car…But no, they go buy fancy imported nameplates that all had antiquated factories, stale product lines and dumped their Explorer profits there instead…Good move Ford…

  • avatar
    shaker

    It wouldn’t take a great leap of logic to link the BP oil disaster to the rise of the SUV. That said, the new Explorer is a move in the right direction (using high technology to make larger vehicles reasonably fuel efficient), but was delayed by greed on the part of Ford. (Many others late to the party here, too).
    Very little was spent on engine development in the SUV era, just larger engines to manage the “arms race” of SUV bloat (the ability to take/tow your house contents along with you on vacation).
    Now the new CAFE regs are forcing Ford and others to “foist” “brand-new” “Ecoboost” technology on the SUV/CUV buyer where a tubocharged 4 cylinder with all of the high-tech accoutrements takes the place of a dead-reliable iron lump.
    There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth while these tiny, overboosted motors will be asked to do the things that the V6′s and V8′s did easily, and the buyers (I mean, “Beta Testers”) will suffer the consequences of incomplete development.

    Edit: Of course, I can’t just pick on the “Exploder”, let’s see — Kudos to Ford for building a much bigger, more capable (on-road) vehicle that gets the same gas mileage as the (3.7V6) Jeep Liberty.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      “…It wouldn’t take a great leap of logic to link the BP oil disaster to the rise of the SUV…”

      I’m a “greenie” and I fail to see the connection…off shore oil drilling has gone on before there was such a thing as an Explorer…care to elaborate?

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      The extreme deep water drilling (al la Deepwater Horizon, with BP) is a much more recent phenomenon. If our fuel consumption had been at lower levels over the past 15 years (if there were more wagons vs. SUV built and sold), it seems that demand would have been lower, thus, expensive (and as we now know, dangerous) extraction methods would not be needed (yet).
      That’s not to say that the rise of China is not pushing oil exploration at this time, but I’ll bet that the “Rise of the SUV” got us to this point faster.

  • avatar

    I’m solidly ‘Pro’. Explorer represented an appealing, comfortable, roomy, reliable, vehicle, sold for the price the market would bear.

    I do agree with the points made above –> High profit margins and limited import competition bred indolence in Ford and GM, as did historically low gas prices. That party ended, and so did the dominance of SUVs, sans government regulations.

  • avatar
    mythicalprogrammer

    No idea, all I can think about is firestone incident. Then again thanks to Ford, Nissan follow the trend and my family first new car was a Nissan Pathfinder 97 forest. It got T-Boned and fixed body with 290K on the odometer and it’s still running decent. It’s a nice work horse but I guess you’re right, it was the only thing remotely close to a decent wagon.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    TPMS sensors are pretty cool. Except when you have a separate set of snow tires and wheels. I can’t say that I’m happy about having to take the car to the shop to have the sensors reinitialized at a cost of $75 to $100 each time I switch from summer to winter tires and vice-versa. Same goes for tire rotation.

    The cheap solution is to forego the TPMS in the winter tires and live with the driver display constantly bitching about faulty TPMS readings. Just remember to chalk your summer tires so that they end up back on the same corners of the car.

    With respect to the original question, the Taurus wagon was a superior vehicle in most respects. I owned three of the things and they all got 25mpg and swallowed everything I needed to carry. I even used the rear seat on one occasion to carry seven people in the car. They were cheap to buy used (probably because people were more in love with the Explorer), cheap to maintain and mine were all stone reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      I hear you about TPMS. I had to get a set of sensors for my winter tires. Luckily the local tire chain has the stuff to do all the TPMS now and when they perform my free seasonal swap they also learn the sensors with no charge as well.

      The equipment is getting down in price now so the DIY-er can take over at home. I am waiting for the prices to come down a bit more and then I can swap snows and summers at home. And I have a Subaru which is one of the hardest to deal with. Many of the other makes like GM cars have ways for the user to set their own TPMS built in.

      I vote the Explorer was just the CAFE approved way to have a V8 wagon, and AWD erased the customer’s memories of driving RWD wagons in the snow. I drove a friend’s familys’ 1995-96(?) leased Eddie Bauer V8 model quite a bit, near the end of the lease when it was falling apart after just 35k miles. I liked it simply because of that 5.0 with the GT-40 stuff, what a great motor. Got caught at a stop light once, next to his sister in the Eddie, and I in their mom’s Lexus ES300. The ES couldn’t take out the Exploder in a drag race, not even close.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Ford includes the TPMS reset tool on certain vehicles, but you can also buy one on Ebay for under $40.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    I’m no SUV fan, but I like the Exploder, at least the later iterations. V8 versions only, especially in 2wd.

    Yes, it’s too much vehicle for 75% of buyers. And herds of SUVs are an annoyance – but state legislators / authorities long ago punted on any sort of standards for large vehicles (and their drivers). I guess the feds will kneecap these vehicles via CAFE.

    As far as the Exploder overusing the planet’s resources, as an economic literate who considers most resources a function of human creativity (and therefore nearly limitless), I don’t care.

  • avatar
    NN

    People have only touched on the long term durability of the original Explorer. It may be the most durable American car made in the past 20 years. I had two friends drive theirs to 220k+ miles. When they kept it simple with the Cologne V6 and the 4-speed auto, it was damn near indestructable, which was something that could not be said of any of Ford’s cars through the 90′s. Same with Chevy…we had a 4.3L S10 4 door Blazer, a 1993, and drove it to 160k reliably before getting rid of it as it’s transmission was slipping. A Lumina or Taurus of that timeframe was lucky to make 100k without issues. Trucks were simply built to take more abuse, and it shows in their durability.

  • avatar
    Hoss Delgado

    I never understand blaming a company for actually having a successful product. The “con” argument perfectly illustrates this bizarre thinking to me. If you want to assign blame for someone “wasting” the planet’s resources, then we as consumers must take responsibility for what we buy, and the market will usually take care of that just fine (see summer of ’08). People wanted SUVs, so car companies made SUVs; it’s as simple as that. Honda and Toyota did not “teach” consumers to buy smaller, more fuel efficient cars out of some benevolent regard for the planet; the gas crises of the 1970′s did that and they had better product (and let’s not forget that they, like everyone else piled right into the SUV craze as well). The Explorer was simply a product that fit consumer’s wants and needs for the time and it was successful. End of story. No more, no less.

  • avatar
    marjanmm

    I’ll try to calc a ballpark figure how much more oil has been squandered.
    Let’s say the whole SUV craze resulted in say 50 million vehicles on US roads which consume 14mpg instead of 20mpg.
    If we assume average of 15,000 miles per year per vehicle, each of those 50 million vehicles consumes 321 gallons per year more then if they were 20mpg. About 20 gallons of gasoline can be extracted from a barrel of crude oil therefore Explorer like vehicle would consume about 16 barrels more of crude oil per year.
    Therefore 50 million 14mpg vehicles consume 800 million barrels per year more than 50 million 20mpg vehicles would have.
    If I haven’t miscalculated something terribly, that makes it more than 2 million barrels per day extra. That is about a fifth of the total US consumption and somewhat less then half of the total US production (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_Oil_Production_and_Imports_1920_to_2005.png).
    I believe this enormous increase due to the SUV craze must have hit the environment but also the price of oil, economy, geopolitics, wars, many many peoples’ lives.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    We also shouldn’t forget that the introduction of the Explorer coincided with Ford’s abandonment of the full size station wagon market — unfortunately, just at the moment when Ford could have unleashed a blockbuster vehicle in that segment if they chose to. The 1992 redesign of the Panther cars could have been made into an extremely attractive and functional wagon, with much broader customer appeal than GM’s polarizing “whale wagons” of 1991-96. With the modular V8 set up properly, they might have been more efficient than the GM wagons (which themselves weren’t bad compared to many big wagons of yore). Imagine a ’92 Colony Park with essentially the same interior found in a Town Car Executive of that year. Damn CAFE.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    This thread is getting a little ridiculous. No one is saying the 4WD is evil, or that 4WD and witner tires are mutually exclusive. As Nullomodo points out, there are limited circumstances when 4WD makes sense.

    But at the same time, we chould be honest about how 4WD is typically bought and sold today. For the most part, it is a sales tool to reassure those who drive in snow that they’ll have traction. The vast majority of these people do not bother with winter tires, instead relying on 4WD to help them stop and steer in the snow and ice, which it does not.

    Certainly if you live atop a mountain in the Yukon, you would be well served by the combination of winter tires and 4WD. Especially if you find yourself pulling larege boats out of slimy launches on a regular basis.

    But nearly everyone else would be well served by a FWD minivan or wagon with winter tires. They just don’t like the image of that, and choose the inferior mileage, additional expense, lousy ride and poor packaging of a 4WD SUV.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      “…we chould be honest about how 4WD is typically bought and sold today.”

      I distinctly remember a commercial (might have been Jeep but I’m not sure) in the last five years with a lady complaining how the rain made for bad traction but 4WD or AWD would make her problems go away. Yep. Rain.

      As for me, I’m in the live-and-let-live camp on 4WD.

  • avatar

    The minivan killed the station wagon, and quickly became something not at all “mini”. I think the Explorer saved the station wagon. It made wagons cool again for the first time. Dad’s who cringed at driving a Caravan had something more manly to haul the family around in, and much better in the snow. It helped make wagons so cool in fact, that every carmaker in America now sells lots of them, big and small, in the guise of SUVS or crossovers. All of them are station wagons. That the aren’t low to the ground is something inevitable, and I give credit to Ford again for helping most drivers discover that sitting higher affords better visibility and easier entry and exit. They got too high of course, and now we have cars like the Venza and others which are merely wagons with optional AWD and slightly higher ride height. Volvo of course did this earlier, but priced the XC out of mainstream garages. I had all but forgotten what it was like to bump my head getting in a car until I tested a Lexus IS.

    Most importantly, I love the Explorer because the elites hated it, the government, snobby environmentalists and everyone else that thinks that they have any right to tell us what to drive. Give the people what they want.

  • avatar
    Jseis

    A pointless strawman of a discussion. Many of us live along or athe end of gravel roads, on farms, in rural america or travel the fire roads and no sedan or wagon would do that as well (without removing parts underneath). Of course there are fewer of us than the urban moms. The forerunner of a Explorer might just have been a delivery wagon out of the late 20′s. High center of gravity with an ability to haul. Tipping over? That’s the driver’s responsibility. Utility vehicles are here to stay whether they are wagons, trucks, sporty or not. Here in the Pacific Northwest, a big wagon truck(like an Expedition) or a double cab with a doghouse is a god send because you can haul a shit load of people, gear, dogs or whatever in perfect protection from the elements that no sedan could ever do. Keeping your SUV 10 years or more makes up for the prius loving bs arguement regarding “sustainability”.

  • avatar
    AnthonyG

    Surely the 1984 Chrysler Voyager was the car that more or less killed off the traditional station wagon?

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      This is what I thought of as well. Rather than compare the Explorer to an out of production Family Truckster or Taurus I would guess most were bought in lieu of a minivan..

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    It takes genius to create a car that is as equally horrible on road as it is off-road.

    SUV’s are a fraud: They purport to be what they manifestly are not. Without a bunch of costly after market modifications, even a Wrangler Rubicon is at best marginal off-road.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      Hasn’t the same thing happened to “performance” and “sports” cars though? A Scion tC looks like a sporty little car but it is just a neat looking box with a Camry drivetrain. How about the sprouting of spoilers and fog (er “driving”) lights on every car in the 80s and 90s? Dual or quad exhausts? Big wheels?

      Where ever there is a percieved coolness it will be emulated in look without the function for those who just want the stlye but don’t need the reality.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    The Explorer was merely Ford’s response to the hot selling Cherokee. It offered something both the Bronco II and Blazer didn’t at the time, 4 drs.

    Still it remains a mystery to me why it sold so well. Everyone I knew seemed to own one. The reviews were terrible and you only had to ride in, or worse drive one, to understand why. They were awful vehicles IMHO. Yet people couldn’t get enough of them. And some I know bought two.

    Toyota had the 4Runnner and Nissan the Pathfinder during this time. Both vastly superior vehicles and they sold well but not like the Exploder. Go figure.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    My dad wasn’t taken in. When his ’87 Pontiac Safari wagon kicked the bucket, he simply looked at the numbers. While he’d be trading an ’87 for a ’95 with few changes to its basic platform, A ’95 Caprice Classic wagon had a very modern LS1 V8 standard, with 330 lb-ft of torque and 260 hp, both way more than the Explorer of the time, and as much as the Impala SS of the time. Its lower center of gravity made it far more stable and its superior aerodynamics led to superior EPA fuel economy, despite weighing more than the Ford. So in terms of performance, the Caprice had the upper hand.

    It had an adjustable roof rack that was more accessible due to the lower height, and a 4′x8′ sheet of plywood fit in the back with the middle and rear benches folded down. It could legally seat eight people, three more than the Explorer. You could also have one in ’95 for under $22,000, far short of the base price of the less powerful, less spacious, less efficient, less safe, and more expensive Explorer. The RWD wagon survived the Baltimore Blizzards of ’96, ’03, and ’10 without ever getting stuck, and with more than 200,000 miles on the digital odo, the LS1 is still going strong, though the chassis and transmission are starting to show their age. But it’s faired no worse than an Explorer in its fifteen years of life. Certainly its tires never exploded for no reason.

    Most importantly, the Explorer wasn’t even offered with wood-grain trim, whitewalls, a two-way tailgate, or rear vanity windows that let the fresh air (and some exhaust from the dual tailpipes) enter the cabin! This wagon survived the rise and fall of SUVs like the Explorer. I salute the good people in Arlington who built it, even in an age when the big wagon was not long for this world and the SUV reigned supreme.

    To answer the question, neither: The Explorer was totally irrelevant…to our family, at least.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • J & J Sutherland, Canada
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India