New Models - Ford Explorer
First Oz drive: Ford's Explorer transformed
A major overhaul of the Explorer brings it up to the mark with its main rivals
30 October 2001
FORD could have a winner on its hands with the all-new Explorer four-wheel drive previewed to the media in the hinterland surrounding Noosa this week.
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:AS soon as you drive off in the new Explorer, it is apparent that this vehicle is a big improvement on its predecessor.
The superseded model's truck-like characteristics have been replaced by a level of comfort and refinement that is much closer to car-like. The transformation is on a par to that achieved by Mitsubishi when it moved from NL to NM Pajero.
The off-roader is now just as at home on the black top as it is tackling rugged bush tracks. In fact, overall it is now much better in both environments.
The stiffer chassis and new suspension make it a much more comfortable and responsive on-road proposition, while over dirt roads and corrugations it remains planted and predictable where the outgoing model would be bucking and bouncing all over the place.
The steering is nicely weighted, particularly at speed, which makes the Explorer easy to place despite its considerable size.
But like most large four-wheel drives that wear the big off-road rubber, the Explorer does move around noticeably on its tyres, although it's no worse than its competitors.
Both engines are well matched to the overall package although the V6 engine's shorter length gives it slightly better turn in and responsiveness - it has two fewer cylinders so there is less mass hanging beyond the front axle.
The new five-speed automatic transmission is a smooth shifting unit that manages to blur the changes from first to second under heavy throttle in a CVT-like manner.
You can feel the extra total weight in the new car - between 100-150kg - but it gives it more of a solid feeling than one of excess mass.
The often suspect nature of US-built cars with respect to fit and finish seems to have been addressed with the Explorer. The interior is solid and for the most part rattle free.
The only niggle was some flexing of the differing plastic surfaces where the door trim and dashboard meet, causing some vibrations.
If Ford can convince four-wheel drive buyers to disregard their preconceptions about the Explorer and take the new model for a test drive, then the US-built off-roader may be a solid boost for the Blue Oval brand.
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