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Ford Explorer breaks cover

On the way: The new Ford Explorer features markedly improved styling and the optional availability of a 4.6-litre V8 engine.

An all-new independent rear suspension and stiffened frame are expected to significantly improve ride and handling in the new Ford Explorer

Ford logo7 Aug 2000

FORD has pulled the wraps off the first fully redesigned version of the Explorer The revamped off-roader will begin production in mid-November at plants in St Louis and Louisville, Kentucky, and it goes on sale in the US next January.

Ford Australia public affairs manager Mr Mike Jarvis says the newcomer is expected in Australia around June, 2001, a few months later than originally scheduled.

Mr Jarvis would not comment on pricing or specification, but says the new vehicle will be positioned in line with the current model, which suggests a starting price around $40,000.

An all-new independent rear suspension and stiffened frame are expected to significantly benefit the Explorer's ride and handling - areas that have come in for criticism in the current vehicle.

The new suspension has also allowed designers to lower the rear load floor a full 17.8cm, making room for an optional third-row seat.

Its potential seven-seat configuration will enable the new Explorer to tackle the likes of the Toyota LandCruiser Prado head-on.

Engine choices in the US comprise a standard 4.0-litre V6 engine with 157kW or a new optional all-aluminium, 4.6-litre V8 with 179kW.

Although yet to be confirmed, it seems likely both engines will be offered here.

"We have access to both engines so whether we offer the V8 will depend on demand," Ford Australia spokesman Craig Smith says.

"A lot of the key players in the segment such as the Toyota LandCruiser and Land Rover (Discovery) are available with V8s so it would make sense to offer one also." The new Explorer will be Ford's first off-roader with side-curtain airbags. A mid-2001 upgrade in the US will add electronic sensors that can deploy the side airbags in case of a vehicle rollover.

Later on, the Explorer will come with a Personal Safety System with dual-stage airbags that sense the weight, size and position of the seat occupant.

Although only a moderate sales performer here, the Explorer has been a huge sales success in the US, finding nearly 3.6 million buyers since its 1990 debut.

Locally, the Explorer earned just 1812 sales in 1999, compared with 3509 the previous year. These figures are well below the segment-leading Toyota LandCruiser Prado, which notched up 8266 sales last year.

Mr Smith is confident the smaller Mazda Tribute-based Escape - to be launched early next year - will not adversely impact Explorer sales.

"The Escape will attract a completely different sort of buyer," he says.

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