Think back more than a decade ago and try to remember the very first time you laid eyes on the then-brand-new '90 Ford Explorer. At the time, you may have thought, "Wow, that sure is a good-looking vehicle." The pickup craze was just hitting its stride, and the only decent SUVs for the era were of the fullsize nature.
Now, fast forward 10 years and 3-1/2 million Ford Explorers later, driving around the local backcountry roads and highways, and you can suddenly understand there certainly is a reason to change. However, with those 3-1/2 million vehicles running around, can there be an argument for why change is really needed? With those kinds of sales numbers backing up the Explorer, it does seem logical to not want to tweak the styling too far to the right. (Think of the old Ford Taurus and the redesigned '99 Ford Taurus.) So when the recent invitation came to attend the introduction of the all-new 2002 Ford Explorer, apprehension shone through on all the marketing and design engineers' faces.
Not until the vehicle was actually unveiled and some gasps of excitement were perceived from the keen automotive journalist world did sighs of relief sweep over the room. The brand-new 2002 Ford Explorer carries on where the past models have seemingly left off. Plus, with numerous additions and even more safety built into the vehicle's platform, a Taurus-like meltdown surely won't occur.
This explains why the new Ford Explorer resembles so much of the old. With several years of sales numbers in the more than 400,000-unit range, sales such as these are unprecedented. After all, it is a known fact: The '90 Ford Explorer reshaped the way the entire automobile industry viewed sport utility vehicles. In 1990, there were only a handful of players in this large, overgrown station-wagon-on-steroids market. Today, there are more than 50 different types and styles of SUVs on the road, and by the time the actual production 2002 models hit the streets, those numbers are expected to rise to more than 70 models of SUVs.
Reshaping the Future
Part of what defines a new vehicle is the amount of change or new features associated from past models. The 2002 Ford Explorer follows the same path as most new vehicles offering more than its predecessor does. Such changes are what make Ford want to build upon those 400,000-units-a-year sales figures. For the next-generation Explorer, expect to see the vehicle hitting the dealership showrooms with a 2-1/2-inch-wider stance and a 2-inch-longer wheelbase. The overall length of the new 2002 model, however, stays the same as the 2001 version, due in part to moving the front wheels 2 inches forward. It is this wider stance and longer wheelbase that is supposed to translate into a better-handling vehicle, an improved appearance, and more roominess. A unique feature that carries over from Ford's other recent vehicle announcement: The Escape has independent rear wheel suspension standard on both 2WD and 4WD models. Die-hard 4x4 enthusiasts may cry foul, but the inherent nature of these new SUV models is not for hard-core off-road endeavors anyway. However, for light-duty off-roading, Ford has positioned the Explorer with better ground clearance than any past models and offers Control Trac on all 4WD systems. The independent rear wheel suspension does, however, allow for a rear third row of seats, affording the Explorer seven-passenger seating comfort.