The Ford Explorer is a mid-size SUV sold in North America and built by the Ford Motor Company since 1990, as a replacement for the smaller but related Ford Bronco II. It is manufactured in Louisville, Kentucky (it was also assembled in Hazelwood, Missouri until the plant closed on March 10, 2006). The Ford Explorer was instrumental in turning the SUV from a special-interest vehicle into one of the most popular vehicle types on the road. It is marked as Ford's only mid-sized SUV and is slotted between the larger Ford Expedition and the smaller Ford Escape. Though the Ford Escape is a crossover and the Expedition and Explorer are traditional SUVs, Ford considers all three vehicles to make up their "SUV" portfolio. Their "crossover" portfolio consists of the Ford Flex and the Ford Edge.
Both two-door Explorer Sport and four-door models of Explorer have been sold. Part-time four-wheel drive is an available option, and since 1995 this has been a 'shift on the fly' system with full protection against being engaged at high speed.
A specially modified Special Service Vehicle version is also available from Ford Fleet for law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and EMS agencies.
Explorer was also the name of a trim package offered on the Ford F-Series trucks from 1968 to 1986.
First generation (1991?1994)
The Explorer was released in March 1990 as a 1991 model. It was equipped with a 4.0 L 155 hp (116 kW) V6 engine and either the 4-speed A4LD automatic transmission or 5-speed M5OD manual transmission. Like the Bronco II it replaced, it was an SUV derivative of the Ranger pickup, and came equipped with many of the Ranger's optional features. Like its direct competitor, the Chevrolet S-10 Blazer, it was available in both 2-door and 4-door body styles, and with rear or four-wheel drive. The four-wheel drive versions were equipped with a Borg Warner 13-54 part-time four-wheel drive transfer case. The 13-54 was available with "Touch Drive" electronic push-button shifting or manual lever-operated shifting. Both were "shift-on-the-fly" designs that allowed the Explorer to be shifted from two-wheel drive to "four-high" at any speed, although "four-low" was only available when the vehicle was stopped. All Explorers were equipped with the 8.8 in (22 cm) Ford rear axle in either a limited slip or open version with a variety of available gear ratios. Four-wheel drive front axles were the TTB ("Twin Traction Beam") Dana 35 with some Dana 44-spec components.
Explorers initially came in 4 trim levels: base XL, XLT, Sport (only available on the two-door version), and the upscale Eddie Bauer edition. For the 1993 model year, engine output was increased by 15 hp (11 kW) for a total of 170 hp (127 kW). The Limited edition, added for 1993, was available only in the 4-door body style and was positioned at the top of the lineup above the Eddie Bauer edition. It featured automatic headlights, foglamps, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, a center roof console with compass and outside thermometer, unique wheels and grille, and an automatic transmission as standard equipment. Both the grill and headlight trims on the Limited model were paint-matched to the body color, unlike the chrome or black versions on other trim levels.
Technically similar to the 4-door Ford Explorer, the 2-door Explorer came in both rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive variants. It replaced the 2-door Ford Bronco II, and was larger than the Bronco II. A variant of the 2-door Explorer Sport was sold by Mazda as the Navajo, which won Motor Trend's Truck of the Year award but was discontinued in 1994. Many, but not all 2-door Explorers are badged as Sport models.
Second generation (1995-2001)
The Explorer saw significant exterior, interior and suspension updates in 1995. The former "Twin Traction Beam" (TTB) front suspension was replaced with a more carlike independent front suspension. The Explorer lineup now consisted of two models: 2-door Explorer Sport and the 4-door Explorer. The Limited was a higher end 4-door. Selectable part-time/full-time ControlTrac 4-wheel-drive débuted with a two-speed transfer case featuring three-modes, Auto, 4 High and 4 Low.
A 210 hp (157 kW) 5.0 L Windsor V8 engine and heavy-duty 4-speed 4R70W transmission were added for 1996, along with a "full time" all-wheel drive system on the Eddie Bauer and Limited in 1997. A more-powerful SOHC 205 hp (153 kW) V6 engine came as an option in 1997 along with an optional 5-speed automatic. A Mercury twin, the Mountaineer, was added in 1997 as well. In early 1997, the 5.0 L V8 received new cylinder heads (GT-40P series), which upped power to 215 hp (160 kw). Since this change was made in the middle of the 1997 release, the 1997 GT-40P equipped Explorers and Mountaineers were dubbed 1997¼ models. The 5.0 L V8 powered Explorer has become favored in the high performance SUV crowd, with many performance parts available. This is due to the fact that many aftermarket 5.0 L Ford Mustang parts are interchangeable with the Explorer variant. Also, the Explorer has aftermarket parts available for it including superchargers, nitrous kits, and headers. It was the first in its segment to introduce driver and passenger air bags at once.
The 1995 Explorer was the first production vehicle to use a neon center high mount stop lamp. This was replaced with a more conventional LED lamp when the liftgate was refreshed in 1998. A slight change in front end design came in 1999, at which time the XLS name replaced XL as the base model.
Like the basic Explorer, the Explorer Sport was significantly updated in 1995. The Eddie Bauer trim level was replaced with Expedition on 2-door Explorers (1995 only, the name would be reused on the 1997 Ford Expedition). The rear was given a face lift for 1998.
There was a North Face model also introduced, but was exclusive to the UK.
Third generation (2002-2005)
2001 also saw the introduction of the Explorer Sport Trac, which put a small pickup bed behind the four normal SUV doors.
In 2009, this generation Explorer had five of the top seven spots for vehicles traded in under the "cash for clunkers" program, with the 2002 model topping the list. The 1994 model from the previous generation also had the eighth spot on the list.
The 4-door Explorer and companion Mercury Mountaineer were redesigned entirely in 2002, losing all design similarity with the Ranger while gaining a similar appearance to the Ford Expedition (the third generation Explorer is even often confused with the second generation Expedition, having rounded wheel sockets and "larger" back lights along with a more rounded appearance overall) and the still in production, second generation inspired Explorer Sport Trac. Engines were either the 210 hp (157 kW) SOHC 4.0L V6 with 254 ft·lbf (344 N·m) of torque or a 239 hp (178 kW) 4.6 L V8, with the 203 hp (151 kW) 4.0 L still available on the Explorer Sport. A third-row seat became available for the first time, bringing total passenger capacity to seven. Both manual and automatic transmissions and all-wheel drive were available (with 2002 being the last year of being able to order a 4-door and manual transmission). Trim lines were the base Sport Value, Sport Choice, XLS, Sport Premium, XLT, Eddie Bauer, and top Limited. AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control were standard for 2005 but an option from 2002 and on.
Beginning with the 2002 model year, Ford installed a fully independent rear suspension in the Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer (but not in the 2-door Explorer Sport). This replaced the non-independent ("live-axle") rear suspension used in previous model year Explorers. In the fully independent rear suspension each rear wheel connects to the rear differential via a half-shaft drive axle. The benefits of a fully independent rear suspension for ride comfort, handling, and vehicle stability have been known for many years, and many rear- or 4-wheel-drive vehicles (cars and SUVs) use this type of suspension; for example, the Hummer H1, and the Mercedes-Benz ML SUV. Ford installed the independent rear suspension in the Explorer beginning with the 2002 model year because of the well-publicized vehicle rollovers and resulting fatalities that occurred with previous-edition Ford Explorers. All of the Explorers involved in the rollovers had non-independent rear suspensions, and many of the vehicles had tires which Ford judged to be defective (see below).
All three SUVs use code U6 (for rear-wheel drive), U7 (for four-wheel drive), and U8 (for all-wheel drive) in the 5th, 6th, and 7th positions of the VIN.
Fourth Generation (2006-2010)
When the Explorer was redesigned for 2002, the Explorer Sport continued unchanged for 1 more year. Due to the decline of 2-door SUVs, the 2-door Explorer Sport was discontinued in 2003.
The Explorer and the Mountaineer were updated for 2006 on a new frame, produced by Magna International rather than Tower Automotive. It was upsized, because the Ford Freestyle (now called Ford Taurus X), slotted between it and the Escape. Along with this new, stronger base were a new interior, redesigned rear suspension, and power-folding third-row seats. A tire-pressure monitoring system and Electronic stability control are standard. Power running boards (like those on the Lincoln Navigator) that lower to allow easier to access for someone entering the vehicle and then later retract upon door closure are available. Unlike previous Explorers, there will be no right-hand drive version. The new Explorer is marketed in Japan in a left-hand drive configuration, as LHD vehicles are considered prestigious there.
Ford reverted to a one piece rear door due to reports of cracks that appeared on the plastic panel below the rear window. Third-generation Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers can sometimes be seen with a single crack vertically, close to the center Ford oval badge.
A 210 hp (157 kW) 4.0 L V6 is the base engine, with the 292 hp (218 kW) 24-valve V8, similar to the Mustang engine, as the top choice. A six-speed automatic transmission is available with this engine as well.
The Explorer was nominated for the North American Truck of the Year award for 2006.
A new Sport Trac was added to the Explorer line in early 2006 for the 2007 model year. Unlike its predecessor sold through 2005, it will feature the V8 engine as an option, and will be based on the new, larger Explorer platform. AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control will be standard in the Sport Trac.
A special 2007 SVT model called the Sport Trac Adrenalin was to use a supercharged version of the 4.6 L Modular V8, with 390 hp (291 kW) and featuring 21-inch (530 mm) wheels. It was to be a successor to the F-Series Lightning pickup. However, it was cancelled in a cost-cutting move, as part of The Way Forward.
In 2008, Ford added side curtain airbags across the range. The satellite navigation system was upgraded with voice control. In 2009, the Explorer got trailer sway control standard and the navigation system got traffic flow monitoring and gas prices updated from nearby stations. For the 2010 model year, Ford's MyKey became a standard on all Explorer trims.