Ford completely redesigned its top-selling sport utility vehicle and added a third seat for 2002.
By Jim Brightly
I’m a little nostalgic when it comes to motor vehicles. I miss wind wings and solid bumpers strong enough to hit a steel pole at 5 mph and sustain no damage, other than to the driver’s pride. I am still adjusting to the idea of daytime running lights, automatic door locks, and European-style turn signals.
The 2002 Explorer, completely redesigned and reconfigured for this year, has no wind wings and it does have automatic door locks, but it also has a new fold-down third seat that makes it a seven-passenger vehicle. The 2002 Explorer could be an excellent addition to your garage and to your motorhome touring. With the addition of a “neutral tow kit,” the 2002 4×4 Explorer with automatic transmission is suitable for towing four wheels down behind a motorhome, and the various 4×2 models with manual transmissions (which do not require the kit) are towable as well.
The 2002 Explorer is designed with several features I like and thoroughly enjoy. Among them are headlights that automatically activate as darkness descends and turn off 20 seconds after the engine is shut off; speed-sensitive windshield wipers (when on an intermittent setting); and two driver settings that automatically position the seat, pedals, and mirrors to the proper locations for each driver. The Eddie Bauer model I used during my test drove more like a comfortable town car than a rugged sport utility vehicle (SUV), but it appeared to be completely at home on the highway or on the trail. The Explorer I tested, with a 210-horsepower, 4.0-liter single overhead cam V-6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission, weighed in relatively heavy at 4,740 pounds. However, it was quick (from 0 to 60 mph in 11.3 seconds) and nimble (with its rack-and-pinion power steering it easily slipped into parking slots).
To drive the Eddie Bauer or Limited editions of the Explorer, simply slide behind the wheel and push “1” or “2” on the driver’s seat control. The mirrors automatically adjust to their preset positions; the six-way driver’s seat slides to its location (you can even add heat to both front seats); and the pedals move to their predetermined settings. Lift or lower the steering wheel to the preferred height, put your foot on the brake, shift to “drive” (if it’s dark, the headlights will come on automatically), and you’re on your way. For listening pleasure, dial in and crank up the 290-watt audio system with a six-disc in-dash CD player. The dual-zone air-conditioning/heating system delivers preset climate control comfort for both the driver and the passenger.
Explorer 4×4 models are always in Ford’s Control Trac automatic four-wheel-drive mode, which means that if the system senses a need — as we found while driving in snow — the transfer case automatically sends power to the fore and aft differentials as required. If you should find yourself in really deep snow, as we did in our driveway, you simply push the control button located on the dash to the right of the audio system and the Explorer locks in four-wheel drive, which is indicated by a dash-mounted light. In really deep mud or snow, stop the vehicle, shift the transmission to the “neutral” position, push the “4WD-Lo” button, and you have almost instant access to a lower set of gears.
On the amenity side of the menu, the driver’s window switch can be pushed against an indent and stopped at any position, or depressed all the way down to completely open the window automatically. The Explorer also is equipped with a message center (found at the lower right-hand side of the main dash display) that provides information such as outside temperature and compass directions.
A portion of the road test included an 800-mile cross-country trip with three adults and two full-size Labrador retrievers. We towed a small utility trailer that carried our luggage. The Explorer handled it all with ease. Both human and dog passengers were comfortably transported by the Explorer, and the added weight of the people, animals, luggage, and trailer failed to make a sizable dent in the Explorer’s pep and driving zest. Even a snowstorm along the southern Colorado border could not dampen the Explorer’s performance.
If you plan to flat tow the Explorer, I suggest buying a model with the V-6 engine rather than the 4.6-liter Triton V-8 — you’re towing it, not towing with it. It’s less expensive to buy, tow (it weighs less), and operate. Insurance for it may even cost less. You shouldn’t worry about power; the V-6 engine packs plenty of performance. We climbed the westbound portion of the Eisenhower Tunnel on Interstate 70 just outside of Denver (a 7 percent grade for 6 miles) with no problems at the posted speed limit while on cruise control — you shouldn’t need any better performance than that.
A note of caution: After switching from the cockpit of your motorhome to the driver’s seat of your Explorer, take some time to become reacquainted with the Explorer’s steering. It’s so quick and responsive you may end up on the curb rather than beside it. And the fully independent suspension has been designed to be both soft and stiff at the same time, depending on the driving conditions you’re experiencing.
As noted previously, in order to tow a 2002 four-wheel-drive Explorer that has an automatic transmission, you’ll need to have the “neutral tow kit” installed by a Ford dealer. This kit allows the transfer case to be disengaged during flat towing, yet still remain lubricated. No speed or distance limitations are imposed (other than speed limits imposed by laws, of course). In the case of two-wheel-drive Explorers, only those with manual transmissions can be flat towed. For additional towing information, check your owners manual or contact your dealer.
Don’t forget, one of the first things you should do before committing to buy a towed vehicle is to weigh it. Check its factory specs to make sure it’s within the towing parameters of your motorhome, then weigh it to verify that your motorhome can tow it safely.
Fast Facts: 2002 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer 4×4
Engine: 4.0-liter SOHC V-6
Horsepower: 210 @ 5,100 rpm
Torque: 254 foot-pounds @ 3,700 rpm
0-60 mph: 11.3 seconds
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 113.7 inches
Mileage: 18.2 mpg as tested; EPA average — 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway
Fuel capacity: 22.5 gallons
Weight: 4,740 pounds (with full fuel tank)
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Manufacturer’s base suggested retail price: $34,055
Price as tested: $36,375