Jude P. Morte / Raymond D. Young | August 20, 2004 00:00
Large leviathan to goThe Ford Explorer is supposedly America's best selling sport utility vehicle (SUV) for 13 years running, according to RL Polk (a leading US-based market research firm, specializing in automotive manufacturer sales records) statistics purchase numbers from 1991-2003. Known as the modern American station wagon, Ford sells more than 400,000 Explorers a year. Though quite capable as a tow vehicle and able to venture off the highway, most Explorers, like most SUVs, spend their entire lives shuttling people and performing the duties station wagons performed when Baby Boomers were growing up. The Explorer answers this call admirably and comfortably, which is part of the reason it's so popular. In order to determine why this incredible bulk sells like hotcakes in America the author asked Ford Group Philippines for a borrowed sample of this large leviathan - specifically the Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer - to go.
Looking at the Explorer EB, it is easy to see why the vehicle is easily America 's best selling SUV for a score and three years. For starters, looking at the huge leviathan from afar is a truly majestic experience. It is a handsome, sophisticated-looking vehicle with an ability to go off-road, thanks to integrated front and rear fascias, jeweled headlamps and tail lamps, an attention-grabbing satin nickel front grille, a luggage rack, moonroof and side step boards. Its height (1834 millimeters or mm), width (1831 mm) and length (4816 mm) are enough to part seas of vehicles. Try driving the Explorer along EDSA or C5 in moderate traffic and one will understand the last sentence.
Most people in Broad C or D economic class neighborhoods (such as Cubao and Projects Two, Three and Four) often stare at the Explorer whenever it passes through; such was the author's experience when the Explorer EB passed in and out of Cubao on errands and gimmicks of the Gateway Mall ( Araneta Center ) variety. In fact, when the Explorer stops right smack before pedestrian crossings, bystanders take a looooonnngggg look at the vehicle and its driver, as if to say to himself/herself, "The one behind the wheel of that vehicle has all the luck; he must be rich."
If one is awed by just looking at the outside of the Explorer Eddie Bauer, one will appreciate the richness of SUV further as you check out the interior. When the folks over at Dearborn, Michigan (Ford's US headquarters) say that the SUV is designed to seat seven, Ford meant SEVEN CAUCASIANS, all over six feet and with the bulk of (retired NBA player) Larry Bird. Or maybe eight Filipinos of average size.
The second row seats are very comfortable. Both seats nearest the doors fold flat and forward to let third row seat passengers out nicely, while the middle second row seat folds flat. The Explorer's big coat hooks accommodate thick hangers and big loads of dry cleaning, something few manufacturers get right. Nicely designed cubbies with rubber mats provide gobs of bric-a-brac, while its relatively large center console swallows three bibles (the large King James version, mind you) and two paperback versions of Dan Brown's "Between Angels and Demons." Interior door handles seem a bit awkward at first, but that went away with familiarization. Map pockets on the insides of the front doors are handy and swell at the end to hold water bottles, but wouldn't accommodate one-liter water bottles.
When it comes to the Explorer EB's third row of seats, Ford has done an excellent job of making the third row as roomy as possible, while making it flip quickly out of the way when not in use. The third row offers as much headroom as the second row, but legroom, shoulder room and hip room are significantly compromised. After flipping the second-row seat neatly out of the way, you can climb back there, fold the second-row seat back into position and slide your feet underneath, which provides somewhat tolerable legroom.
However, leaving the third row in place does not leave much room at the rearmost area for groceries or travel bags. Fortunately, the third row easily folds away. Simply squeeze a lever (located at the middle of the third row backrest) and lightly push forward. With some practice, it's possible to unlock the rear hatch, open it, and flip the third row out of the way with one hand, important when juggling an armload of groceries.
To be frank the third row seats aren't exactly comfortable for an adult. There's little shoulder room, and the seat itself is a bit hard on the outboard edge; it pushes you away from the outboard side toward the center. It will work okay for small children, but if you need to carry six or seven adults on a regular basis, you may want to consider a bigger SUV, such as the Expedition. Case in point: on a trip to Tagaytay with seven of the author's relatives, the author's basketball-playing cousin (a 6'2" former player for the College of St. Benilde Blazers, NCAA Juniors Division) was seated in the Explorer's third row and grumbled about his legs being folded like an accordion for most of the trip.
The Explorer's cargo floor is relatively low, good when loading heavy cargo. Pressing a button on the rear hatch opens the rear glass separately. The lower edge of the rear window is very low, so it's not too difficult to lift smaller objects up and through the window, saving time and effort. After raising the rear hatch, a grab handle helps the height-challenged pull it down before closing.
Show us what you've got (inside)
But that's not all the Explorer has to offer, interior-wise. The Explorer EB model comes with a beige steering wheel (to match the color of the interior) and pinhole leather seating material. Handsome pecan wood accents lend a luxurious appearance, while light brown trim on the inside A-pillars and grab handles add to the light, airy inside atmosphere. However, Ford should have stitched leather all the way around to the inside edge of the seat bottom instead of using carpeting; as a result the carpeting sticks out like eye crust on one's eyes in the morning.
The driver will be excited by several things at his disposal around him. The driver's seat offers eight way fore-and-aft power adjustment and power lumbar adjustment, a special plus for the huge-bottomed. Both pedals are adjustable and the steering wheel tilts to accommodate a bevy of body types. The dashboard offers a great color coding system for indicator, speed, turn and warning lights to avoid confusion. However, it would be better if the font of the speedometer and tachometer numbers were a little bigger, like those of the Courier New size 20 font. Reading the tachometer and speedometer gauges at night can be a bit tricky, especially for the four-eyed species.
Also, the author recommends that the temperature and fuel gauges (located to the leftmost part of the dashboard, just beside the tachometer) switch places on the dashboard so that the driver won't have to move his/her eyes a bit to the left to look at the fuel gauge. With the Explorer's fuel consumption (an observed - and WHOPPING - four kilometers per liter of combined city/highway driving), one will definitely look at the fuel gauge frequently.
Show us what you've got (under the hood and on the wheels)
Pushing the wheels out toward the corners makes the Explorer more stable and more comfortable, even through bumpy corners and highway traffic weaving at speeds over 80 kilometers per hour (kph). Suspension-wise, the Explorer Eddie Bauer rides on a four-wheel independent suspension with coil springs all around. Its independent rear suspension offers supreme lateral stiffness, offering a very stable ride and good handling.
The Explorer's drivetrain features a smooth and responsive five-speed automatic transmission (a/t), quickly downshifting when the gas is mashed. It detects the driver's intentions and upshifts later or earlier, depending on what the driver is doing with the throttle. The said five speed a/t is mated to a 4.0-liter, aluminum head, single overhead camshaft (SOHC) V6. Acceleration with the V6 is quite respectable, thanks to the 254 lb-ft of torque it generates at 3700 revolutions per minute (rpm) and its 210 horsepower.
Turning around and maneuvering in crowded parking lots is made easier in the Explorer with its relatively small turning radius. The Reverse Sensing System alerts the driver to objects behind the vehicle. The system is handy when maneuvering in tight quarters and can enhance safety by detecting people, including little children, behind you.
Anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes provide stable stopping without drama even at threshold braking (slamming the pedal to the floor and keeping it there until the vehicle stops). Electronic Brake Force Distribution is standard, a great feature as it transfers braking force to the wheels with the best grip to improve stability and reduce stopping distances. Also, lowered frame rails keep its front and rear bumpers at about the same height as those of its US-based Ford Taurus passenger saloon cousin, improving safety for non-SUV drivers around the vehicle.
All its features are worth each peso of its Php 2.295 million qualification for admission, despite its alarming fuel consumption. Then again the very rich don't mind spending on Php 1600 for gasoline every 2-3 days. Ahh, to hell with the fuel consumption, can I have one Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer - to go - again?