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Explorer benefits from roll stability system

March 06, 2005|by DAN LYONS/Motor Matters

It's a fact. You can't drive a sport-utility vehicle, which has a high center of gravity, in the same manner you drive a low-slung car. Every year, there are SUV drivers who find themselves in awkward positions - on their sides, stuck in a ditch. Some drivers aren't getting any smarter, so it's reassuring to know that some vehicles are. Case in point - the Ford Explorer.

For 2005, the biggest news for this big SUV is the addition of standard, electronic safety technology. All Explorer models are now equipped with Ford's AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control. AdvanceTrac is particularly important for SUVs because it guards against potential rollovers. The system uses sensors to monitor speed and roll angle. If it detects that a wheel is about to leave the ground, it triggers the stability system to apply brakes and/or curb the throttle to help settle the vehicle.

Of course, none of this suspends the laws of physics. Even with electronic assistance, those who drive dumb enough, long enough, are quite likely to join the other folks stuck in that ditch! Clearly, AdvanceTrac is a positive step - it helps drivers retain control on all surfaces - automatically.

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My Explorer tester was an Eddie Bauer edition 4x4. The high-line Bauer is a rung below the top of the ladder Limited, and joins XLS, XLS Sport, XLT and XLT Sport models in the lineup. As befits its $36,655 price, the Bauer model is very well equipped. Highlights include two-tone leather upholstery and a 290-watt sound system with a six-disc, in-dash CD changer.

Like many Explorers, this one was outfitted with the optional third-row seat ($745). Row three is actually big enough to hold a couple of adults, though some child-like dexterity helps for getting in and out. The bench folds nearly flush to the floor, and as you subtract passengers, you add significantly to cargo capacity. Swing up the top-hinged lift gate, negotiate the low lift-over height and you have access to 13.8 cubic feet of storage space. The number climbs to 44 cubic feet if you fold the third row, and a whopping 81.4 cubic feet if you leave only the front seats standing.

Second-row bucket seats with a center console are available only on Bauer and Limited editions, and make a nice combination with the rear seat entertainment system. So equipped, you've got a dividing barrier between your kids, and a source of distraction above them. The price for peace of mind on long trips is $795 for quad seating; $1,295 for the fold-screen DVD system.

Up front, the driver has a good view of the road to the front and sides. Flattening the third row when you don't need it helps rear visibility. Speaking of seeing, the Reverse Sensing System ($255) is a handy aid for parking. It emits a series of beeps as you get closer to objects behind the vehicle.

Explorers are available with six- and eight-cylinder power and my advice is, if you're contemplating the six, don't drive the eight! This is not to say that Ford's big 4.0-liter, 210 horsepower V-6 is a slug - it isn't. But, the 4.6-liter V-8 delivers 239 hp and 282 lbs.-ft. of torque - enough to make the 4,300-pound Explorer feel downright lively. With either engine, however, you'll feel a little less lively when it comes time to fill up the gas tank. Like all big SUVs, the Explorer is thirsty, with EPA rated mileage of 14 city and 18 highway for the V-8, and 14 city, 20 highway for the V-6. If you've got a trailer to pull, Explorer can be equipped to tow as much as 7,140 pounds (4x2) or 7,000 pounds (4x4).

Engaging four-wheel drive is as simple as pushing a dash-mounted button. ControlTrac four-wheel drive offers three optional settings: 4x2, 4x4 high and 4x4 automatic. Though it's a given that most SUV drivers won't intentionally venture off-road, Explorer's rugged, truck-based chassis and ample torque make it solid on or off pavement. Explorer has 9.4 inches of ground clearance and angles of approach/break over/ departure are 27.3/19.2/24.7 degrees, respectively.

Explorer has been the best-selling SUV in America for over a dozen years, so it hasn't exactly needed a sales boost, however, making the top-seller a safer SUV is certainly a plus. One way to make drivers better is by educating them. Considering the average attention span of the average driver, building smarter sport-utilities doesn't hurt either!

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2005

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