In honor of the Explorer's first foray into the world of unibody vehicles, for this issue, we decided to look at the third generation of the SUV. For those who want the capability associated with body-on-frame construction, this generation of Explorer is affordable, reliable, and readily available.

Ford's first Explorer, introduced in late 1990, edged the Bronco II out of the lineup and quickly made a name for itself. Nicely sized, decently equipped, and ready to ride the wave of SUV popularity, the Explorer became the de facto choice for hauling gear and outdoorsmen.

Two generations later, the Explorer shed its brick shape for muscular, honed styling evocative of the larger Expedition. Brought to market in late 2001, this third-generation Explorer offered many refinements, though it kept its trucklike body-on-frame construction. Indeed, that basic layout was about all that remained of the first two generations of Explorer. The wheelbase was stretched 2 inches, and the body was 1.9 inches wider, improving interior volume. That more welcoming interior was dramatically redesigned, and the equipment levels continued to escalate. The trim packages included the base, XLS, the nicer XLT, Eddie Bauer, and Limited.

All Explorers of this generation could be had with the carryover 4.0-liter, 210-horsepower SOHC V-6, mated to a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. Manuals are available only on the low-line XLS trim and only with the V-6. Also in the lineup: a new (to the Explorer) V-8. Where the previous generation got the well-regarded 4.9-liter (aka 5.0, nee 302) V-8, the new Explorer got the 4.6-liter SOHC engine shared with the F-Series trucks. Smooth, modern, relatively efficient, and torquey (the 239-horse V-8 put out 280 pound-feet), the 4.6 made the Explorer pleasingly quick, though certainly not fast.