Xterra. Montero Sport. Pathfinder. RX 300. Mercedes ML. What two things do they all have in common? (1) They're all new or newish sport/utility nameplates. And (2) they're all four-doors. So it seems that many car companies aren't investing in new two-door SUV models, perhaps questioning the depth of that market segment. Ford, however, is not among them. The Blue Oval carefully manages its top-selling Explorer lineup, and is giving the two-door version-now officially rebadged as the Explorer Sport- a tuneup for the '01 model year.
Though the platform remains the same, there's much face-lifted sheetmetal and plastic to freshen the look. Shapely fender flares augment an aggressive new frontal aspect that's shared with the Explorer Sport Trac SUV/pickup; indeed every exterior panel save the liftgate has been tweaked. There are also new wheel designs and three new colors. Revisions continue inside with reengineered seats (offering an extra inch of travel, thus increased front legroom), door panels with faux-aluminum door pulls, plus grayish gauge faces and other instrument panel materials. Our favorite new toy inside is an optional Pioneer entertainment system that eats six CDs straight into the dash. We can hardly wait until this unit finds its way into some of Ford's luxury car models.
There's good news in the power department, too, as Ford's 4.0-liter SOHC V-6 is now standard on the two-door. The only transmission available is a five-speed automatic, although a five-speed manual will be offered beginning this fall.
Sport/utility buyers are continuously demanding a more carlike ride from their rigs; to that end, the suspension has been retuned with revised shock valving and new two-stage, variable-rate rear leaf springs. The Sport's body-to-frame mounts are now urethane, in a further effort to quell noise, vibration, and harshness.