It's Ford Explorer day all over the Web as Ford celebrates the official launch of its new crossover SUV. So we've gone back to our archives to showcase the Explorer that started it all. Enjoy.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." If Charles Dickens hadn't already grabbed that line, it's likely some Ford executive would be using it now to describe its current sales year. During the first four months of 1991, every Ford car and truck model was down in sales compared to the same period last year. Every model, that is, except one. The Explorer has been more than a bright spot in Ford's fiscal picture, it's a virtual supernova. In fact, demand has been so strong that, this past May, Ford had to bump Ranger pickups off its Louisville, Kentucky, assembly line in order to boost its production of Explorers (by 20,000 units, to 270,000 annually).

The Explorer is the only sport/utility on the list of top 10 overall best-selling vehicles. Meanwhile, the Explorer's closest competition, the Chevy S-Blazer and Jeep Cherokee, are selling at only about one unit for every two Explorers.

What's the Explorer's secret? It's a proven formula as old as...well, Charles Dickens: practicality, comfort, and perfonnance. Ford didn't design the Explorer to appeal to the traditional 4x4 buyer. It's intended as a roomy, comfortable family-mover with lots of versatility. And on that score, it's a critical as well as commercial success.

The Explorer is certainly not sexy-looking. Yet, its refined styling allows it to feel as at home at the country club as it is in the lumber yard. Available in either a two- or lengthier four-door version, the Explorer sports lines that are at once handsomely macho and conservatively suburban.

One of the Explorer's strongest attributes is its roomy, comfortable interior. The Eddie Bauer version we tested included leather seats with electrically adjustable lumbar and thigh supports. Leg and head room is abundant. Power window/doorlock/mirror controls are easily accessible. The attractive dash includes full instrumentation, and a handy, space-efficient center console provides plenty of nooks and crannies for storing cassettes and other small items. Overall, it's one of the most inviting interiors in its class.

Rear seat passengers also enjoy plenty of room. And the back offers a healthy 41.9 cubic feet of cargo space. Folding down the rear seat gives you another 39.7 cubic feet, plenty of room for everything from groceries to camping gear.