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.

Powering the Explorer is Ford's multipoint-injected 4-liter OHV V-6. Capable of delivering 155 horsepower at 4200 rpm and 220 foot-pounds of torque, this is one of the strongest engines in its class. It's torquey off the line, responsive to throttle input, and powerful enough to make passing a relatively quick operation.

Our Eddie Bauer was also equipped with the $870 optional four-speed automatic overdrive transmission, which provided smooth, well-spaced shifts and responsive kickdown when needed.

The Explorer is available in either two- or four-wheel drive. The four-wheel drive version includes a two-speed transfer case and automatic-locking hubs. Shifting into four-wheel drive is as easy as pressing a button and can be done "on the fly." With 6.3 inches of ground clearance, huge 235175ZR15 Firestone Radial ATX tires, and a 2.48:1 low range (also pushbutton activated), the Explorer can pick its way through some fairly imposing terrain when the need arises. Shifting back into two-wheel drive, however, requires you to back up a few feet to disengage the front hubs, a procedure that can be easily overlooked by the inattentive driver and wearing on the hubs.

Underneath, the Explorer sports Ford's Twin I-Beam (2wd) or Twin Traction-Beam (4wd) semi-independent front suspension and a solid-axle leaf-spring rear suspension. This softly sprung setup is plush and smooth on the highway, just what the average family driver is looking for. Unfortunately, anything rougher brings out the Explorer's darker side. Should you venture off-pavement with any speed, be prepared to be bumped around.

The recirculating-ball steering system is another weak point. In an attempt to make around-town driving and parking-lot maneuverability as easy as possible, Ford engineers dialed in too much power assist, which produces a twitchy on-center feel and effectively numbs feedback from the front tires. A small price to pay? Obviously thousands of buyers think so.

Speaking of price, the base Eddie Bauer Explorer rings in at $21,566, which reflects the ever-increasing cost of this class of vehicle, but is in line with similarly equipped models.

The Explorer isn't the perfect sport/utility. But considering its overall versatility, comfortable, ergonomic interior, abundance of room for hauling kids or cargo, strong engine, good towing capabilities, and the option of four-wheel drive, the Explorer has what people are looking for today. And for Ford, that's making the worst of times seem much better.


1991 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer
Body style 4-door, 5-passenger
Vehicle configuration Front engine. four-wheel drive
Engine configuralion 60-degree V-6, liquid cooled, cast iron block and heads
Engine displacement, ci/cc 244/4000
Compression ratio 9.0:1
Fuel/induction system Multipoint EFI
Horsepower hp @ rpm, SAE net 155 @ 4200
Torque lb-ft @ rpm, SAE net 220 @ 2400
Horsepower/liter 38.8
Transmission type 4-speed auto.
Axle ralio 3.65:1
Final-drive ratio 2.66:1
Wheelbase, in/mm 111.9/2842
Track, f/r, in/mm 58.3158.3/1480/1480
Length, in/mm 184.3/4681
Width, in/mm 70.2/1783
Height, in./mm 67.3/1709
Ground clearance, in/mm 6.3/161
Manufacturer's curb weight, lb 4233
Weight distribution, f/r, %, 53/47
Cargo capacity, cu ft 81.6
Fuel capacity, gal 19.0
Weight/power ratio, lb/hp 27.3
EPA city/hwy fuel economy, mpg 15/20
Suspension, f/r Twin Traction Beam/live axle
Steering Recirculating ball, power assist
Ratio 17.0:1
Tums, lock to lock 4.2
Tuming circle 37.0
Brakes, f/r Vented discs/drums
Anti-lock Standard on rear
Wheels 15x7.0
Tires 235175ZR15 Firestone Radial ATX
Acceleration, sec
0-30 mph 3.5
0-40 mph 5.3
0-50 mph 7.8
0-60 mph 10.8
0-70 mph 14.7
0-80 mph 18.5
Standing quarter mile, sec @ mph 17.9 @ 75.8
Braking, ft
30-0 mph 34.0
60-0 mph 144.0
Lateral acceleration, g 0.7
Speed through 600-ft slatom, mph 55.2
Base price $21,586
Price as tested $24,564

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