With the current high cost of fuel, the gloomy economic future not to mention the whole global warming thing a used 4×4 might not be uppermost on your mind right now. The good news however is if for whatever reason you were thinking of buying one there are some absolute bargains to be had out there in the somewhat depressed world of the used 4×4.
When Ford introduced the Explorer to the UK in 1997 it must have been pretty confident that it would secure healthy sales. Not only was the car the world’s bestselling 4×4 at the time but the market for luxury SUVs was positively booming especially in the UK.
However, some UK buyers were put off by the £25,000 price tag and rather heavy fuel consumption and as a result sales were rather disappointing to the extent that just four years later Ford stopped selling the Explorer in Britain.
A few years on and the demand for 4×4s has plummeted, but if you are in the market for a large luxurious vehicle then a used Ford Explorer has much to commend it.
The Explorer was only available with one engine, a 4 litre V6 petrol unit producing a hefty 208hp which was more than enough to power the 2,000kg vehicle from 0-60mph in less than 10seconds and on to a top speed of 100mph. The slight downside to that is that it does less than 20mpg which is not terribly encouraging.
The Explorer’s main market has traditionally been America which again until recently would not have been the slightest bit bothered by such a thirst for fuel. As a result the US influenced styling is fairly evident in the round front end and generous seats. Rear legroom is on the tight side if the front seats are pushed right back but there is no shortage of shoulder room thanks to the vehicle’s 6ft 5in width.
In terms of load carrying the Explorer is pretty hard to beat. There is a useful split rear tailgate that opens separately, similar to that on the Range Rover, which makes loading and unloading easy, and there’s also a step built into the rear bumper that makes lifting luggage onto the roof bars fairly straightforward.
With a towing capacity of more than 2,500kg it will easily handle a standard caravan, trailer or horse box. Boot space is generous, and although the high ground clearance can make the leap a bit challenging for small or old dogs the optional rear dog guard is ideal for keeping man’s best friend safely contained. American buyers always demand a high level of standard equipment on their cars and UK buyers benefit from this. All models come with air-conditioning, cruise control, twin airbags, factory sunroof and remote central locking as standard and the XLT model has the addition of leather upholstery and heated front seats with electric adjustment.
On road the Ford Explorer is a surprisingly decent drive, and despite its size and weight generates fairly minimal body roll. The slightly dated rear leaf springs soak up bumps quite well and the robust traditional chassis gives the vehicle a strong feel, while nicely weighted power steering gives a reassuring drive. Off road, Ford’s “Control Trac” 4×4 system, switches automatically from rear-wheel drive to all-wheel drive as required, while a dash mounted switch allows you to select between high and low gear ratios when conditions require it.
With used prices now being so good the Ford Explorer is certainly a bargain alternative to the usual contenders from Mitsubishi, Land Rover and Jeep cars, but as with all older cars you will need to check the vehicle over carefully.
Spare parts are still easy to find at Ford dealers but they can be expensive, for example front wishbone ball joints are not cheap to replace, and be wary of dirty oil, which can often signal a block in the oil feed on the timing chain tensioner. Repairing this will result in a large bill. As with all older vehicles, items such as air-conditioning and electric seat motors need to be checked for performance.
The Ford Explorer may have received a lukewarm reception from British buyers when it was first launched but if you are looking for a big, comfortable, reasonably priced and well equipped 4×4 it certainly deserves a second look.