What's New for 1998
The 1998 Ford Explorer gets a restyled tailgate.
Since its introduction in 1991, the Ford Explorer has resided at the top of the sport-utility sales heap. With good reason. The Explorer combined style, comfort and room in one go-anywhere package. The modern-day Country Squire, some have called it, after the segment leading station wagon of the 1950s.
We think that there's a good reason for this. Simply stated, the Explorer is a more refined vehicle than the competition at Jeep and General Motors. The interior instills a feeling of quality that is missing from the Grand Cherokee and the Blazer. An organically sweeping dashboard houses radio controls that can actually be operated without a magnifying glass. Materials look and feel rich. Rear seat comfort surpasses Chevy, and entry/exit is easier than Jeep. Explorers offer more cargo capacity than most rivals do, and five passengers can ride with ease. Exterior styling is a subjective matter, but we think that the Explorer is one of the most attractive SUVs on the road.
The Explorer's standard 4.0-liter V6 is one of the weakest engines found in a domestic sport-ute. Acceleration is fine from a standstill, but step on the gas at 50 mph and not much happens. That's not good news when there's a need to pass or merge. Fortunately, Ford introduced an optional SOHC V6 in 1997 that offers nearly as much power as the V8, for a lot less money. We recommend this engine over the other two engine choices due to its great power and affordable price.
Changes for 1998 are limited to revising the truck's tailgate. Nothing to write home about, especially when compared to the sweeping changes of last year, which saw the first-ever application of five-speed transmission technology in a truck. This five-speed is, in fact, the first ever developed for an American passenger vehicle. Ford claims that the additional gear, which occurs between the former first and second gears, allows for more precise shifting, allowing the truck to move uphill and off-road more authoritatively. When combined with the optional SOHC V6, this makes the Explorer much more fun to drive.
Unlike the reworked Chevy Blazer, Explorers retain a distinctly truck-like character, which could be a bonus or a demerit. They're tough and solid, and easy to maneuver, though steering is a little slow and ponderous and the body leans through tight corners. Braking is excellent and the suspension has a compliant attitude, but Ford's Explorer can bounce around, making occupants regret the Denver omelet they had for breakfast.
Ford has a philosophy of building vehicles that everyone can be happy with. Sure, the Jeep Grand Cherokee feels sportier, and the GMC Jimmy looks cooler, but the Explorer has just the right amount of class and ruggedness to make it America's best-selling off-roader. If you are thinking about buying an SUV, chances are you've already checked out the Explorer. If you haven't, do yourself a favor and find out why there are so many of these trucks on the road.