Is This the Explorer That Can Carry the Torch for the Next Decade?
In some ways, the Explorer's incredible popularity since its introduction in 1990 was a given. It was the perfect family-car alternative, with plenty of room for kids and cargo, the foul-weather security of four-wheel drive and a rugged look that appealed to outdoor enthusiasts and suburban mothers alike.
In other ways, the Explorer's attraction was a little more of a mystery. Sure, it had that "do anything, go anywhere" look, but nothing in its design was inherently unique. Despite engine upgrades, its performance could best be described as adequate, and the handling was hardly what you would call precise.
So when it came to creating an all-new 2002 version, the designers were faced with a dilemma. Continue down the same path as before, one that made the Explorer one of the best-selling Ford vehicles ever? Or take a chance with a revolutionary new design that could transform the Explorer into a groundbreaking new vehicle?
One look at the result, and it's plain to see that they chose the former, changing the Explorer along evolutionary lines rather than gunning for a whole new look and feel. It may seem like they aimed a little low, but the reality is quite different.
After a week behind the wheel, there's no doubt that this new Explorer is a major step forward. While the previous Explorer may have gotten by on its inoffensive looks and bread-and-butter simplicity, this new version will make a name for itself with its vastly improved driving dynamics, generous interior room and enhanced passenger capacity -- hardly traits that we consider groundbreaking, but supremely important factors when it comes to securing your place high atop the best-seller list.
The first thing you're likely to notice -- or not notice, as the case may be -- is the Explorer's exterior changes. A wider stance, shorter front and rear overhangs and a new front fascia are subtle in their alteration of the Explorer's look, but there's little doubt that it's a new truck from the ground up. The resemblance to its predecessor is clear, something Ford designers insisted on, but its push toward a more family-oriented design theme that mimics the Expedition is evident. In person, the new look comes off as handsome and appealing, adding a certain degree of refinement without alienating those who may have liked the previous version.
New ergonomic details are immediately evident on the exterior, with redesigned grab-through door handles replacing the previous lift-up designs. Ford designers tout them as easier to grip and pull, and they are, as long as you're pulling the door directly toward you. Come from behind as in a typical parking lot situation, however, and the grab-through design makes for a slightly awkward opening.
Fortunately, most of the Explorer's ergonomic enhancements are without flaw. The larger door openings and lower seats make getting in and out easier, and the standard tilt wheel and increased seat travel make a comfortable seating position easy to find. The revised rear hatch is much larger than before, providing a lower liftover height for easier loading of cargo -- an example of attention to detail that truly improves functionality.
Our test vehicle was a mid-line two-wheel-drive XLT with a standard cloth interior and few options. Side curtain airbags, the optional third-row seat, auxiliary climate controls and a reverse-sensing system were the primary interior upgrades. Despite the lack of luxury, we still found the Explorer's cabin quite comfortable. A few editors thought the interior materials were a bit flimsy compared to the higher-line Eddie Bauer models, but overall, most of the plastics appeared solid and exhibited tight fit and finish.
Sure, everybody likes to ride in the lap of luxury, but our low-content tester revealed that some of the Explorer's most appealing aspects are also some of the most basic. The steering wheel doesn't obstruct the gauges, has a nice feel and features large easy-to-use cruise control buttons. The gauge cluster isn't going to win any originality awards, but it's easy to read at a glance and doesn't try to cram too much into one space. The center console is high enough to use as an armrest (although its top isn't soft-touch material), and it features plenty of inside storage space, large cup holders and a useful outside bin perfect for loose items like keys or a cell phone.
The longer wheelbase means increased interior room, yet overall vehicle length remains the same as the previous model. Second-row accommodations are about on par with the Dodge Durango and 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer in both head and legroom. The seats themselves are split into a 40/20/40 configuration that allows either side to flip forward for easy access to the third row. Although these individually folding seats add a degree of functionality, a few editors complained that their bucket-like design leaves outboard passengers wishing for a little more room.
One of the Explorer's most significant new enhancements is the availability of a third-row seat, so of course we immediately packed ourselves into the rearmost quarters to try it out. Legroom was surprisingly good, allowing passengers to sit in a semi-upright position, unlike many third-row seats in midsize SUVs. Head and hip room were also respectable, although adults certainly wouldn't want to spend any extended periods of time back there. Our biggest complaint was the seat's park bench-like shape that makes it easily foldable but hardly comfortable.
Other minor complaints included the fact that when folded down, the collapsed seat doesn't quite lay flat, causing whatever items that lay on top of it to slide toward the rear with the slightest nudge of the gas pedal. Another annoyance are the gaps on each side of the folded seat that can easily swallow loose items. To its credit, Ford did include a sliding panel intended to remedy this problem, but the fact that it easily slid right out of its tracks when one of our editors moved it didn't bode well for its long-term durability.
Closely related to the inclusion of the third-row seat is the adoption of an all-new, fully independent rear suspension. The prior straight axle design required ample room underneath to accommodate the differential, but the Explorer's new independent design allows the differential to be placed much lower in the frame, allowing for a lower interior floor height. This translates directly into increased headroom for third-row passengers or simply additional cargo room for five-passenger models.
More importantly, the new independent setup drastically improves the Explorer's overall handling characteristics. Gone is the skittish nature of the solid rear axle that struggled to maintain its composure over rutted surfaces. The neatly packaged multilink arrangement soaks up road irregularities with noticeably more controlled responses -- trust us, it's light years ahead of the old design.
A few editors noted that although it's much improved, the Explorer still doesn't match the precision handling of unibody sport-utes like the Acura MDX or Toyota Highlander, but with significantly more ground clearance (9.2 inches) than either of the two sport-ute wannabes (8.0 and 7.3), the Explorer has the advantage when it comes to true off-road worthiness. Then consider its towing capacity of 5,940 lbs. (up to 7,000 with the V8) versus the Acura's 3,500 maximum and the Toyota's 2,000 limit, and the less than car-like ride is all the more understandable.
Like its predecessor, the '02 Explorer utilizes body-on-frame construction, although this time, the frame is a fully boxed design that's 350 percent stiffer than before to provide a sturdier platform for the suspension as well as less flexing in corners and over bumps. The front suspension now uses coil springs instead of torsion bars for better off-road damping and urethane bushings for more tightly controlled movements of the suspension arms. It all comes together to produce a more confidence-inspiring ride quality, void of excessive roll or wheel movement, although we didn't bother to take our two-wheel-drive test vehicle very far off the beaten path.
The steering has also been retuned as part of the front suspension redesign for a more precise feel, but the improvement was somewhat lost on our editors. Some thought it provided plenty of feedback and comfort; others thought it somewhat dull and slow. One thing is for sure; the smaller turning radius (38.4 to 36.7 ft.) drastically improves the Explorer's maneuverability in tight spaces. Anyone accustomed to the current Explorer's less-than-nimble handling will notice the difference immediately.
Explorers come with a choice of two engines: a standard 4.0-liter V6 or a 4.6-liter V8. Our mid-range test model came equipped with the V6 and the new five-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed manual will be available later this year for the V6). Horsepower is rated at 210, while torque is a healthy 250 foot-pounds. Acceleration times were about average for a midsize SUV (0 to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds), not surprising considering that the V6 was coping with hauling 4,100 lbs. (225 more than last year's model) on its back.
The five-speed automatic transmission is a well-engineered unit that keeps the engine right in its sweet spot for optimum power. Downshifts were disappointingly slow, requiring a bit of planning on the driver's part when it came to passing maneuvers. Optional 3.55 axle gears did help in the performance department, but when it came to fuel economy, they dragged the as-tested figure down to a wallet-emptying 15 mpg. The EPA ratings for this vehicle are 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, so less heavy-footed drivers can expect slightly better numbers.
With the energy crisis in full swing and environmentalists calling for the end of the SUV as we know it, it's worth mentioning that Ford plans on releasing a flexible fuel version of the 4.0-liter V6 in late 2001. This engine will be capable of running on either pure gas or a blend of gas and ethanol that claims to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 20 percent. Doesn't sound like much, but if standard fuel supplies get really tight, you can bet there won't be long lines at the ethanol pump.
No discussion of a vehicle so popular with families would be complete without mentioning safety issues. Prior to the whole Firestone/rollover mess, the Explorer had earned a reputation as a solid performer when it came to safety. The new Explorer is no exception.
Standard safety features consist of second-generation front airbags, height-adjustable pre-tensioning seatbelts and lower bumpers that are height-compatible with cars. Optional on our test vehicle was a side curtain airbag system that deploys from the headliner to protect occupants in the front- and second-row seating positions. As it covers 75 percent of the glass in the event of a side impact, we would consider this to be a must-have option. Another optional safety feature was a reverse-sensing system that detects objects directly behind the vehicle and alerts the driver with an audible tone. We found that it worked as advertised, although its lack of a visual indicator limits it to a safety device only, rather than serving double-duty as a parking aid, as well.
In addition to the limited number of options on our test truck, the Explorer boasts an extensive array of optional safety equipment, some available now, others not until later this year. For a thorough discussion of these new systems, check out our Preview and First Drive articles on the Explorer.
If you've made it this far, then it should be readily apparent that, despite its familiar look, the 2002 Explorer is a vastly different vehicle than its predecessor. Ford made a conscious decision to stick with what worked and focus on the areas that needed the most improvement, and it shows.
The redesigned suspension is remarkable in its ability to transform the Explorer's formerly flaccid ride into something befitting the country's best-selling sport-utility, and the increased interior room and seven-passenger accommodations are just what the consumer ordered. The fact that a minimally optioned test vehicle still managed to impress us with its comfort and convenience is testament to the Explorer's well-thought-out design and likeable personality. Sure, there are other sport-utilities out there that might have the Explorer beat in a few choice categories, but when it comes to being everybody's all-American, the Explorer is likely to reign atop the sales charts for many years to come.
Road Test Summary
The 2002 Explorer is an all-new design, but the new styling cues are subtle in nature, making the new model closely resemble its predecessor.
Enhanced ergonomics abound, from the redesigned door handles to the lower lift-over rear hatch. Overall interior design is still simple and straightforward.
Although our test vehicle was only a mid-range XLT model, we still found it to be comfortable and well-appointed.
The wheelbase has been lengthened for more interior room, but the overall vehicle length remains the same. A third-row seat is now optional, increasing passenger capacity to seven.
A fully redesigned independent rear suspension makes room for the added third-row seat, in addition to providing significantly improved ride quality and handling.
Two engines are offered: a standard 4.0-liter V6 or a 4.6-liter V8. Our test model came equipped with the V6 and the new five-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed manual will be available later this year for the V6). Horsepower is rated at 210, while torque is a healthy 250 foot-pounds. Acceleration was brisk, but certainly not fast.
Standard safety features consist of second-generation front airbags, height-adjustable pre-tensioning seatbelts and lower bumpers that are compatible with cars'. Numerous optional safety enhancements make the Explorer one of the safest family vehicles on the road.
Our overall impression was positive. The revised suspension is a drastic improvement, and the increased interior room and third-row seat flexibility are welcome additions. If you liked the old Explorer, you'll certainly like this one much better.
System Score: 4.0
Components: The system in this vehicle is pretty basic. It offers two pairs of speakers, one each in the front and rear doors. These are full-range speakers of the 5-by-7 variety, meaning you get an oval cone instead of a round one. Ford seems to have standardized this size and shape in most of its new vehicles, and it's a bit of a letdown. Generally, oval speakers do not sound as good as round ones.
The radio also represents a different direction for the company. The head unit is not as user-friendly as it could be. Specifically, the buttons along the top of the radio are too small and close together, making the head unit difficult to use. Also, this system offers only a single-play CD player, versus the changers that have become commonplace in this class. You can add a six-disc changer for $349 MSRP (Option 581). But mainly, the teeny tiny buttons on this head unit really bug me, and I'm guessing they'll bug you, too.
Performance: Because of the mediocre speakers in this system, it's a bummer to listen to. Specifically, bass is hollow and thin, while the overall soundstage lacks presence. Highs sound muted and dull, and midrange is lacking depth. For a basic system, it's OK, but you may want to consider upgrading to a better system (see Conclusion).
Best Feature: Elevated radio position.
Worst Feature: Really poor sound quality.
Conclusion: Ford has had a stellar reputation in audio in recent years. However, the vehicle we acquired for this road test did not include an upgraded audio system. There are two upgrades available for the Explorer -- a 90-watt step-up system for the XLS and XLT trim levels that includes a six-disc changer and a mondo 290-watt subwoofer system reserved for the Limited and Eddie Bauer models. We recommend taking a listen to them, if possible, before purchasing a new 2002 Explorer. We haven't heard either of these systems yet, but if they're anything like the old systems, they should sound great.
-- Scott Memmer
Editor-in-Chief Chris Wardlaw says:
Six months have elapsed since my first turn behind the wheel of the 2002 Explorer. After a recent commute home in a regular production model, my overall impressions remain positive, thoroughly cemented by spending time in a relatively bare bones but surprisingly agreeable XLT with two-wheel drive and a V6. But don't forget -- I like trucks that are trucks.
Ford's new Explorer is a truck. It's a well-executed design, what with a lower step-in height and its amazing new independent rear suspension, but the ride quality cannot be characterized as anything but downright harsh over broken pavement when compared to car-based competitors such as the Acura MDX and Toyota Highlander. Hey, at least the tail doesn't skitter sideways in lumpy turns anymore.
Truck lovers will find plenty to like about the new Explorer. The two-wheeler with V6 isn't exactly speedy, but it's more than quick enough to keep up with, and sometimes beat, traffic. The transmission snaps off responsive shifts, the brakes work nicely, and the steering is tighter than ever, if not wholly direct.
Our test model's high-back seats, upholstered in a too-grippy fabric, left something to be desired in terms of comfort -- I couldn't find it despite power adjustment for the driver. And interior materials seem chintzy in a number of ways, from the hard plastic door panel tops to the way the stereo pre-set buttons felt and sounded when depressed. Upscale Eddie Bauer and Limited models improve upon this to some degree.
Despite a delayed and closely monitored launch of this new vehicle, Ford has some work to do in terms of build quality. I noticed that the right rear passenger door of our test truck bowed out a bit at the seam where it met the front right passenger door. Also problematic was constant buzzing and squeaking coming from various parts of the interior. And I could pull off one of the climate control system's rotary knobs without effort.
Explorer is rugged-looking and roomy, available in a variety of flavors to please nearly any palate. But can a true truck find sales success in an SUV marketplace where the car-like attributes espoused by the Acura and Toyota are increasingly appreciated and desired? Ford is betting on it. Big time.
Executive Editor Karl Brauer says:
To effectively appreciate my feelings about the new Explorer, you have to understand my feelings about the old model. Let's take a look at what I said after last year's mid-size SUV comparison test:
Hard to believe they sell almost a half a million of these things every year, what with its noisy and harsh drivetrain, slushy and unresponsive transmission, and squishy suspension that bottoms out over off-road ruts, while still transmitting on-road bumps into the cabin. Only the steering and brakes were above average, and neither was ideal (though the brakes were close). It had great front- and rear-seat comfort and it was easy to fold the seats flat for increased cargo storage. But even items like the cupholders and front passenger storage were sub-par. Sure it's got good crash-test scores, but I'd rather take my chances in the Durango and have a superior vehicle overall.
These statements were made before the Firestone/rollover debacle of last summer that transformed the formerly beloved Explorer into the biggest automotive news story since Pintos were exploding on contact. I've always felt the Explorer was sorely lacking in cornering stability, and for that reason alone I couldn't understand why so many people bought them.
The new vehicle is markedly improved. My first thoughts after returning from a test loop that involved repeated 35 mph sweeping corners with broken pavement was "It's no longer a penalty box." Not exactly high praise, but considering my previous opinion, it's a rather amazing change in attitude. The Durango would no longer be the clear choice if I were in the market for a midsize SUV. Crash test scores (assuming the Explorer does well), fuel mileage ratings and long-term reliability could sway me in Ford's direction, leaving price and styling (and, I'm willing to wager, off-road ability) as the only areas where the Dodge still pulls ahead.
Despite the makeover, current Explorer fans will find the new version immediately familiar. The interior layout, exterior shape and comfortable seating are still pure Ford. They've truly fixed what was wrong and kept what was right.
Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
My immediate impressions of the new Explorer were mostly favorable, and that's saying something coming from one who isn't overly fond of SUVs. Ford did its homework with the interior and it shows. The fluid, precise action of controls such as the climate control knobs and parking-brake release earned points from this writer. Unlike Ford's own Escape, the Explorer's gearshift doesn't block access to some of the stereo controls when in drive. Seat comfort was good, and I liked that the lumbar control was located on the forward part of the lower cushion -- easy to grab and spin, unlike the more typical seat-back-mounted levers/knobs that are awkward to use. But why did they switch the tilt wheel lever from an easy-to-use stalk that only required about an inch of movement to an awkward, flip-down lever under the wheel that needs a healthy tug and about 10 times the movement? Another minor gripe is that there is no grab handle on the driver-side A-pillar (although there is one on the passenger side), which would make it easier for shorter folks to climb into the cabin.
Second-seat passengers have their own vents and climate controls, features usually reserved for the bigger SUVs. Fitting a third seat into a mid-size SUV is a commendable feat, and though that seat's cushion is too low to provide any thigh support for adults, it would probably be fine for a couple of kids.
Unlike the previous Explorers I've driven, the '02 offered a fairly supple ride that, although not as cushy as the car-based utes (such as the Lexus RX 300), was still light years ahead of the old Explorer. Kudos to the engineers who developed the independent rear suspension that not only delivers better ride and handling characteristics but also allows that third seat.
Even though the tested Explorer was "only" a V6, it had pretty strong pull off the line and a healthy midrange, as well. When a downshift was needed, the well-matched tranny responded without requiring an exaggerated stab to the gas. I was surprised by the Explorer's steering, which was well-weighted and fairly responsive (for an SUV).
This new version of one of America's favorite SUVs seems good enough for Ford to sell a gazillion a year, in spite of the Firestone/Explorer debacle. That is, if gas doesn't climb to $3 a gallon, in which case, only people who actually need SUVs will buy them.
Photo Editor Scott Jacobs says:
My experience with Explorers is slim, having been limited to previous drives of a fully loaded 2000 Eddie Bauer Edition and a 2001 Explorer Sport; neither one of those vehicles left me with great impressions. I see this generation of Explorer as Ford's best bet at keeping its slice of the SUV market despite growing economic/environmental deterrents.
My first impression of the Explorer was that Ford emasculated the good looks of the previous generation somewhat. The side cladding has become very rigid and has created a top-heavy appearance. The rear hatch looks like it came off a Windstar and doesn't fit the rear design very well. However, its increased ground clearance and width, combined with a more angular shape, has given it a capable offroad look as opposed to the previous generation's soccer mom flavor. The interior is very clean and uncluttered. The controls, other than the confusing and hard-to-see wiper/turn signal control stalk, were easy to find and read. The tall seating position definitely made you aware of the Explorer's height and at times made me feel a little uncomfortable. Visibility is excellent all around except for the rear window. The hindered visibility to the rear is greatly helped by the parking sensor that got me out of a few tight spots with ease.
The ride was very quiet and smooth. The only exception to this was over some rough pavement when a rattling came from the driver's door panel and somewhere under the steering column. I found that the steering was pretty numb, and when turning from side to side, the weight was slow in transferring. I didn't feel the excessive body roll I had expected from the high seating position when turning. The engine had decent low-end torque but seemed to thin out quickly in the upper end of the rev range. For the most part, it was quiet but got very loud during pedal-stomping acceleration. The transmission had silky smooth shifts, though it was prone to lackluster downshifts and hesitation, especially when going up hill.
Associate Editor Liz Kim says:
We did a comparison test of eight midsize SUVs about a year ago, and I was looking forward to driving the Ford Explorer, just to see what the hubbub was about. The old Explorer came in fifth in our test, and I was rather aghast that people flocked to this truck in droves when there were so many better SUVs out there that offered a better on-road and off-road ride.
The 2002 Ford Explorer is a vast improvement over the previous iteration. Even though this was an XLT version (our previous test car was an Eddie Bauer), it exhibited much better fit and finish, and the ride was quieter and more refined. Power delivery was smooth, although at times it was marred by a sludgy five-speed gearbox that held back on downshifts. It felt a lot more stable and secure than the previous version, and lost much of its grainy drivetrain. You don't feel that the center of gravity is as high, and the cabin doesn't get as flustered by body roll while cornering.
It never lets you forget that it's a truck, though, and I would be hard-pressed to give up a car (or station wagon) for any truck (although that's still the trend these days). If I were forced to get an SUV, I'd still prefer a Nissan Pathfinder, which continues to surpass the Explorer in terms of car-like handling and refinement. But that third-row seat will be a big draw.
Ford Explorer V6 Owners:
"I purchased a 2002 XLS 4WD about a month ago. I am very pleased. The only options were an auto tranny and the sport group. MSRP was $28,595. I got it for $26,800 or $648 over invoice. One thing I don't understand is how the extra $6,000-7,000 can be justified for the Eddie Bauer or Limited. The XLS 4WD with the sport group has power everything, cruise, tilt wheel, CD player (the standard one that sounds great), the same four-wheel-drive system as the XLT, EB, or Limited, the same 4.0-liter V6 and five-speed automatic as the more expensive ones, the same standard tow package (built-in hitch receiver and wiring), the same roof rack, good looking 16-inch alloys, running boards, tinted windows, very comfortable standard cloth seats, and the same good looks. Granted, the EB has a certain look that I like but I could not justify the extra $7,000. The XLS has everything I need. Likes: (1) Good power from the 4.0. (2) Good exterior appearance. (3) Good ride quality (for a truck). (4) It's an American-made SUV. (5) Comfort level of the seats. (6) Interior room (I'm 6' 3", and when I have the driver's seat adjusted to my comfort level and [then] get in back behind the driver's seat, my knees just graze the seat. Something I could not say for the 2001 or most other midsize SUVs. (7) The under-floor storage compartments if you don't opt for the third seat. (8) That new car smell and feel. Dislikes: (1) The white paint had rail dust on it. (White buyers, beware. It can only be seen on very close inspection. It will look like very small dots of rust. The dealer acknowledged the existence of this problem on white cars, and it is at the dealer right now being taken care of under warranty....) (2) More wind noise than I expected at highway speeds (75 mph speed limit here). (3) A transmission that shifts sluggishly from 2-3 and 3-4 under very light acceleration. It does not have this problem under moderate to brisk acceleration. The dealer is also looking into this. (4) A rattle coming from the middle of the dash near the windshield. Also being looked into. (5) An intermittent 'raspy' sound from the engine at certain loads and rpm. Also being looked into. I had a 1985 Bronco II some years ago that I bought new.... I loved that truck, but it was an absolute heap compared to this one. How far ford has come with their mid-size SUVs." -- utheman, "MY2002+ Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer," #58 of 83, April 23, 2001
"I purchased a 2002 Explorer and traded in a '96 Explorer. I also got a $750 customer loyalty rebate. I got a Mineral Gray XLT with leather, third-row seats, moonroof, side impact airbags and running boards for about $300 over invoice. Invoice was $30,356. MSRP was $33,360 and Edmunds TMV was $31,040. I paid $30,690. The 2002 handles like a dream and blows away my '96. I'm really hard-pressed to find much fault with it. The six-cylinder has more horsepower than my old '96 Explorer's six. It's much quieter, too. As we left the dealership, my five-year old said it felt like we were floating -- even he could feel the four-wheel independent suspension and the vast improvement over the '96 that we had. I waited a year for this vehicle, and I'm glad I did. I really needed the third row, which is roomier than the new Tahoe's third row, believe it or not. The beefed-up horsepower, decent gas mileage (with higher prices looming) and a vehicle with a third row that could fit in my garage sealed the deal for me. Lower step-in height and higher ground clearance also helped. These 2002s are going to be huge. Ford kinda created the whole SUV craze with the original Explorer, and they set a new standard and raised the bar with this new one.... I have a few minor complaints: The powerpoint next to the cupholder was a dumb idea, because inevitably, somebody is going to spill coffee or soda all over it. The keyhole where you start it is also cheesy, and the key doesn't go in as easy as it should. Also, foglights should have been standard on the XLT. I don't even think you can get them as an option unless you go with Limited or EB...." -- jconk, "MY2002+ Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer," #61 of 83, April 23, 2001
Mercury Mountaineer V6 Owners:
"Bought my Red Toreador '02 Mercury Mountaineer about four weeks ago. Got the convenience and luxury groups with side steps. Rides great and feels good.... According to Edmunds prices with the above options, the invoice was $28,300, and I paid $100 above invoice plus destination of $600, for a total of $29,000. I have [had] a problem with the air conditioning twice: (1) It was not cooling properly, and they had to recharge the system. They said the factory put only 1.5 lbs of freon where it should have been 2 lbs. (2) The A/C would cycle on and off and not cool. I took it back last week again. They found out an A/C wire had broken and was barely making contact. They kept it for three days to make sure they got it done right which so far, they have. So heads up! I have found though, on the driver's side that it's a tight fit for your hand between the driver door and seat. The third row seat is also sort of tight. It is better for smaller kids than adults. I was disappointed Mercury does not have a better-looking side step as on their previous models. But it still drives well." -- 1stmountaineer, "MY2002+ Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer," #82 of 83, May 8, 2001
"...Got the all-wheel-drive model, fully loaded with everything but sunroof (Wedgewood Blue). Just like noted in one of the threads, I have a small rattle somewhere near the driver's controls to the left of steering column -- will have dealer look at it soon. Also heard the suspicious sound from the engine or transmission the other day, but no performance issues associated with it. The most worrisome thing is while driving very slowly at about 10 mph up a very mild uphill grade (maybe three percent), I heard and felt a clunk from what felt like a rear wheel -- it was extremely pronounced. I pulled over and [could find]...no signs that I had run over anything -- it was something mechanical. It was a bad feeling -- no repeat occurrence so far [that would allow me] to explain or demonstrate it to a service technician. Let's hope it never happens again. The fit and finish is OK so far. I'm having some minor irritation with the lever that controls the second-row center seat back. That notwithstanding, after my '92 Explorer XLT, and '95 Eddie Bauer 4x4, the comparative ride and handling is extremely refined, and I'm very happy. Once or twice a year, I really appreciated the selectable four-wheel drive on the Eddie Bauer, but the full time tracking on the new AWD is very nice. We'll see how it does in snow next winter." -- stewto, "MY2002+ Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer," #81 of 83, May 7, 2001