1995: The refreshed Explorer debuts as a cosmetic and mechanical overhaul of the wildly successful sport-ute. In addition to a body restyling, which included new head- and taillights, an independent suspension replaced the twin I-beam setup. On four-wheel-drive models, selectable ControlTrac allows the driver to engage the system when necessary, or run the Explorer in two-wheel-drive. The Explorer continues to be available with either two or four doors, but the Mazda Navajo clone is dropped. For the 1995 model year only, the Eddie Bauer trim level is replaced with "Expedition," a name that would later take on new meaning as a separate model.
We take the standard, 4.0-liter V-6 off-roading, and declare that "its off-road limitations will probably never be of concern to most owners, whose biggest driving challenge is finding a parking spot at the mall."
Late in the model year, an optional 5.0-liter V-8 is added, which produces 210 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. We call it "significantly faster than its six-cylinder counterpart" and "the better cargo hauler" against the Grand Cherokee.
1996: The Explorer is approved for use as a New York City hack. Dwellers of the urban wilderness raise their taxi-hailing arms in delight.
1997: A 4.0-liter single-overhead cam V-6 is added to the engine roster, and is standard on the two top-level models. Its 205 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque shame the standard V-6, but that powerplant continues to soldier on for several model years. The Mercury Mountaineer, a dressed-up Explorer clone distinguished by shinier cosmetic treatment, debuts. It features the V-8 as standard (to become available later with the V-6), and is offered with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
1998: Challenged by a new crop of SUVs, the Explorer with a mildly redesigned grille and taillights battles the Grand Cherokee (again) for the crown. Our six-SUV comparison ranks the Grand Cherokee at the top, and our testing confirms that the Explorer's V-8 "makes lots of engine roar but little forward motion, while the V-6 doesn't feel significantly less spry." The new-in-town, car-based Lexus RX300 actually offers more ground clearance than the truck-based Explorer.
1999: Before the launch of the redesigned 2002 Explorer, we preview the 2001 Explorer Sport Trac, which apes the design of the 1996 Adrenalin concept pickup/SUV. Like the Adrenalin concept, the production Sport Trac incorporates passenger comfort with cargo-carrying ability as a four-door pickup.