Twenty three years ago today, the Ford Explorer hit the market as a 1991 model and it instantly became a success story. Although it wasn’t the first SUV inexpensive SUV, the Explorer blended truck capability and comfortable family car qualities into one vehicle. As the Ford Explorer celebrates its 23rd anniversary, we’re recapping the highlights from then until now.
Replacing the Bronco, the first Explorer in 1991 debuted as a two- or four-door, and it wowed consumers with its capacious interior and optional six-passenger seating. At the time, the Explorer was the only major SUV to offer dual airbags, four-wheel disc brakes, rack-and-pinion steering, and an anti-lock braking system. Standard features included a 4.0L V-6 engine that put out 155 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. The upscale Eddie Bauer trim level on the four-door model was also introduced, as was the touch driver transfer case for 4x4 models. In 1990, 140,509 Explorers were sold, and in 1991, sales skyrocketed to 249,640 units.
Although the Explorer was already a best-seller, Ford significantly redesigned the 1995 model. Changes included a new suspension, new four-wheel-drive system, and amenities such as a six-disc CD player and integrated child seat. Sales continued to climb, with 395,227 Explorers sold in 1995.
Shortly after, the Explorer got a new drivetrain that would further catapult it ahead of its competitors. While consumers flocked to the rugged SUV, it still had its flaws. Powerful, smooth, and quiet weren’t words traditionally used to describe the Explorer’s powertrain, until the 1997 model year when an optional 205-hp 4.0-liter V-6 was introduced.
In 2001, the Explorer Sport Trac was introduced. Based on the four-door, the Sport Trac had an open rear cargo area for a half SUV, half truck-like appearance. It was also around this time that the Explorer became the main topic of discussion after several Explorers equipped with Firestone tires rolled over when a tire blew out.
Significant updates were in order for 2006, including an improved interior, a stronger V-8 with a six-speed automatic transmission, stiffer chassis, and a new suspension configuration.
Fast forward to now, and although the Explorer wasn't our favorite in a comparison against the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the SUV has seen sales rise compared to the last-generation model. In 2012, 158,344 Explorers were sold.
Source: Ford, The Henry Ford Collection