Independent's day dawns on Ford's best-selling sport-ute.

by Nick Twork

Ford's Explorer is getting on in years, but unlike other ponies in the stable, Ford will give this one a new lease on life with a complete redo in the 2002 model year. And, for the first time since its introduction in 1990, the Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicle will get an independent rear suspension.

Better noise, vibration and harshness characteristics and improved roadholding ability are just a few of the reasons Ford will offer independent rear suspension (IRS) on the 2002 Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer and an as yet unnamed compact Lincoln sport-utility vehicle. The new suspension setup is concealed in this photo by a rubber skirt. But even with camouflage, the increased track width and axle halfshafts were clearly visible.

The photographed vehicle is an early chassis prototype. Consequently, beside a relocated fuel filler door, it does not show any of the aesthetic changes to the new Explorer. In fact, the exterior of the new Explorer looks very similar to Ford's Tremor high performance sport-utility concept that toured the auto show circuit a few years back. The 2001 Explorer Sport Trac, unveiled at this past January's North American International Auto Show, also lends some of its sheet metal and design cues to the 2002 Explorer.

A large waterfall chrome grille is one styling cue that highlights the new Mountaineer. The 2002 Mountaineer's sheetmetal gives it a significantly different look than the new Explorer. The Explorer looks rugged and modern, while the Mountaineer has a more polished sophisticated look.

Under the hood, expect to see a more powerful version of the 4.0-liter SOHC V-6 in the current model. A 4.6-liter version of Ford's modular V-8 engine will replace the 5.0-liter pushrod engine.

© The Car Connection

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