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Main: 866-277-0159
Service: 866-312-0166
Parts: 866-418-5048

History of the Ford Explorer


Ford Explorer debut in March 1990 as a 1991 model, introduced as a four-door Explorer and two-door Explorer Sport. It offered best-in-class interior volume with 81 cubic feet of cargo space and was available with six-passenger seating. Explorer brought a new level of refinement to the segment with its offering of an independent I-beam or twin-traction-beam front suspension, front and rear anti-sway bars, touch drive transfer case and a plush Eddie Bauer four-door model. Its standard 4.0-liter overhead-valve V6 delivers 155 horsepower and 220 lb.-ft. of torque. Explorer establishes Ford’s safety leadership for the segment with a class-exclusive center-mounted stoplight (a feature not mandated for light trucks until the 1994 model year), standard rear antilock brakes, side-door intrusion beams, energy-absorbing steering column and steering wheel, and impact-activated fuel pump shut-off switch.

Four Wheeler Magazine honored the 1991 Ford Explorer with its Four Wheeler of the Year award in it's first year.

After 30 years on the market the Ford Explorer is a lot different. However, it still serves the same purpose of carrying families in comfortably and reliably. 

The all-new 2020, sixth-gen Ford Explorer debut at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, so it seems like a great time to take a look back at the five previous generations.

First Generation (1991-1994)



The first Explorer was modeled after the Ford Ranger's pickup truck chassis.

Although the Explorer resembled the two-door Ford Bronco II compact SUV the Explorer was much larger.

Ford sold 140,509 units of the Explorer, in it's first year and in it's second year, it sold twice as many, with 282,837 sales. By the end of 1993, the Explorer had reached 300,000 deliveries.

1992 - Two-door Eddie Bauer Explorer Sport joins the lineup. Safety improvements include child-proof rear door locks and one-touch-down driver’s window.

1993 - Four-wheel, three-channel ABS becomes standard.

1994 - Explorer Limited trim level is introduced.


Click HERE to read up on Ford Explorer research for 2020.


Click HERE to see our other history pages.


Second Generation (1995-2001)



1995Second-generation Ford Explorer’s rounded, aerodynamic design reflects its increased refinement and includes an all-new short- and long-arm front suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, six-disc CD player and integrated message center. Control Trac four-wheel drive debuts. Safety advancements include class-exclusive dual front airbags, four-wheel discs with antilock braking, adjustable front safety belt, height-adjustable outboard head restraints and integrated child-safety seat. These improvements result in Explorer being named Best Compact SUV in Initial Quality by J.D. Power.

1996First Explorer V8 debuts. This 5.0-liter overhead-valve V8 engine delivers 215 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque and comes paired with all-wheel drive.

1997New single-overhead-cam V6 is introduced for Explorer XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited SUVs. It delivers 205 horsepower and 245 lb.-ft. of torque.

1998Automatic temperature control, MACH® audio and SecuriLock® passive anti-theft system are introduced.

1999Explorer features first-in-class front side airbags, first-in-class reverse sensing system and second-generation front airbags.

2001Explorer Sport Trac and redesigned two-door Explorer Sport debut.The second-generation model's redesign was enhanced for better on-road manners, sincemost buyers rarely ventured off-road with their Explorers, thus differentiating it from the Ranger.

When it came to sales, these were the Explorer's glory days. At the beginning of the second generation, the SUV registered 395,227 deliveries for 1995. The Explorer reached its all-time peak in 2000 with 445,157 units. It closed out the generation a year later with a still impressive 415,921 deliveries.



Third Generation (2002-2005)


2002 - Third-generation Ford Explorer is 2.5 inches wider and features a 2-inch-longer wheelbase. The introduction of an independent rear suspension for best-in-class ride and handling dramatically enhances refinement. The half-shafts pass through innovative portholes in the frame rails enabling introduction of one of the first third-row seats in the segment. Explorer’s 4.0-liter V6 delivers 210 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque, while a new 4.6-liter V8 is also introduced with two valves per cylinder, all-aluminum construction and single-overhead cams. An impressive new array of safety features includes AdvanceTrac® stability control, four-wheel antilock braking with electronic brake force distribution and adjustable pedals. Ford’s Personal Safety SystemTM debuts with dual-stage driver and front-passenger airbags that deploy differently based on crash severity, driver’s seat position and front occupant safety-belt usage. Explorer features a 2-inch-lower frame for improved bumper compatibility with passenger vehicles. Safety Canopy® side curtain airbags incorporate a rollover sensor, which keeps the curtains inflated for several seconds after deployment if a rollover situation is imminent. Explorer earns Best Family Sport Utility Vehicle by PBS’s MotorWeek television show, Best of What’s New from Popular Science, Best Overall Value of the Year for Intermediate SUVs from IntelliChoice, Tow Vehicle of the Year from Trailer Boats magazine and the Best Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for front-offset crash performance.

2003 - Explorer is available with new NBX Appearance Package and rear-seat entertainment system with DVD player. Also, 17-inch wheels and tires are offered.

2004 - Second-row sport bucket seats are offered for six-passenger configurations, and a new auxiliary climate control system is available for rear-seat occupants. Safety improvements include a standard tire pressure monitoring system.

2005 - Class-exclusive AdvanceTrac enhanced with Roll Stability ControlTM becomes standard across the board.




Fourth Generation (2006-2010)


2006 - Fourth-generation Ford Explorer is introduced with power-folding third-row seats, power running boards, a 4.6-liter V8 engine and new 6-speed automatic transmission. It earns a North American Truck of the Year nomination.


2007 - Options now include a heated windshield and heated leather seats, as well as an Ironman Package and XLT Appearance Package. An auxiliary input for the stereo becomes standard equipment.


2009 - A trailer sway control system becomes standard, while Explorer navigation system provides traffic flow monitoring.


2010 - Ford MyKey® becomes standard for SYNC®-equipped Explorer.



Fifth Generation (2011-2019)


2011 - Fifth-generation Ford Explorer is transformed 100 percent, with production moving from Louisville, Kentucky, to Chicago Assembly Plant. Styling shifts from traditional SUV to a more modern, refined SUV. Now featuring unibody construction for the first time, a four-mode Terrain Management SystemTM is offered. Explorer becomes the first vehicle to be equipped with dual rear inflatable safety belts. It wins the 2011 North American Truck of the Year award.


2012 - The addition of a 2.0-liter EcoBoost® powertrain makes for the first turbocharged four-cylinder offering in an Explorer. Explorer introduces active park assist, available exclusively for the Limited model.


2013 - Explorer Sport debuts with black exterior treatment, stiffened chassis and suspension, larger brakes and a new 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine generating 365 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque.


2014 - Heated outboard second-row seats become standard on Explorer Limited.


2015 - PowerFold® third-row seats and power-assist-folding second-row buckets are now standard on Explorer Sport.


2016 - Redesigned front fascia, hood and lower bumper, as well as LED taillamps and dual exhaust outlets mark a refreshed SUV. A new engine offering comes in the form of a 2.3-liter EcoBoost I-4, while new Platinum model is introduced as the top trim level.


2017 - Updates include an available hands-free, foot-activated liftgate and heated steering wheel. SYNC 3 is the new in-vehicle entertainment and connectivity system.


2018 - A refresh includes new LED headlamps and fog lights, revised fascia, new grille and wheels, and quad-tipped exhaust on Explorer Sport and Explorer Platinum. SYNC® Connect (now FordPass ConnectTM) becomes available for the first time. New XLT Appearance Package debuts.


2019 - Two new appearance packages, XLT Desert Copper and Limited Luxury, are introduced.

Sixth Generation 

2020Sixth-generation Ford Explorer is built on all-new rear-wheel-drive architecture and introduces all-new Explorer ST and Explorer hybrid models as part of the broadest lineup for the nameplate ever. Active Park Assist 2.0, a first-for-Ford feature, is among the many driver-assist technologies available. The all-new Ford Explorer is meticulously recrafted bumper to bumper to ensure all of life’s journeys are simpler and less stressful.

Click Here for a Downloadable 2020 Ford Explorer Brochure


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My son just bought his first car today! This was the best dealership experience I have ever had! Danny Greico is absolutely positively AMAZING! He was with us from start to finish! I would definitely recommend buying a car from him! The whole staff at Joe Cotton Ford was incredible, with all that is going on in today's world it was so nice to feel so normal and so much love! Words can't even express how grateful and blessed we are thank you Danny Greico! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

DealerRater - 5 Stars

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Professional, Prompt, Integrity Brought my car in for new tires and a brake fluid flush. Work was done on time, at the quoted price and then returned my car washed. Nice touch Joe Cotton Ford!

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Definitely 5 stars. They made the process of buying a new car easy. They took time helping us choose the car that fit our needs and budget! Rich, Danny, Rick and Mike were the best and huge thank you!! We would highly recommend Joe Cotton Ford!

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Great experience from beginning to end. On their Website, I saw one of their Internet specials advertised, so I went in, set up a test drive, asked my questions, set up financing, and -- only around 3 hours after I'd walked in -- drove away with my new car. The purchase went quickly and efficiently.

DealerRater - 5 Stars

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Everyone at Joe Cotton is the greatest! Always friendly and willing to help with anything. Roman is the best!!! Mike Diehl also is one of the best! Would not buy anywhere except Joe Cotton. Recommend them to anyone asking!

Facebook - 5 Stars

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I went in for my 6 month check up as required for my maintenance package. Quite some time passed and I remembered that I needed new wiper blades. I went back and asked if that could be added and my service guy just smiled and added it. It was all covered in my plan. I'm bad at getting names but I have had nothing but great experiences in the dealership and service department. Highly recommend them. Not everyone is perfect, nor does everyone have a good day everyday. I have read the bad reviews and am thankful I have not had the same experiences. Keep up the good work and get these reviews up! 5 star for this household!

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I have been servicing my 07 Navigator L at Cotton since I bought it new. Great service still going strong. Wouldn't take it anywhere else! Service manager Davy Malloy is one of the main reasons that I still service my Ford and Lincoln vehicles at Cotton. Great attention to detail.

Dealer Rater - 5 Stars

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Good service and excellent customer service, I am so happy with my new car, thanks for your good service they are very friendly. Thank you!!

Google - 5 Stars

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Excellent customer service. Variety of options. Genuine effort to reach our budget. Special heart for non-profits that give back to the community. Efficient on every level. Personable care from multiple staff.

Dealer Rater - 5 Stars

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Really like Jason our salesman. No pressure trying to sell us something we didn't want and found our Edge we love it and no problems with it. Like the free 2 yrs service for oil changes. We got 3 and only have 13,000 and its 2 years old. We even went to one of there summer open houses free food etc and won 5 free oil changes!!Well buy our next car or truck there for sure! Fair price great service

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Dealer Rater - 5 Stars

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A great experience. The sales team is well versed and very helpful. I will be purchasing all of my vehicles from Joe cotton in the future and would recommend them to anyone looking for a new vehicle.

Facebook - 5 Stars

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Multiple successful visits to their service and parts departments. Great and friendly customer service and fair pricing on every visit. Thank you!

Google - 5 Stars

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Always helpful, and good selection of new and used cars

Facebook - 5 Stars

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Thank you for your Honesty. Joe Cotton service will be saving me a ton of money for correctly diagnosing an issue that another dealer said was a complete engine

Google - 5 Stars

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Great people they tread u right make u feel like home

Dealer Rater - 5 Stars

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"Golden Rule Service - Second and third generation dealership. Quality and Service as you want it. Comfortable waiting with amenities. New and used vehicles to select, with staff who will search for the right vehicle if not found here."

CarGurus - 5 Stars

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"Great - on top of things -Stan was very informative of the car I was interested in" - 5 Stars

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"Fast, quick and never met nicer people to deal with. I don't believe I will go anywhere else."

Dealer Rater - 5 Stars

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"Best sales and service at Joe Cotton Ford. Best Ford dealership to buy a new or used car. Best price and best service. Employees are all great."

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