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Ford Explorer continues to evolve as SUV market reinvents itself

With the launch of the third-gen Explorer, America's love affair with the SUV was dwindling.

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Manuel Carrillo III
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Continuing the trend of being more family hauling-centric than off-road-ready, the third-gen Ford Explorer was no longer tied to the Ford Ranger. But it was still a body-on-frame SUV.

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Regardless of having truck-like roots, this Explorer was more car-like than ever before.

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A new independent rear suspension not only offered a superior ride, but it also freed up space for the newly available third row of seats, bringing the total occupant count to seven.

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The base engine was carried over from the second-gen Explorer: A 4.0-liter V6 making 210 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, but the third generation brought a more powerful 4.6-liter, single-overhead cam, all-aluminum V8 with 240 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.

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The extra V8 power paired with body-on-frame construction meant this Explorer could tow as much as 7,300 pounds. 

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You could also have the Mazda-sourced five-speed manual transmission with the V6, but that was only offered for the first model year, after which all Explorers were built only with the five-speed automatic. 

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The Explorer Sport, still based on the previous-gen model, met its maker in 2003.

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In addition to the Explorer bidding farewell to the manual and a two-door configuration, the SUV also kissed its stellar sales figures goodbye.

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In 2002, the Explorer was still resounding with 433,847 sales for the year, but by 2005, sales were down 45 percent from three years earlier to just 239,788 units as more consumers ditched traditional SUVs for car-based crossovers.

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Keep scrolling for more photos of the third-generation Ford Explorer.

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2002 Ford Explorer

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2004 Explorer

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2004 Explorer

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2004 Explorer

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2004 Explorer

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2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

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2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

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2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

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2005 Ford Explorer

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2005 Ford Explorer

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2005 Ford Explorer

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2005 Ford Explorer

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2005 Ford Explorer Police Package

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2005 Ford Sport Trac

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2005 Ford Explorer

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2005 Ford Sport Trac

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2003 Ford Explorer NBX.

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2003 Ford Explorer Sport XLT.

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