For 1996, a V8 engine was offered for Explorer and fitted to XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited trimmed versions of the SUV. Paired with a four-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, the 5.0-liter V8 produced 210 horsepower and 280 ft-lbs of torque on regular unleaded gasoline. Towing capacity was upped to 6,500 pounds. Rather than four-wheel drive, the V8 models were all-wheel drive, which means, they were driven by all four wheels all the time, as opposed to the four-wheel drive model’s ability to be switched in and out of four-wheel drive.
The V6 engine got an optional overhead-cam variant. Still displacing 4.0-liters, the new configuration produced 205 horsepower and 245 ft-lbs of torque. Offered as standard equipment on the Eddie Bauer and Limited Explorers, it was an option for all the others. Four-wheel drive models got an electronic transfer case and the four-speed automatic transmission was replaced with a five-speed automatic. BTW, here’s a bit of trivia, the first American auto to get a five-speed automatic transmission was the (you guessed it) Ford Explorer. Traction control was fitted to all 1997 Explorer models as standard equipment.
All Explorers got a new tailgate, in addition to reworked taillights and a new rear bumper. Two-door XL models were discontinued, the anti-theft system was made standard across the board, and the airbag system was recalibrated to deploy with less force. Steering wheel mounted audio and climate controls debuted, along with new audio systems on the upper trim level Limited and Eddie Bauer models.
After reworking the back end for ’98, Ford’s Explorer team turned its attention to the rest of the exterior for ’99. New fog lamps, rocker panel moldings, wheel moldings, running boards (lighted on Eddie Bauer and Limited), bumpers, and wheels were prescribed. Side impact airbags were introduced as an option for all Explorers. An audible reverse sensing system was added to the optional offerings for all but XL Explorers, along with a rear load leveling suspension system. The Explorer XLS added power windows and door locks, along with chromed wheels, side steps and a roof rack to the XL. The integrated child rear seat option was eliminated.
Eddie Bauer models got a leather wrapped steering wheel with climate, audio and cruise control switches. The trailering package was added to XLT Sport, Eddie Bauer and Limited models with the V8, as standard equipment. XLS became a model in its own right when the four-door XL was conscribed to fleet-only sales and 2000 was the year in which the sit hit the hand as far as the Explorer rollover controversy was concerned. The Explorer’s sales numbers dropped precipitously and would never be the same after 2000.