SOME VEHICLES look at you and say, "Yo, man! Fun time. Let's run!" Others look at you and say, "Hey, dude. Better put on some old jeans. We got work to do." It's important to know what's being said before you sign the sales agreement. Otherwise, you could wind up buying weekends of toil and sweat instead of fun in the sun.
Trouble is, some vehicles speak out of both sides of their grilles. For example, there is the tested 1991 Eddie Bauer edition of the four-door, four-wheel-drive Ford Explorer. It's really pretty with its metallic twilight blue body and its light sandalwood-colored skirts.
It has wraparound front bumpers, flush-mounted glass, limousine-style doors, beautiful aluminum wheels. Inside, it's all plushed out with velour seats and power everything -- locks, windows and remote-control mirrors. All of that prettiness seems to smile at you, to beckon you to hop in and crank the Explorer's big V-6 and head for the hills.
Hah! It's a setup, a trick. If you want to know what the Explorer's really saying, you'd better lower its rear seats and check out all of that cargo space -- 81.6 cubic feet of it, more room than anything in its class.
So, whatcha think you're gonna be doing with all that space, huh? Carrying beach balls and picnic baskets? Get real. That shed has to be cleaned out, and all of the junk hauled away. Yeah, and on your trip back home, stop by the hardware store and pick up that lumber that came in two weeks ago and . . . have a nice weekend.
Background: The Explorer replaces the Ford Bronco II, Ford's former mid-size sport-utility vehicle that came with two doors only. The Explorer comes in two- and four-door versions, both of which are available in the least-expensive XL model and the top-line Eddie Bauer edition.
The mid-priced two-door Explorer is sold as the Explorer Sport, and the four-door mid-priced version is marketed as the Explorer XLT. The XLT offers better value for the dollar, especially if you have a family of four or more people and can live without the fancy extras.
Complaints: The Explorer is quite bouncy, too bouncy for some tastes -- which is weird. The thing handles better than most sport-utility vehicles on curves and it has a very car-like ride on decent roads. But on less than perfectly smooth streets, whoa! It bounces like a hyperactive basketball. Ford apparently agrees. It's already reworking the Explorer's suspension.
Praise: High marks for utility, and for exterior and interior design. Unless you're willing to pay twice as much for a Range Rover, you won't find a better-looking workhorse anywhere. After loading up the cargo bay, you can hitch 3,500 lbs. to the Explorer's rear bumper. This beauty's a beast when it comes to hauling stuff.
Head-turning quotient: High and friendly. People really liked this one.
Acceleration and braking: The Explorer is equipped with a four-liter, fuel-injected V-6 engine rated 155 horsepower at 4,200 rpm. It's a competent runner on the highway.
The brakes are power front discs and rear drums with a computerized rear anti-lock system. It stops quickly.
Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette, Ford JBL system. Excellent.
Mileage: About 19 to the gallon (19-gallon tank, estimated 345-mile range on usable volume), combined city-highway and carrying lots of bulky cargo.
Price: The base price of the tested Eddie Bauer edition is $21,760. Dealer's invoice price is $18,971. Price as tested is $22,988, including $783 for the Ford JBL audio system and a $445 destination fee.
Purse-strings note: It's a buy, but it's a better buy in the XLT or XL versions. You don't need all of that fancy Eddie Bauer stuff. You'll spend more time working than partying with this one.
Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.