Owning three different brands of SUV’s at the same time gives me a unique perspective on the quality of these three competitors. All three are four-door models with V6 engines. The Ford Explorer is a 1995 Eddy Bower Edition with over 200,000 miles on the odometer. The Chevy Blazer is a 2001 model with 126,000 miles, and the Toyota 4-Runner is a 2004 model that just recently surpassed the 100,000 milestone.
With the exception of owning a vintage Mustang, I have never been a Ford man. The acquisition of the 1995 Ford Explorer came as part of the package when I married. My wife’s opinion of the Ford was that it had a good body but a weak engine. In some respects I must agree. The Ford lacks the acceleration and response enjoyed by the Chevy Blazer or Toyota 4-Runner. Even so, it is a good solid engine. Several years ago, just before making 200,000, the odometer quit working. The engine readily has 250,000 if not 300,000 miles, and except for an oil drip here or there, the engine its self has been without any major repairs. Not so for the transmission, however. The reverse went out on the Ford transmission about six years ago, and most recently, the radiator sprung a leak. As for gas mileage, the Ford averages about 21 mpg when one of the kids is not driving it.
The 2001 Chevy Blazer is actually my second Chevy Blazer. My first Blazer was a 1991 two-door model with a manual five-speed transmission. The 2001 Chevy Blazer, at 20 mpg, enjoys about the same gas mileage as the Ford but with a more responsive engine. At over 126,000 miles on the odometer, the engine has only required routine maintenance, but like the Ford, the radiator started leaking at 100,000 miles and the reverse when out in the transmission at 112,000 miles.
The Toyota 4-Runner has the better engine as far as responsiveness and gets 23 mpg. Toyota has built their reputation on quality, and although the engine only has 100,000 miles on it, I have great expectations for its durability over the long haul.
All three vehicles have good bodies. The plastic fender shirts on the Ford have even held up over the years. My concern over plastic exterior parts stems from the plastic parts Cadillac used between the body and the taillights. These parts deteriorated much too easily. The Chevy and Toyota also have some plastic exterior parts that remain in good condition. The only body failures between the three SUV’s are on the Chevy.
The door hinges on the Chevy Blazer has small hinge pins with plastic inserts that fail over time causing the door to sage. They are not easy to replace since the hinges are welded to the door and body. The hardest part of the repair is getting the hinge spring back in place. The other high failure item is the hood release cable.
The one attribute of the Chevy body I like is the use of a rod to hold the hood open. The Ford and Toyota both use hydraulic devices to hold the hood open. These fail over time and are modestly expensive to replace.
At sixteen years of age, the Ford Explorer has had a number of minor repairs and failures. Over the past eight years, the fuel pump has been replaced one, and the alternator has been replaced twice. One electric motor for the widows has been replace and another has since quit working. The gears in the passenger’s seat have stripped out for the tilt option. As for the radio, well, it will not turn off. The most troubling failure is the automated control for the AC and heater. When it is summer the heater comes on, and when it is cold out, the AC comes on.
Electrically, the Chevy has been reasonably reliable. The only electrical failures have been the dash-mounted switch to open the rear hatch and the sending unit for the gas gauge. The sending unit is combined with the gas pump and a very expensive item. The one electrical feature I like on the Chevy is the built-in garage door opener.
Although it may be too early to tell, electrical failures may be the Toyota’s weak point. When we acquired the four-year old Toyota, the LCD display panel had failed. It was replaced. Since then the sunroof has failed to operate properly; it will not automatically stop in the closed position. My only other electrical complaint is that the radio has poor reception.
All three vehicles have roomy well-lit interiors with leather bucket seats in front and split rear seats that fold down for hauling cargo. In this position the Ford and Chevy have a flatter cargo floor than the Toyota. There is ample storage room in all three, but the Toyota has a couple extra small storage compartments in the rear over the wheel wells. The Chevy has more and better cup holders.
Each vehicle has its advantages and disadvantages. The Ford with its torsion bar suspension is on par with the Toyota in hugging the road around curves. In comparison, the Chevy has a much lighter feel on the road. All three have reasonable gas mileage, but the Toyota out performs both the Ford and the Chevy along with having a more responsive engine. The Toyota sets higher than the Ford and Chevy, giving it better forward vision, but because of its height and rear design, the driver has poor visibility to the right rear of the vehicle. The design of Ford’s front suspension with an inward tilt tends cause the front tires to wear excessively on the inside tread. Overall, I lean towards the Toyota as the best pick, but it is more expensive than the Ford Explorer or Chevy Blazer.