Ford’s Bronco II was a bust. Product developers knew they needed a home run after years of less-than-stellar sales. However, the team decided to go further than a better Bronco II—they wanted to redefine what made a “Sport Utility Vehicle.” It was called the Ford Explorer.

Introduced in 1990 for the 1991 model year, the Explorer didn’t look to rivals from Chevrolet or Jeep. Instead, it looked at passenger cars. The goal was to create a utility vehicle rooted in trucks but embraced comforts found in family wagons and sedans.

Until then SUVs never emphasized comfort. Instead, they focused on the “utility” portion of their name. Ford was determined to overturn that notion.

1991 Ford Explorer

1991 Ford Explorer

The 1991 Explorer had ample room for passengers, plenty of storage space for cargo, and amenities like a sunroof, power steering, folding rear seats, and more. What started as a Bronco II replacement quickly became the fuse for the first SUV boom in America.

Ford sold both a two- and four-door Explorer to ensure it didn’t leave any loyal Bronco II fans out in the cold, and it quickly became clear the automaker had a massive hit on its hands. In January 1990, Ford sold 8,011 Bronco IIs. In May 1990, combined sales of the newly launched Explorer and Bronco exploded to 15,706 combined.

Chevrolet and Jeep never quite caught up to the success of the Explorer. In 1993, Ford moved 302,201 Explorers from dealerships to driveways. Chevy and Jeep? Just 147,742 S-10 Blazers and 128,960 Grand Cherokees were sold the same year.

Jeep may have introduced the idea of a more practical SUV with the Cherokee in the 1980s, but Ford perfected the formula with the Explorer.

1991 Ford Explorer

1991 Ford Explorer

SUVs boomed in popularity in the final decade of the 20th century and well into the 21st century. Station wagons? Not hip enough, and the Explorer can tow a trailer. Minivans? Not utilitarian enough, and the Explorer could carry nearly the same amount of cargo.

Perhaps the Explorer played into the American spirit and go-anywhere attitude. Hell, the idea is smack-dab in the SUV’s name: “explore.” Americans have a can-do spirit, and it takes a little adventure to get that done. The Ford Explorer, for over two decades now, has helped us do just that.

Note to readers: Motor Authority has compiled 100 cars that have forever changed enthusiasts. From supercars and sedans to SUVs and muscle cars, these are the cars that have sparked our love for cars. Think we’ve missed something? Leave a comment below or contact us here.