2006 Ford ExplorerPosted on April 15th, 2006
The newest Ford Explorer is bigger, more powerful, and has standard safety features never-before seen in a mid-sized sport-utility vehicle.
By Nina Russin
After fifteen years, the Ford Explorer remains one of the best selling sport-utility vehicles in the mid-sized segment. First introduced in 1990, the Explorer offers buyers with active lifestyles a “do-it-all” package that can tow, haul, and go off-road, with the ride and handling of a passenger car.
The newest generation remains true to that heritage: a body-on-frame truck with available four-wheel drive, towing capacity up to 7,300 pounds, and seating for up to seven passengers.
On the Road With Eddie Bauer
The test vehicle was the four-wheel drive Eddie Bauer edition, equipped with the new 4.6-liter V8 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The engine block is the same one that Ford uses in its current Mustang and F-150 pickup truck, producing 292 horsepower and 300 pounds of torque.
The six-speed automatic transmission maximizes fuel economy by maintaining the ideal gear ratio over a wide range of speeds. The combination also enabled engineers to achieve extra-low emissions: low enough to meet California’s tough Low Emissions Vehicle II standards.
The frame’s torsional rigidity has been improved significantly, giving the driver better feedback through the steering wheel. That, combined with a four-wheel independent suspension gives the body-on-frame truck excellent road manners, with a minimum amount of bouncing or roll on winding or uneven roads.
The newest Explorer is also the safest ever, with standard safety features including front and side-impact airbags, antilock brakes, roll-stability control, seat belt retractors and force limiters. Thick foam blocks in the door panels protect passengers in the event of a side impact collision.
Buyers can also opt for the safety canopy: a tether system that inflates a side curtain airbag and protects up to three rows of passengers. The safety canopy, first introduced on Ford’s minivans, stays inflated long enough to hold the passengers in place during a rollover.
The Control Trac four-wheel drive system on the test truck combines an automatic mode with low and high four-wheel drive. The automatic setting is best for roads. It maintains full power at the rear axle unless the rear wheels begin to slip. On slippery roads, power is divided between the two axles for better traction.
The four-wheel drive high mode locks the center differential for a fifty/fifty front-to-rear power split that provides optimal traction on snow or ice-covered roads. Finally, the four-wheel drive low mode allows the driver to engage extremely low gears for off-road driving. The low setting also maximizes torque for towing a boat or trailer up a steep grade.
Driving around town, the Explorer handles like a passenger car. It has excellent acceleration for merging into high-speed traffic, solid brakes, and remarkably nimble steering for a vehicle its size.
The mirrors do a good job of maintaining visibility around the sides and rear of the vehicle.
The reverse sensing system makes the Explorer easy to park in a tight spot. The keyless entry keypad that comes standard on the Eddie Bauer package is a great feature when traveling with multiple passengers. It gives everyone access to the interior by punching in a numeric code, eliminating the hassles of sharing one door key.
A Comfortable Interior for Seven Adults
The Eddie Bauer package comes standard with leather seats. The ten-way power driver’s eat is easy to adjust, and has good lower lumbar support. Optional adjustable pedals enable a shorter driver to position him or herself high enough to have good forward visibility , and far enough away from the driver’s side airbag to be safe in a collision.
Optional redundant steering wheel controls enable the driver to control the temperature setting and audio system without losing focus on the road. Dual-zone temperature controls ensure that both front passengers can maintain the heat or air conditioning settings to their liking.
Both first and second-row seats have plenty of head and legroom for adults. Controls on the instrument panel are easy to reach and adjust. The center console includes a couple of generous-sized cupholders that are large enough to hold water bottles. Door releases located at the ends of the arm-rest were attractive, but not necessarily intuitive for all passengers.
The test vehicle came with the optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,295) that should appeal to families with children. A reverse sensing system ($255) alerts the driver when there is an object to the rear of the vehicle, that might be outside his or her vision. A power folding third row seat ($1,340) collapses into the floor with the push of a button making extra room for luggage or groceries.
The second-row seat folds completely flat into the floor making it easy to load up the back with bikes or other large cargo. The rear glass can open separately from the lift gate which is handy for loading in small items.
Unfortunately, a sensor on the test car would stick when the lift gate was opened and shut. It triggered an indicator light on the instrument panel, and kept the rest of the interior illuminated until slammed the glass shut several times to cut the signal off.
The Explorer got pretty good gas mileage for a vehicle of its size: 14/20 m.p.g. city/highway. With a curb weight of over 4,600 pounds, the Explorer is not a particularly light truck.
Nor is it cheap. Base price on the test car was $33,625, but the optional equipment plus a $645 delivery charge added close to $10,000. That puts the Explorer well into the luxury category, competing against the likes of the V6 Land Rover LR3 that won out Luxury off-road Active Lifestyle Vehicle Award last year.
Which leads to the question: is the Explorer worth the money for athletes who lead truly active lifestyles? Certainly, it has the on and off-road capability, towing capacity, and interior versatility.
But it lacks some of the features that readers of this web site would probably want. For example, the leather interior, while attractive, is not as easy to clean as the cloth in the LR3 or Nissan Xterra. Those of us who get dirty running and riding on trails want stain-resistant upholstery, and floors designed to be hosed out.
Running boards make it easy to reach the roof from the sides of the vehicle, but it would be nice to have steps integrated into the rear bumper, to make it easier to secure bikes, kayaks, and other gear up top.
Roof rails come standard with the Eddie Bauer package, but cross bars cost extra, and they can’t compete with the standard roof rack and gear basket on the current Nissan Xterra.
In conclusion, the Explorer is a great choice for families that take frequent road trips, who want a luxurious, comfortable vehicle around town that they can also take camping on the weekends. The safety features on the new model are impressive, especially that standard roll-stability control.
Ford has done a great job of refining an already good package, with a better engine and transmission, a quieter, vibration-free chassis, and the types of interior amenities that its core buyers are looking for. The 2006 Explorer is a good-looking truck with the robust body construction and powertrain features necessary for all-weather, all-terrain driving.
Base price: $33,625
Price as tested: $43,160
Horsepower: 292 @ 5,750 r.p.m.
Torque: 300 lbs.-fit. @ 3,950 r.p.m.
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Option
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 14/20 m.p.g. city/highway
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