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  • 2007 Ford Explorer XLT 4×4

    Posted on September 5th, 2007 ninarussin

    Sport-Utility Classic

    By Nina Russin

    2007 Ford Explorer XLT

    2007 Ford Explorer XLT

    The Ford Explorer may not have been the original sport-utility vehicle, but it was the first to gain widespread popularity. Early SUVs appealed to driving enthusiasts looking to take their adventures off-road. The Explorer attracted Middle America. The first Explorer, introduced in 1990 as a ’91 model, combined the durability of a mid-sized pickup truck with the versatility of a minivan.

    Off-road capability allowed the Explorer to go where passenger cars feared to tread. For active families, it was a match made in heaven. By the mid-nineties, sport-utility vehicles had become the new family wagons: the Explorer leading the pack in sales. Despite some bumps in the road, the Explorer remains a popular choice among SUV buyers: familiarity breeds comfort.

    Over its seventeen-year history, Ford has refined the Explorer’s chassis to produce a more car-like ride, while maintaining the durability to tow trailers and go off-road. The new Explorers are loaded with creature comforts, have powerful engines, get better gas mileage, and feature a higher level of standard safety. In short, they’re twenty-first century cars.

    The 2007 models come with a choice of two engines, two or four-wheel drive, and five, six or seven-seat configurations. The test car is the XLT four-by-four model with seating for seven. Options include the Ironman trim and wheel package, safety canopy, trailer prep, navigation system, rear-seat DVD, power-folding third-row seats, plus two comfort and convenience packages that gussy up the interior.

    While base price on the XLT grade is $28,890, the options add another $10,000. With the $695 destination charge, MSRP is just under $40,000: well within our luxury category.

    Power to spare

    Ford is known for engineering exceptionally good V-8 engines, and the 4.6-liter block in the test car is no exception. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, it has a buttery smooth ride with a fat torque curve. Fuel economy isn’t great, but the V8 Explorer performs like a sport sedan, with excellent acceleration off the line, and in the critical twenty-to-fifty mile-per-hour range.

    Although the Explorer is a body-on frame truck, engineers have maximized torsional stiffness though a special frame design. A tube-through-tube configuration has the crossmembers pass through the frame rails, producing extremely stiff joints. As a result, the truck takes on some of the characteristics of a unit-body design, while it is durable enough to tow large trailers.

    Four-wheel independent suspension produces a compliant ride for all passengers. Rack-and-pinion steering has good feedback and on-center feel. The Ironman package includes eighteen-inch wheels: an upgrade from the standard sixteen-inch rims. The bigger wheels produce a wider, more stable footprint. Drivers should feel comfortable making the occasional emergency maneuver on the highway.

    Buttons on the instrument panel switch the vehicle between 4×4 auto, 4×4 high and 4×4 low settings. There’s no need to make adjustments at the axles. The automatic setting keeps the car in rear wheel drive for fuel economy, and shifts power to the front wheels when necessary. The low setting is for serious off-road driving, where the driver needs to crawl over extremely uneven terrain. Ground clearance is 8.2 inches. Approach and departure angles of 28.2 and 23.8 degrees respectively give the Explorer the ability to climb and descend steep hills.

    The standard keypad entry device is one of the greatest ideas Ford has ever had. Any passenger can enter a number code on the keypad and gain access to the interior. It saves the inevitable debate of who hangs on to the keys, if five people are using a car as base camp at the trailhead.

    All the comforts of home

    Inside, the new Explorer has all the amenities a twenty-first century family demands: satellite radio, navigation system, DVD player, and cupholders everywhere. Both first and second-row seats are spacious and comfortable for most adults, although the middle seat in the second row lacks some legroom. The third-row seats are adequate: kids will be more comfortable than adults.

    The test car has adjustable pedals, so shorter drivers can maintain a safe distance from the steering wheel and front airbag. Tilt steering wheel adjustment is standard. Cruise control settings on the steering wheel allow the driver to engage and disengage the function easily. A central touch screen controls the navigation and audio settings. There are redundant audio and climate control knobs on the instrument panel: all easy to reach from both front seats.

    There are two twelve-volt power points, and a MP3 jack at the front of the center console bin. The large bin also has a change holder. It is big enough to store CDs or small electronic devices. The glovebox is quite small: just big enough for an owner’s manual and a few documents.

    Both front doors have map pockets and bottle holders; rear doors have map pockets. Each row of seating has two cupholders: four are located in the center console, while two cupholders and trays on the C pillars service the third-row passengers. Air vents to the rear of the center console and in the headliner above the second row make sure all passengers have adequate ventilation.

    Ergonomics throughout the interior are excellent with one notable exception: the inside door handles. Chrome lifts at the end of the armrests fit under a person’s palms. To open the door, the passenger curls his fingers over the edge of the handle and lifts it up.

    The problem is that the chrome gets extremely hot in the summer. Here in Phoenix, it gets hot enough to cause third-degree burns. I had to use a towel to open the doors without burning my hands.

    The seats are easy to adjust, with good lower back support. I liked the fact that the seat cushions were relatively flat: not dished, or with large side bolsters that some designers love.

    Bicycle friendly

    The third-row seats collapse using two switches in the cargo area. While it is necessary to collapse the headrests using straps on top of the seat backs, the whole operation is quick and simple. There is very little cargo space with the third row seats in place, but folding them produces a good-sized cargo floor. The second-row seats collapse manually. After folding the headrests, a lever to the side of the seat cushions folds the seats flat.

    Hooks on the cargo floor make it easy to secure large items. The jack is located in a storage space under the cargo floor. There are garment hooks next to the second and third-row seats.

    The tailgate is easy to open and close: a handle at the bottom edge of the door allows shorter people to close the hatch without straining. The window glass can open separately for tossing small items in back.

    Side roof rails are standard on all models. The Ironman package adds crossbars. A towing prep package raises the towing capacity to 7040 pounds: well over our minimum ALV standards.

    Available safety canopy

    Ford’s safety canopy uses the side-curtain airbags to hold passengers in place during a rollover. Tethers keep the curtains in place longer than normal, so passengers are secure inside the car for the duration of a rollover. The safety canopy is optional on XLT models, and standard on the Explorer’s higher grades. It’s a worthy investment for families who regularly travel with passengers in the rear seats.

    Standard safety features include antilock brakes, traction control, roll stability control, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

    The 2007 Explorer is built at Ford’s assembly plant in Louisville, Kentucky.

    Likes: The Explorer has the ride and handling of a passenger car, with the durability and off-road capability of a pickup truck. Steering feedback and strong, linear braking make the vehicle feel like a much smaller car. The power-folding third row seats make it easy to convert the rear into a large, functional cargo area.

    Dislikes: Interior door handles that get scalding hot in the summer.

    Base price: $28,890
    Price as tested: $39,450
    Horsepower: 292 Hp @ 5750 r.p.m.
    Torque: 300 lbs.-ft. @ 3950 r.p.m.  
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Option
    First aid kit: No 
    Towing: Yes
    Off-road: Yes
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Fuel economy: 14/20 m.p.g. city/highway
    Comments: Base price does not include a $695 delivery charge.

     

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