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2006 Ford Explorer

Just Say No To Blurring Lines

    Standing tall and proud the Explorer in no way tries to blend into the ranks with the ever increasingly popular crossover vehicle. The Explorer was one of the first SUV’s to define the segment and bring it to its prime. Then gas jumped over $3 per gallon and the weak kneed suddenly lost interest in filling the 25+ gallon fuel tanks these barges carry.
     Sad really, because just as the manufacturers were finally catching up to people’s needs and wants in an SUV, those riding the bandwagon jumped clear and now are flocking to the crossover utility vehicle. It seems people prefer to be sitting up higher but don’t want the penalties of an SUV. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
     Regardless, Ford is banking on there still being plenty of customers for the latest Explorer. It neither suffers from an identity crisis nor does it make any apology as to what it really is. A full ladder frame and a V8 reside under this truck’s shiny sheet metal. And we mean shiny because it’s hard to miss that big Volkswagen-like chrome chin and Super-Duty-inspired nostrils. The overall shape of the Explorer has changed very little over the years, with this generation better defining lines and edges laid out in the previous iteration. Big clear lens headlights up front and unique three-part taillamps outback are another indication that this is the new Explorer. Other than that, the major changes lie under the skin where the new frame features the same tube through tube welding first seen on the F-150. The suspension remains fully independent all around but great attention was placed on the rear assembly where the short and long control arms were replaced with trailing arms for greater ride comfort and stability. And of course, all Explorers come standard with Advanced Trac and Rollover Stability Control. Ford should be commended for their commitment to safety.
     The same 24-valve V8 found under the hood of Ford’s Mustang is called into duty for the Explorer, albeit with a bit of retuning. Gone is the rumbling exhaust note, replaced by a more “refined” whoosh of engine roar. At 292 hp the engine pulls strong and has no problem motivating this 4,700-pound truck through traffic. Also new this year is a 6-speed automatic transmission. Real world fuel economy improvements were not evident with our trips turning out around 14-16 mpg. Compared to the V8 Mercury Mountaineer we drove in 2002 we actually saw about a 2 mpg decrease. In its defense, our Explorer tester was pretty fresh with less than 1,000 miles on the odometer. We also noted that the tranny was not shy to downshift to 4th or 5th gear. This aided acceleration but it was very hard to keep the Explorer cruising along in 6th gear. Hence, our lead-footed scribes spent most of their time in lower gears.
     What we didn’t mind spending most of our time in was the interior. The F-150 inspired “Tough Luxury” works well in the Explorer with just a few areas in need of refinement. The center stack is very prominent and centrally locates all of the accessory controls but the faux wood trim remains cheesy and the square center vents are the definition of unoriginal. On the other hand the large center console shifter and the white-faced gauges give the driver a commanding feel while piloting this truck. The steering wheel is thick rimmed and seemed a bit oversized, but it did try, mostly in vain, to communicate what the front of the vehicle was doing. Two-toned interior is the way to go with the lighter tan giving a warm feeling to the more industrial gray and metallic pieces. The touch screen navigation system was easy to use as has always been the case of Ford/Lincoln products. Our only other gripes were with the interior door releases. For some of us they were easy to locate and seemed ergonomic at first, but pushing the door open caused our elbows and forearms to bend in directions these old bones just weren’t made for. We’re told an update is in the works.
     Personally, we felt that the improvements left the driver feeling a bit isolated from the rest of the vehicle. Sure the steering feel was improved with a bit more effort dialed back in, but other than that the truck just didn’t talk. Point, shoot, and don’t worry about it was the feeling we walked away with. Overall, Ford has done a good job updating their lead runner in the SUV race. The Explorers few quirks, such as the goofy door handles, should slip to the backs of owner’s minds. For $33,625 this Explorer seems like a bargain. But once you have tacked on the $5,685 worth of options, including the $3,695 Eddie Bauer package, plus $645 for delivery and the bottom line quickly balloons to $39,955. Is it worth it? Well, for that money we would shop around a bit, but for the family determined not to be seen as wishy-washy and in need of the capabilities only a true SUV can provide, the Explorer is just right.

The Good:
Luxurious, fresh faced, capable, F-150-like interior.
The Bad:
New tranny gets caught searching gears more often than we’d like, gas mileage is far from praiseworthy, dash design has short shelf life.
The Verdict:
A good traditional SUV that should continue to please a shrinking customer base.


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