2006 Explorer New Car Test Drive
When you mess with a winner, you must be very, very careful, and that's what Ford was when they redesigned the Explorer, America's favorite midsize sport utility for the last 15 years in a row.
By careful we don't mean conservative, either. By careful, we mean Ford spent serious effort dotting the i's and crossing the t's, looking after the details that make all the difference. At the same time, Ford realigned the models and overhauled the pricing structure, giving customers more truck for less money, nearly $4,000 less in some cases.
The new Explorer is available with a V6 or V8. It's a traditional midsize SUV with body-on-frame construction, and competes against the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner, and Nissan Pathfinder.
We were well pleased with the new steering, the new suspension, and the new brakes used on the 2006 model, all of which have improved by at least one order of magnitude. The new 2006 Explorer is quieter than last year's model and it rides better. It also leans less in corners and the brakes are more responsive. The rear seats fold flatter than on last year's models and the interior has been improved throughout.
The Explorer lineup from bottom to top includes the XLS ($27,175), XLT ($28,870), XLT Sport ($30,845), Eddie Bauer ($30,845), and Limited ($33,160), with all prices reflecting the inclusion of the $645 destination and delivery charges. Ford is quick to point out that these suggested retail prices are from $675 to $3,900 lower than those for comparably equipped 2005 models, which don't benefit from all the improvements for 2006. The average price reduction is $1,750.
Standard equipment on the XLS includes the 4.0-liter V6 engine and five-speed automatic, Roll Stability Control (RSC), independent rear suspension, keyless entry, cruise control, message center, compass and thermometer, power windows, locks and mirrors, air conditioning, a floor console, rear vent windows and added 12-volt power point, a cargo management system, AM/FM stereo with single CD or MP3 player, driver manual lumbar adjuster, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
XLT adds a chrome grille, unique bumper and trim, power seat, fog lamps, puddle lamps, 16-inch tires and wheels, an overhead console and additional storage.
The Eddie Bauer version adds yet another grille design, running boards, roof rails, 17-inch wheels and tires, more wood and leather, 10-way power seat, message center and trip computer, and remote keyless entry. The Eddie Bauer is now split into two models, one with the luxury package added in and one without. The Luxury Package on the Eddie Bauer adds $1700, an audiophile sound system, six-disc changer, steering wheel controls, power passenger seat, heated power mirrors, and puddle lamps.
Limited adds its own four-bar grille, 17-inch tires and wheels, monochromatic appearance package, heated seats with memory, still more wood and more leather and a few more small amenities.
Each model offers seat configurations for five, six or seven passengers. The five-seater gains a flat load floor behind the second row of folding seats. The six-seater features four captain's chairs in the first two rows and a folding 50/50 split third seat. The seven-seater gets a folding 60/40 bench seat in the second row in lieu of the cushy bucket seats.
Each model also offers a choice of rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, the latter with a four-position dashboard switch for 4H, N, 4WD, 4WD LOW, and 4WD Auto.
Options include all-wheel drive ($2,225); the V8 package ($1,200); a DVD system ($1,295); power folding third-row seats ($1,340); quad bucket seat package ($795); third-row seat ($845); memory pedals ($350); and rear air conditioning ($650). Sirius Satellite Radio will be offered late in the model year. DVD-based navigation is also available for about $1,500.
The standard safety package includes the automatic all-wheel-drive system and roll stability control, a system already in use at Volvo and Land Rover, that intervenes with throttle and brakes when the vehicle senses an impending tipover situation. Seat side air bags, an new adaptive energy-absorbing steering column, a passenger classifier in the seat, and the TPMS. Ford says this truck meets all known future safety standard for front and side crash through 2010.