"All dressed up and nowhere to go" might best describe the situation in which the 2006 Ford Explorer found itself when it appeared in showrooms last year. The not-quite "all new" model had donned a new sheetmetal suit to attract suitors, and underneath the skin it received upgrades that improved the power, fuel economy and refinement of this SUV all-star. Despite critics heaping praise on the new Explorer, it's being stood up by consumers. Though Ford had hoped the 2006 model would lift the SUV’s sagging sales in 2005, the year ended with 99,545 fewer Explorers sold than in 2004, a drop of 29.3 percent. What happened? Why has this SUV archetype begun to fall out of favor with the very suburban clientele that made it a sales superstar? We’ll examine why in our three-part review of the 2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer 4X4, beginning after the jump. A drop in sales of 29.3 percent may sound like a death rattle to some, but nearly all of Ford’s vehicles saw double digit declines in 2005, and the Explorer still maintained its comfy spot as the brand’s No. 2 best-selling vehicle (behind the unbeatable F-150). Though the Explorer’s sales continued to drop even after the 2006 model was introduced, we’re fairly certain things would’ve been much worse had this redesign not taken place. Nearly everything about the Explorer has been improved for 2006. In fact, the exterior refreshening is the least significant item on the list. While the changes made to the vehicle’s appearance are innocuous enough, the new chrome grille is much taller than before-- almost Audi-like in how the chrome plunges down, swallowing the air intake. Its vertical height has the uncomfortable effect, however, of making the Explorer look thinner and taller from the front than last year’s model. This Explorer, however, deserves more kudos for what’s new underneath its metal than how it’s shaped. For instance, the first V8 in an Explorer happened to be the Mustang’s fabled 5.0 and Ford has again borrowed from its pony car parts bin to produce this Explorer’s new 292-hp, 4.6L V8. The muscle car motor has been tuned more for towing here than time slips, and it's mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission that’s nearly invisible in its operation. The new driveline can be given credit for an improvement in fuel economy, as well, which is up to 14 city/20 highway. On a 400-mile trip with the Explorer during our first few days together we saw an average in the mid-17 mpg range. The Explorer’s all-independent suspension has also been retuned for 2006, specifically the rear. The new setup is a definite improvement that further blurs the line between body-on-frame and unibody SUVs. During our roadtrip the Explorer excelled at providing a serene ride at highway speeds, aided further by Ford’s efforts at reducing noise inside the cabin. An all-new interior also awaits a new Explorer owner, and it’s obvious from the first touch that the SUV’s inner sanctum is …
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|MPG||15 City / 21 Hwy|
|Transmission||5-spd auto w/OD|
|Power||210 @ 5100 rpm|
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