Ford has reworked its midsize sport utility vehicle for the 2006 model year, dubbing it "the best Explorer ever" and "the most powerful." Mercury has given its related Mountaineer similar treatment for 2006.
In its new form, the 4.6-liter V-8, with three valves per cylinder, generates 292 horsepower — a gain of 53 hp — and drives a new six-speed-automatic transmission. Ford claims significantly improved fuel economy and emissions for the 2006 model, and towing capacity can reach 7,300 pounds. A V-6 version with a five-speed-automatic transmission remains available.
Four trim levels are still offered: XLS, XLT, Eddie Bauer and top-of-the-line Limited. New options include 18-inch chrome-clad wheels, a navigation system and a power-folding 50/50-split third-row seat. Later in the 2006 model year, factory-installed Sirius Satellite Radio will be available.
When properly equipped, a V-6-equipped Explorer can tow up to 5,390 pounds, versus 7,300 pounds in models with V-8 power. Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability system with Roll Stability Control is standard on all models.
Ford claims a "much larger presence" from the 2006 design, with a body that's 4 inches longer than before. Inspired by Ford's F-150 pickup truck, the latest Explorer gets a new grille, fascia and liftgate, as well as new taillamps and dual-beam headlamps.
For the Explorer's 2002 redesign, engineers devised an innovative porthole-in-frame independent rear suspension, with shafts that poke through holes drilled into the frame. Modified for 2006, the rear suspension has added trailing arms and Ford says it is more robust.
Built on a 113.7-inch wheelbase, the Explorer now measures 193.4 inches long overall. Large door openings coupled with a low step-in height should help ease entry and exit.A power moonroof is optional.
A chrome four-bar grille, unique bumpers, fog lamps, puddle lamps and 16-inch aluminum wheels are installed on XLT models. Eddie Bauer editions get a two-tone bumper and trim treatment, a chrome three-bar grille, Pueblo Gold running boards and 17-inch aluminum wheels. Chrome roof rails and 17-inch wheels are installed on the Limited.
Ford says the all-new interior features a contemporary instrument panel, with a first-ever console-mounted floor shift lever. Seating for five occupants is standard, but a flat-folding third-row seat that permits seven-passenger capacity can be installed. The 60/40-split, folding second-row seat can be reclined.
Standard XLS equipment includes air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control and a CD/MP3 player. The XLT adds an overhead storage console and a six-way power driver's seat with lumbar adjustment. Woodgrain interior accents and leather-trimmed seats highlight the Eddie Bauer edition, which has a four-line message center and remote keyless entry with a keypad. Heated front seats, a power passenger seat, dual-zone automatic temperature control and a six-CD player with MP3 capability are standard in the Limited.
Under the Hood
Either a 210-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 or a 292-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 that generates 300 pounds-feet of torque can be installed in the Explorer. The V-6 teams with a five-speed-automatic transmission, while the V-8 works with a new six-speed automatic. Explorers can be equipped with rear- or four-wheel drive.
Antilock brakes and Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability system with Roll Stability Control are standard. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags and a five-level front-passenger sensing system are newly standard for 2006. Ford's Safety Canopy side curtain-type airbag system and a Reverse Sensing System that detects obstacles while backing up are optional. A tire-pressure-monitoring system is now standard.