Ford's best-selling passenger vehicle, the midsize Explorer sport utility, receives major upgrades for 2006, representing what Ford calls "the next generation" of the vehicle.
It's really more like a midcycle refreshening of the generation of the Explorer introduced for 2002.
During a recent national media introduction of the '06 Explorer, Ford officials said the vehicle is "all new from the A-pillars forward." The A-pillars are the side supports for a vehicle's windshield, which means that the 2006 Explorer is all-new just from the windshield forward.
Whether it's the next generation, or just a midcycle freshening, the vehicle has undergone significant changes, most of them good.
"It's a blend of luxury with the traditional toughness that Ford is known for," Ford division President Darryl Hazel said in introducing the updated model. "The Explorer is known as the best-selling SUV for the past 15 years, and with the changes we're making, this is a serious indication that we expect it to continue" as the sport utility sales leader. Since introducing the Explorer in fall 2000, Ford has sold nearly 5.5 million of them, Hazel said.
"The Explorer epitomizes the spirit of go anywhere, do anything," he said. "One of the reasons it is so wildly popular is its range of usability. This is, without a doubt, the best Explorer we're ever built."
While not really claiming that everything is new, the 2006 Explorer has "not a single area that did not receive attention," Explorer Chief Engineer Judy Curran said. "It's bold and rugged, with a clear connection to the new F-150."
Here is a rundown on what the company says is new or different:
* Improved fuel economy.
* A new 4.6-liter V-8 engine.
* A new six-speed automatic transmission.
* Cleaner emissions. The company says, "V-6-powered Explorers emit 74 percent less smog-forming emissions and are certified to the same federal tailpipe emissions standards as the Ford Escape Hybrid, the world's cleanest SUV."
* Ten advanced safety features, all of which are standard on the 2006 model. "The 2006 Explorer leads its class and meets all known federal frontal and side-impact crash requirements through 2010," Ford says.
* Payload was increased 10 percent, and towing capacity is now 7,300 pounds. * A new frame, some of which is based on the frame used in the current F-150 pickup. This vehicle, however, is not based on one of Ford's pickup chassis, as the original one was based on the Ranger platform.
* It's the quietest Explorer ever, with "class-leading interior quietness at highway speeds."
* It has an "all-new, more comfortable interior, and bolder exterior." The base engine, a 4.0-liter V-6, carries over from 2005, but with the changes that reduced its tailpipe emissions.
"New engine calibrations and improved emission controls cut smog-forming emissions by 74 percent compared to the previous model," Ford said. "These improvements are expected to allow the 2006 Explorer V-6 to meet" the same federal tailpipe emissions standards as the Escape Hybrid.
As for the towing capacity, "No crossover SUV can match it," Curran said. Crossovers are car-based sport utilities that are fast overtaking traditional truck-based models such as the Explorer as the preferred family-hauling vehicles for everyday use. Among the most popular crossovers are the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Nissan Murano.
The Explorer, though, retains its original body-on-frame truck-type construction. And while most of the changes appear to be for the better, some are questionable. The front door handles, which are hard to find if you don't know where to look -- built into the front of the armrests -- seem like something out of a spaceship.
And the handle the driver or front passenger must pull on to close either of the front doors is mounted below the front-door armrest, and unless the person pulling the door shut gets his hand out of the way after a quick, hard tug, the heavy door will swing in and allow the armrest to slam painfully into the hand that is trying to shut the door.
"You can blame me for those handles being placed below the armrests," Ford Chief Safety Engineer Stephen T. Kozak said. "Because of new federal side-impact safety requirements, we couldn't put scooped-out areas in the armrests to use to pull the doors closed. If we had, we would have had to reinforce the armrests, and that would have made them more dangerous to the person sitting by the door if the vehicle were to be hit in the door."
Ford already realizes -- even before the new Explorers reach dealers -- that the placement of the door-closing handles is awkward, and the company is working on a solution to the problem, Kozak said. For now, though, those handles will be on the 2006 Explorers when they go on sale later this month.
The handles shouldn't be a big detriment to sales, however, as the other changes have made the 2006 Explorer much better overall, the company contends.
The new V-6 gives the vehicle 53 more horsepower than what was offered by the V-8 in the 2005 model. That has helped improved the trailer-towing capabilities.
The changes in the chassis and interior to reduce noise and vibration give this truck almost the quietness one would expect to find only in a premium car. To accommodate taller people, the front bucket seats now have longer tracks, allowing them to be pushed back farther.
Cargo configurations abound in the new Explorer, which has a third-row seat with a 50-50 split that can be folded flat into the floor, half or all. A power option is available so the seat can be folded into the floor with the push of a button. The third seat also has been made more comfortable, but still is best left to the kids.
The second-row seat now can be folded flat as well.
Inside, there is a new headliner and new carpeting.
Of the 2006 Explorer's new standard advanced safety features, seven are new to the midsize SUV segment, Curran said.
Among carryover safety systems are the Explorer's AdvanceTrac system with "class-exclusive Roll Stability Control," the company said.
This is essentially the same system developed by Ford and used first in the premium Volvo XC90 sport utility, Kozak said. It became standard on all Explorers for 2005. With all of these changes, consumers might expect a hefty price increase.
But that's not going to happen, Hazel said.
"Consumers want more and want to pay less," he said. "As a result, we are lowering the price of the 2006 Explorer $1,750 on average, another indication why we think it will remain No. 1."
Base prices for 2006 range from $27,175 to $33,160, including freight. That compares with a range of $27,810-$35,630 for 2005.
For 2006, four trim levels are offered: the base XLS, the XLT, the Eddie Bauer, and the top model, the Limited. Two- and four-wheel drive models will be available.
The new Explorer also will be one of the first Ford vehicles to offer SIRIUS satellite radio as a factory-installed option.
- - -
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||August 19, 2005|
|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||March 3, 2006|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||February 8, 2006|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||January 6, 2006|
|Steven Cole Smith||Orlando Sentinel||November 10, 2005|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit Newspapers||November 3, 2005|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||October 2, 2005|
|Kristin Varela||Mother Proof||September 26, 2005|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||August 11, 2005|
|Royal Ford||Boston.com||August 7, 2005|
|Anita Lienert||The Detroit Newspapers||August 3, 2005|
People Who Viewed This Car Also Viewed
Closest Dealers Listing this Car
Featured Services for the Ford Explorer
- Sell your current car quickly and easily on Cars.com.