Full 2006 Ford Explorer Review
What's New for 2006
Ford treats the Explorer to a number of significant improvements for 2006. Styling has been updated with a bolder grille treatment, a new tailgate and more attractive taillights. Interior furnishings get an upgrade, too, and additional sound insulation results in a supremely quiet cabin, while a stiffened frame and new shocks provide even better ride and handling characteristics than before. Ford tweaked the 4.0-liter V6 to cut smog-forming emissions by 74 percent and a new three-valve 4.6-liter V8 replaces last year's two-valve version. A six-speed automatic transmission is also new, and comes standard with the V8 engine. Trim levels are simplified, and front-seat side airbags, AdvanceTrac stability control and Roll Stability Control are now standard on all Explorers.
The Ford Explorer debuted in 1990 as a 1991 model, and achieved instant success in a market that it ultimately defined, if not created. Based on the Ford Ranger pickup, the original Explorer had the winning combination of size, style and utility that people wanted in an SUV. It came as the volume-selling four-door or a less popular two-door, and replaced the Bronco II in Ford's lineup.
Initially, just XLS and XLT trim levels were available. In 1992, an Eddie Bauer edition joined the lineup, and a Limited model followed shortly thereafter. The Explorer's first major revision occurred in 1995, when it received a new independent front suspension, revised styling and a new interior. This iteration soldiered on through 2001 with few changes, but by then accusations that the Ford Explorer suffered a high incidence of tire failures and subsequent rollover accidents had tarnished the nameplate.
Ford blamed tire supplier Firestone for equipping the Explorer with flawed Wilderness A/T tires, and initiated a massive recall to replace the original equipment rubber. Firestone blamed the Explorer's design and Ford's recommendation that the tires be inflated to a relatively low 26 psi. Neither company publicly pointed fingers at consumers' indifference to the dangers of overloading vehicles, expecting a truck to handle like a car, failing to monitor tire pressures or dismissing the importance of seatbelts as possible contributors to blowout-related deaths.
For 2002, just as the Explorer rollover debacle was winding down, Ford launched the completely redesigned Explorer. A substantial improvement over the original, the new truck had a wider track, longer wheelbase, a fully independent suspension and seating for up to seven adults. It should have been a runaway success, but the Ford-Firestone media fight kept buyers away from showrooms and forced Ford to offer cash rebates and low-interest financing to keep sales afloat. Sales eventually recovered, allowing the Explorer to continue its reign as the best-selling SUV in the U.S.
The 2006 Ford Explorer gets revisions that keep it ahead of the pack. Although it doesn't qualify as a full redesign, the new Explorer is quieter, more powerful, better-handling, better-equipped and several rungs higher on the safety ladder than the 2005 model. Highlights include a new three-valve 4.6-liter V8 borrowed from the Mustang, extra sound insulation that significantly reduces cabin noise levels and a stiffened frame that provides an even more compliant highway ride than before. Safety-conscious buyers should take note that not only are front-seat side airbags and conventional stability control standard across the line, but so is the Volvo-engineered Roll Stability Control system, which provides additional protection against rollover accidents. This fully modern vehicle merits consideration by anyone looking for a spacious yet agile SUV that can transport a family of five in comfort and haul serious amounts of cargo.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The four-door, midsize 2006 Ford Explorer is available in XLS, XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited trims. The XLS comes with air conditioning, cruise control, an MP3-compatible CD player, keyless entry, and power windows, mirrors and locks. XLT models get a six-way power driver seat, 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and rear ventilation ducts. Eddie Bauer models offer two-tone paint, 17-inch wheels, all-terrain tires, running boards, leather upholstery, heated seats, a 10-way power adjustable driver seat with memory, faux wood trim and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The top-line Limited comes with monochromatic paint, chrome wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power front-passenger seat, heated mirrors and an upgraded audio system with an in-dash CD changer and steering wheel controls. Major options include a third-row seat, a navigation system, a rear air conditioner, a DVD entertainment system, a sunroof, 18-inch wheels and second-row bucket seats.
Powertrains and Performance
The base engine is a 4.0-liter V6 good for 210 horsepower. Optional on all models except the XLS is a 4.6-liter V8 engine with 292 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard, and both two- and four-wheel drive are available with either engine. Properly equipped, a V8 2WD Explorer can tow 7,300 pounds.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard, as are front-seat side airbags, AdvanceTrac stability control system and Roll Stability Control, which uses a gyro sensor to calculate the SUV's roll speed and angle. If the system determines that a rollover is imminent, AdvanceTrac takes corrective action to help avoid it. Any Explorer can be outfitted with the Safety Canopy system that includes first- and second-row side curtain airbags and a rollover sensor that keeps the airbags inflated longer in the event your Explorer does roll over. A reverse-sensing system can be added to all models except the XLS. The NHTSA has not crash tested the 2006 Ford Explorer, but last year's model fared well, earning four to five stars in all frontal- and side-impact tests, as well as a top rating of "Good" in IIHS frontal-offset testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
This year Ford has upgraded the Explorer's ergonomically sound but bland cabin with more attractive materials, a sharp set of gauges, and a shapely steering wheel and gear selector, along with additional insulation to reduce cabin noise levels. It's feasible to carry two adults in the third-row seats, but choosing the third-row option also reduces available cargo space. Seven-passenger Explorers max out at 81.3 cubic feet of cargo space, while five-passenger versions offer a more competitive 88 cubic feet.
Any 2006 Ford Explorer model is a joy to drive, as SUVs go. Taking much of the credit for this praise is the rear independent suspension, which provides a smooth ride and keeps the wheels planted on rough pavement. Steering is surprisingly responsive and the brakes inspire confidence through a firm and progressive pedal. Power from either the V6 or V8 engine is acceptable, though we prefer the added refinement of the V8.