Charged with the task of improving upon the world's best-selling SUV for the past 15 years, Ford proved they could take their Explorer to new heights in terms of comfort and refinement.
For 2006, Ford didn't merely add new sheet metal and more features. No, they went back to the drawing board and began the redo with a totally new frame.
One of the only midsize SUVs built on a truck-like body-on-frame construction, the Explorer adopts the F-150's tube-through-tube frame design, where the cross members pass through the section of the frame-rails, creating an inherently stronger joint.
The stiffer frame is designed to provide a smoother ride with better road feel, crisper handling and improved steering response. The rigid frame should also help reduce long-term squeaks and rattles.
The 2006 Ford Explorer
also benefits from redesigned front and rear independent suspension systems. The suspension components have been beefed up and so have the brakes.
Powering the 2006 Ford Explorer is either a 4.0-liter V6 or 4.6-liter V8. The V6 produces 210 horsepower and is quite capable. But those wanting more power and better towing capacity will prefer the 292-horsepower V8.
The V6-powered Explorers come standard with a 5-speed automatic transmission while V8-powered Explorers feature a class-unique 6-speed automatic.
My 2006 Explorer 4WD tester featured the 4.6-liter V8 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. I immediately noticed the smoothness of the 6-speed automatic as we pulled out of our cul-de-sac and drove through our subdivision.
Even with the throttle pressed hard while merging onto I-294, the 6-speed automatic was impressively smooth.
With my tester's fuel economy rating of 14 city and 20 highway, we imagine those looking to do better will opt for the V6 and possibly 2WD over 4WD.
Still, the 2006 Ford Explorer is very likable. Its stance has been widened giving it a more stable feel on the road. The cabin is tranquil and quiet regardless of road speed.
Also worth noting is that all Explorers come standard with an impressive new feature called Roll Stability Control.
Explorer's Roll Stability Control system utilizes two gyro-sensors to determine the vehicle's roll angle and roll rate. If the system detects a significant roll angle it takes countermeasures such as applying one or more brakes or reduces engine power.
The 2006 Explorer has an all-new interior with improved accommodations for all occupants. New front seats with available 10-way power on the driver's seat provide more comfort and ride on extended tracks that allow a full inch more travel.
The second row is available in three configurations; a 60-40 (no reclining) split, a reclining 60-40 split that allows access to the third row, and bucket seats separated by a center console.
The available third-row seats' bench height was raised 1.75 inches, to provide better visibility for children.
Another change is a 50/50 seatback split to allow greater versatility for varying loads of people and cargo. The third-row seat also offers a power-fold option.
Both the second and third rows of seats fold completely flat, when equipped with the second-row bench seat.
The 2006 Explorer is available with sophisticated details such as suede seat inserts and contrasting stitching paired with strong, vertical lines and wood trim. In addition, the new center stack houses Explorer's first available DVD navigation system.
Even the doors have been designed to make them more functional as well as attractive. Window control switches now use a more intuitive push-pull design. The door-release handle also has been revised. It is now integrated into the forward end of the armrest so that it is literally at a passenger's fingertips.
The 2006 Explorer will be available in four trim levels: XLS, XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited. XLS is the value entry for young families.
The 2006 Ford Explorer is tough to beat. I predict it will continue as the best-selling SUV in its class.
2006 Ford Explorer 4-Door XLT 4x4 V8
Engine 4.6-liter (292 hp) V8
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Drive Type 4WD
Fuel Economy 14 city/20 highway
Base Price $31,650
As Tested $38,475 (including $645 for destination)