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2006 Ford Explorer Full Size Sport Utility Vehicle

New Car Review of the 2006 Ford Explorer Full Size Sport Utility Vehicle

Base MSRP Range: $26,530 - $35,940

Base Invoice Range: $24,252 - $32,626

MSRP As Tested: $41,690. Including Options: Safety canopy ($560), Trailer tow package ($150), Navigation system ($1,995), 18-inch chromed wheels ($450), Auxiliary climate control ($650), Reverse sensing system ($255), Power folding third-row seat ($1,340), Ultimate convenience group ($350).

Versions: XLS, XLT, Eddie Bauer, Limited

Vehicle Category: Full Size Sport Utility Vehicle

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: Four-Wheel Drive, Rear-Wheel Drive.

Standard Engine: 4.0-liter, Single Overhead Cam, 18-valves, V-6, 210 -horsepower at 5100 rpm and 254 lb-ft torque at 3700 rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed automatic.

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 15/20.

Optional Engine as Tested: 4.6-liter, Single Overhead Cam, 24-valves, V-8, 292 -horsepower at 5750 rpm and 300 lb-ft torque at 3950 rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 14/20.

Standard Safety Features: Dual front airbags, Front side airbags, ">Antilock 4-wheel disc brakes, Antiskid system, Roll stability control, Tire-pressure monitor.

Competition: Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, Toyota 4Runner.

No matter how close to perfection vehicles come, it's amazing how much they improve as the years go by.

Consider the Ford Explorer. It started out a tiny step above the old Bronco II, which itself was a tiny step above the original Bronco that could hardly remain upright. It was, by today's standards, a piece of junk that rode so rough it would grind your spinal cord to a column of white powder.

Today, though, if you blindfolded someone and drove them around in a 2006 Explorer, they'd probably think they were in a Lexus. It's incredible.

To put it in biological terms, it's like Einstein evolving from a tadpole in just 15 years.

Despite its familiar profile, the Explorer was totally redesigned for this year to make it quieter and more refined than ever. It feels remarkably like a luxury SUV and drives like a car, which is eerie considering it has the same old Explorer name plastered on the side and offers the same truck-like towing performance it always has.

A big part of the refinement comes from a new drivetrain. Ford coupled a 4.6-liter, 292-horsepower V8 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission, a combination that makes 53 more horsepower than last year's V8 while getting up to 10 percent better gas mileage. That's a serious feat of engineering.

Equally impressive is how smooth this V8 is.

When you rev up an average V8, it shakes the whole car and belches out a raucous roar from beneath the hood, but this one merely purrs. As it nears redline, it whirrs with a smooth, turbine-like whoosh and doesn't transfer a hint of vibration into the cabin, which is a sensation you usually only find in luxury cars.

This luxurious feel is reinforced by silence in the cabin. Ford made sure its Explorer was quieter than all its competitors by using new sound-deadening materials, tweaking the intake and exhaust systems, quieting the climate control vents and improving aerodynamics to reduce wind noise.

The Explorer's guts are new, too, including the front and rear independent suspensions, brakes, steering and frame. These changes make it a much more responsive vehicle overall and are the reasons it's easier to drive than ever before.

While it offers the same basic layout as last year's model -- two or three rows of seats that can easily fold flat -- the overall look and feel of the cabin is improved. Materials are better and construction is tighter, making the passenger area look like a trendy, fashionable place to spend time in top-of-the-line models.

On the outside, the Explorer has the same basic shape with a slightly bolder look. The front end, in particular, is more attention getting, but it still looks like a traditional SUV with square corners and a boxy body. There's nothing revolutionary here.

In fact, Ford clearly picked evolution over revolution for this redesign, which is a smart move considering the Explorer has been the world's top selling SUV for 15 years running.

Pricing starts at $27,175 for a rear-wheel-drive model with a V6 engine and climbs all the way to $33,160 for the Limited model. Believe it or not, that's actually an average of $1,750 less than the 2005 Explorer that doesn't benefit from all the improvements.

In any case, it's a great SUV at a fair price.

Perhaps we'll look back 15 years from now and think about what a piece of junk that 2006 Explorer was, but it's the best traditional SUV on the road for now.

Pros: It's the best SUV in its class when it comes to overall refinement. A fantastic engine/transmission combination offers more horsepower from less fuel, and the cabin is nearly silent.

Cons: This is picky, but the gas caps are labeled with "Ford recommends BP" gasoline. Most people will know this is a shameless marketing ploy, but I pitty the buyers who will drive an hour to get the "recommended" BP fuel when it actually makes no difference.

Ratings (1-10)

  • Style: 7
  • Performance: 7
  • Price: 7
  • Handling: 6
  • Ride: 7
  • Comfort: 8
  • Quality: 9
  • Overall: 8

More Data

Where Built: USA

Major Options: Sport Package, Convenience package, Safety Package, Class III/IV Trailer Towing Prep Package, Navigation system. Front and 2nd-row curtain side airbags w/rollover sensor, Rear-obstacle-detection system, Navigation system, Rear-seat DVD entertainment system, Rear air conditioning and heater, Power sunroof, Leather upholstery, Power-folding 3rd-row seat, Quad captain chairs, Chrome side steps, 18-inch chrome alloy wheels.

Seating: 7

Number of Rows: 3

Length in Inches: 193.4

Warranties: 3 years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper, 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion protection, 4 years/50,000 miles Roadside assistance 1 year /12,000 miles Free scheduled maintenance.

Weight in Pounds: 4615 lbs.

Cargo Capacity in Pounds: 1520 lbs.

Gross Maximum Vehicle Weight in Pounds: Not Available.

Towing Capacity in Pounds: 7300 lbs with V8; 3110 lbs with V6.

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 22.5

Destination Charge: $645