2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer
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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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When you’ve got a good thing going, you don’t want to mess with success. That seems to be the logic at Ford, where the Explorer has ruled as North America’s top-selling SUV ever since it was launched in 1990. So while Ford has made enough changes to consider the 2006 Explorer an all-new model, they’re mostly enhancements to a tried-and-true vehicle.

There’s an all-new, 24-valve 4.6-litre V8 engine, which produces 292 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, up from the 239 hp and 282 lb-ft of the previous generation, while the 4.0-litre V6 receives new camshafts, improved idle quality and lower emissions, while retaining its rating of 210 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque. There’s also a new six-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the V8’s five-speed autobox of 2005.

2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer
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Other changes include a new, stiffer frame and larger disc brakes; updated exterior design; interior upgrades, including an all-new instrument panel and larger moonroof; and such amenities as an available power-folding third-row seat. The base XLS series has been discontinued, with trim lines now designated as the XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited. Both the XLT and Eddie Bauer can be ordered with V6 or V8 power, while the Limited uses the bigger engine exclusively.

2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer
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Seating is five- or seven-passenger (an optional Quad Bucket Seating Group drops it to six); base prices start at $39,995 and soar to $51,295, before add-ons.

My V8 Eddie Bauer tester started at $47,495 and then piled on the extras, including 18-inch chrome wheels, trailer tow package, auxiliary climate control, “Safety Canopy” curtain airbags, navigation system and a very pricey third-row power folding seat (for $1,065, I can fold ’em myself) for a total of $54,345 before freight and taxes. That’s a lot of money, but if it’s in your budget, this is a lot of truck.

It starts with the V8, an extremely smooth engine that gives the Explorer a towing capacity of 3,230 kg (7,120 lbs) and improved mileage over the powerplant it replaces – in my case, a return of 15.2 L/100 km (19 mpg Imp) in combined city/highway driving.

2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer
Click image to enlarge

It mates well to the six-speed automatic, with good acceleration and smooth transition between gears. All Explorers use Ford’s ControlTrac automatic four-wheel drive system, which runs in rear-wheel configuration most of the time, using wheel speed and throttle position sensors to anticipate wheel slippage and redirect torque to the front wheels when required. The system can also be manually set into 4×4 High, which maintains power to all wheels, or into 4×4 Low for extra traction in off-road conditions. Setting each configuration is done by simply pressing buttons in the centre stack.

The Explorer’s tougher frame – an extra 63 per cent in bending stiffness, and 55 per cent in torsional stiffness – helps to contribute to an exceptionally smooth ride.

2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer

2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer

2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer

2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer
Click image to enlarge

It’s got a big-car feel on the straightaway, which can lull you into a false sense of the Explorer’s abilities: try to corner hard at speed, and you’ll quickly remember that this is a big truck, with a high centre of gravity. But it also has a relatively tight turning radius (11.2 metres, or 36.8 feet) which makes it less of a handful than expected in parking lots – by comparison, Dodge Durango takes 12.2 metres (39.9 feet).

Inside, the new Explorer is extremely well-done, with high-quality materials, excellent fit-and-finish and uniform panel gaps; indeed, my tester’s inside was better than the outside, where gaps in the front fascia didn’t quite match up. The Eddie Bauer package includes woodgrain accents, leather-trimmed seats with “Preferred Suede Cloth” inserts, ten-way power driver and six-way power passenger seats, leather-wrapped wheel with redundant audio controls, dual-zone electronic climate control, power pedals and 6-CD player; the trim line also adds automatic headlamps and backup sensing system.

The seats are comfortable, although the cushions are cut a bit short, and second-row passengers in my Explorer’s optional Quad Bucket Seating Group enjoyed a full-size centre console, which opened up to provide a ridiculous total of six cupholders. For access to the third row, the second row folds and tumbles forward, for much easier entry than if it just slid forward. Unlike many competitors, the third row is surprisingly roomy; I wouldn’t want to ride for several hours in it, but the legroom isn’t all that bad. With all three rows in place, there’s a scant 30-cm-long storage area; folding the third row lengthens it to a completely flat 106 cm. The second row doesn’t fold quite flat, but once it’s down, you have a 176-cm-long cargo area.

2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer

2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer
Click image to enlarge

The inside handle arrangement on the front doors is very attractive, with an angled armrest and chrome-cap door handle, but it’s far too awkward: the curved chrome opener doesn’t work well with small hands, and the pull handle used to close the door is set too low and too far forward for proper leverage. Those with small hands probably won’t like the too-chunky wheel, either.

Controls have Ford’s trademark full backlighting, and most adhere to the company’s admirable simple-is-good philosophy, except when it comes to the optional navigation system. It uses a touch screen instead of a joystick, which is good, but its controls aren’t intuitive, and you can expect a steep learning curve before you’re entirely comfortable with it.

It’s a testament to the model that it survived the rollover issues of the 1990s, which pretty much boiled down to the fact that you can’t expect to under-inflate the tires on a two-ton truck and then pretend to be a motocross racer. The Explorer may be more than enough for many buyers, who can choose the Escape as an excellent alternative. But if you want pulling power, comfort and interior space with a blue oval up front, there’s a reason why the Explorer still reigns as king the hill.


Pricing: 2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer V8

  • Base price: $47,495
  • Options: $ 6,850 (P235/65R18 OWL tires $60; quad seating $565; Safety Canopy $695; trailer tow package $495; navigation system $2,440; 18-inch chrome wheels $700; auxiliary climate control $830; power fold third seat $1,065)
  • Freight: $1,050
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $55,495 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications for the 2006 Ford Explorer


Crash test results


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