The Ford Explorer receives enough of a reworking for 2006 to consider it an all-new model, including a new 4.6-litre V8 with three valves per cylinder, up from the 16-valve offering in 2005, that now makes 292 horsepower to the 2005 version’s 239 hp. It’s combined with an equally new six-speed automatic transmission. All Explorers now ride on a new, stronger frame with independent rear suspension.

The base XLS trim line is gone, leaving the XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited. The Sport Trac, the combination SUV/pickup based on the Explorer, has also been dropped from the line, although the company says it’s temporary and a new version should be back for 2008.

On the outside, the Explorer receives a new grille and fascia, new dual-beam headlamps, a new liftgate and taillamps, and a new available 18-inch chrome wheel. The XLT gets side cladding and wheel lips; the Eddie Bauer receives Pueblo Gold accents and running boards; and the Limited gets chrome mirror caps. Running boards are now optional on the XLT, instead of standard, and front tow hooks are no longer available.

On the inside, a smoker’s package is now a dealer-installed accessory instead of standard equipment; there are all-new seats; new floor shifter; a new available power fold-flat third-row seat; a new navigation system; and a ten-way power driver seat that’s standard with leather seats.

Safety changes include standard side seat-mounted airbags, standard Advance Trac with Roll Stability Control; adaptive front airbags; and adaptive multi-load limiting seatbelt retractors.

The popular Explorer comes in five- or seven-passenger seating. The XLT and Eddie Bauer editions come base a 4.0-litre V6 with a five-speed automatic transmission; the Limited uses the new 4.6-litre V8 with six-speed automatic, but the two lower models can be optioned up to it. All use Ford’s Control Trac four-wheel-drive system, which includes electronic controls, two-speed transfer case and locked front wheel hubs. In Automatic mode, it runs in rear-wheel-drive but redirects torque when necessary; the system can also be locked into 4High or 4Low.

Features on the XLT include 17-inch aluminum wheels, fog lamps, automatic headlamps, keyless entry keypad, heated mirrors, roof rack with crossbars, manual air conditioning, power windows and locks, speed-sensitive intermittent wipers, CD/MP3 player with four speakers, floor mats, auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather-wrapped steering wheel and cruise control.

The Eddie Bauer edition, named for the clothing and outfitting store, adds two-tone bumpers, silver roof rails, running boards, 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, dual-zone electronic climate control, Audiophile six-CD/MP3 system, universal garage door opener, pecan woodgrain accents, power-adjustable pedals with memory, reverse sensing system, leather-trimmed heated seats, ten-way driver and six-way passenger power adjust, two-position driver’s memory seat with easy entry/exit feature, and wheel-mounted audio, climate and cruise controls.

The Limited adds power moonroof, chrome roof rails, colour-keyed running boards, 18-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels, auxiliary climate control, second-row fold-flat seats and power third-row fold-flat seats.

The Explorer has been the world’s best-selling SUV for 15 consecutive years (Ford has cranked out almost 5.5 million of them since 1990), and the 2006 improvements should keep it there. The V6 has been improved to reduce emissions by 74 per cent over the 2005 version; the V8 meets Ultra Low Emissions standards. The new independent rear suspension improves the ride, the stronger frame improves the towing and payload capability, noise and vibration have been reduced to almost luxury-car levels and the climate control system is 30 per cent quieter than the 2005 version. It’s pricey, especially in the upper lines, but it’s a winner.

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