2006 Ford Explorer
With solid off-road systems, an independent suspension, and practical GPS navigation, the 2006 Ford Explorer offers drivers a lot of comfort, plus the ability to get in and out of icy or muddy terrain. However, a couple of technologies don't even appear on the options list, and the tires aren't really up to snuff for slippery surfaces. Rear-seat passengers aren't taken very well into account either, and the gas mileage is mediocre at best.
The cloth center and leather-sided seats of the Eddie Bauer trim level, included with our test vehicle, are quite comfortable. The front driver's seat is 10-way power adjustable and includes a memory feature. When the Explorer is parked, the driver's seat automatically moves back for easy egress, which is good for the driver but bad for rear-seat passengers. The audio and navigation systems use a decently sized touch screen in the center stack, making information entry easy. The navigation also includes a few off-road goodies, such as charting the car's path when it leaves known roads. The Audiophile option adds a six-CD in-dash audio system that plays MP3 CDs but is otherwise unspectacular. Sound quality is OK but lacks depth.
Our test vehicle came with four-wheel drive controlled by Ford's AdvanceTrac system, a 4.6-liter V-8 engine, and a six-speed automatic transmission. The traction control of the Explorer's four-wheel-drive systems proved capable on icy roads, but the optional 18-inch all-season tires weren't meant for anything but pavement. The 2006 Ford Explorer's independent suspension did a nice job of smoothing over potholes and other road deformities, making for a cushioned ride. The engine moves the car decently but never delivers seat-pushing acceleration.
Beyond its AdvanceTrac stability-control system, occupants of the 2006 Ford Explorer are protected by front and side air bags. The vehicle gets five-star ratings for front and side impacts from the NHTSA. Its antilock brakes include an electronic brake-force-distribution system, and our test vehicle came with an audible parking-distance warning.
The base price of our Eddie Bauer-edition 2006 Ford Explorer, with four-wheel drive and a 4.6-liter V-8, was $33,625. Options included a safety canopy ($560); the trailer-tow package ($150); 18-inch chromed wheels ($595); a cargo-area cover ($80); the luxury package, which includes the navigation system ($3,695); a reverse-sensing system ($255); and a convenience group with driver-position memory ($350). Along with a $645 destination charge, the total came to $39,955.
Everything about the cabin of the 2006 Ford Explorer seems focused on the driver, who gets a 10-way power-adjustable seat with memory; meanwhile, the front-passenger seat is manual, and the rear seat is a bench. The driver's seat automatically moves back when the car is stopped so that the driver can more easily exit and enter the vehicle, but this feature threatens to crunch the legs of backseat passengers. Front seats get power-lock buttons, but rear seats have manual door-lock knobs set on the rear of the door sill--a very inconvenient position for passengers. The 2006 Ford Explorer's heated front seats are plush and comfortable, enhancing the already smooth ride offered by the independent suspension. The rear bench seats three adults in relative comfort and also folds down in a 60/40 split to create flexible cargo space. The temperature of the climate-control system can be set from the steering-wheel controls.
The center stack houses a good-size touch-screen LCD, which shows navigation and audio information. The combination of touch-screen and function buttons around the screen's bezel contributes to ease of use. The navigation system worked very well, acquiring its signal and calculating routes quickly. Its voice guidance includes text-to-speech functionality, so it can read out the names of upcoming streets, but it has only a top-down view and doesn't include traffic information. Address entry is made easy by predictive typing, and the system is smart enough to gray out alphanumeric buttons for street numbers that don't exist on that block. It includes a reverse phone-number lookup, letting you type in a phone number and having it pull up the associated address--a feature that works only with commercial locations.
For off-road situations, the 2006 Ford Explorer's navigation system includes a compass display and path charting. When the car is taken off any roads that the navigation system knows about, it draws the path of the vehicle and saves it on the map, making it easy to retrace your route.
The audio system's DSP lets you--but not the front passenger--focus the sound.
The touch screen also controls the audio system, which has AM, FM, and a six-CD changer that also reads MP3 CDs. This system is part of the Audiophile option and includes seven speakers and digital signal processing, which lets you position the audio sweet spot for the rear seats, the driver's seat, or all seats. The quality of the sound is adequate but doesn't have much depth, probably because seven speakers aren't really enough to fill such a large cabin. With the touch-screen interface, it's easy to navigate an MP3 CD. The system displays ID3-tagging information and lets you shuffle within a single folder or over a whole disc. Banks of preset radio stations are specific to either AM or FM bands. The audio system includes no inputs for MP3 players, and satellite radio or Bluetooth isn't even offered as an option.
Our 2006 Ford Explorer came with a high-end engine, a 4.6-liter V-8 that delivers 292 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Although valves per cylinder are increased from two to three over the previous year's model, this isn't a particularly advanced engine. It moves the Explorer well, but its acceleration doesn't thrust you back into your seat. It's enough, however, to tow 7,800 pounds. The six-speed automatic transmission represents the high-tech part of the power train equation. It shifts seamlessly through its gear set, keeping its presence completely unobtrusive. A 4.0-liter V-6 mated to a five-speed automatic is also an option. It produces 210 horsepower, so we can't imagine this lesser power train moving the 2006 Ford Explorer adequately.
Dashboard buttons let you easily control the Ford Explorer's AdvanceTrac four-wheel-drive systems.
Ford's AdvanceTrac four-wheel-drive system is a nice combination of technologies that includes traction and roll control. Cabin buttons let you switch it between Low, High, or Auto, and a hill-descent feature gives the 2006 Ford Explorer extra control when descending steep and slippery slopes. We had the optional 18-inch tires on our test vehicle, which were fine for pavement and maybe some dry dirt roads, but they didn't have the tread for muddy or icy terrain.
Handling is solid for a midsize SUV. The 2006 Ford Explorer's turning radius is tight enough for urban areas, and the power steering feels solid, offering enough feedback to keep you in tune with the road.
The average fuel economy isn't a pretty number, especially since this Explorer was driven extensively on the freeway.
The real downside to the 2006 Ford Explorer's power train is its gas mileage. It's rated at 14mpg in the city and 20mpg on the highway. We observed 15.3mpg with a generous amount of freeway driving, which translates to frequent and expensive visits to the gas pump.
The 2006 Ford Explorer earned five-star front- and side-impact crash ratings from the NHTSA. Its front and side air bags cushion occupants in the event of a crash, while its roll stability, traction control, and electronic brake-force-distribution systems work to prevent accidents. Our Explorer came with an optional parking-distance system, which activates when the car is put in reverse. It beeps at successively shorter intervals as you back up toward an obstacle. The 2006 Ford Explorer also includes a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Ford's warranty gives bumper-to-bumper coverage for three years/36,000 miles, five years/50,000 miles for its safety restraints, and five years/unlimited miles for corrosion. In addition, Ford offers 24-hour roadside assistance for three years/36,000 miles.