I had a 2006 Ford Explorer in for review last week, and its four-wheel-drive system inspired me to take it to Reno. When I mentioned a road trip to some friends, they joined up for the ride. This particular Ford Explorer was well equipped, with the Eddie Bauer interior and a 4.6-liter V-8, plus a navigation system in the dash. It's a big truck, although it has only two rows of seating. I had five adults in it, so three had to sit in the rear bench (being the driver, I never had to call shotgun). A jump seat in the cargo area would have been nice, although my friends said there was enough width in the rear seat for three. It's just not that comfortable a seat. The front seats were nice, although the driver's seat automatically moves back whenever the car is parked. It did allow me more room to get out, but I felt bad about the fact that I was crushing the legs of the person behind me.
I programmed in our destination, the Sands Regency in Reno, and the navigation computer quickly came up with a route. Entering destinations is made simple by predictive typing, which lets you hit only the possible next letters, graying out all the letters that couldn't possibly follow in a street name. The navigation had the typical female voice offering route guidance, complete with text-to-speech functionality, letting it say the names of upcoming streets.
The audio system included an in-dash six-CD changer that also played MP3 discs, giving the front passenger-seat occupant a lot to do as the designated DJ. The changer wasn't all that smooth, however. We had to push the number for the slot we wanted, then hit load or eject. Loading CDs seemed to take an inordinately long time. Pushing a slot number also interrupted the current music that was playing. The system handled MP3 discs well, showing ID3 information and letting us navigate folders easily. Shuffle could be set for the whole disc or a single folder. The sound quality wasn't spectacular, even with this premium system. It has only seven speakers and seems more designed to pump out heavy bass than offer rich audio playback.
During the trip, I got a chance to take the Explorer on some icy roads. It has full-time four-wheel drive, along with hill-descent control and high/low settings. But the tires weren't great for off-roading. The four-wheel drive made a difference going down one icy slope. I hit the brakes and felt the antilock kick in, but the car kept going down the hill. I shifted down to low, and that did the trick--the wheels grabbed, and I didn't have to plow into an embankment.
I found the Explorer to be a pretty good truck for winter conditions. Although it has some nice off-road systems, it's not the kind of vehicle you're going to take rock crawling. The ride was very comfortable due to its independent suspension. The V-8 kept it going up grades nicely, but it didn't really push me into my seat when I floored it for passing. Its major flaw is gas mileage; although it's rated 14mpg (city) and 20mpg (highway), I got an average of 15.5mpg during the time I had it for review.