Now in its 16th year, the Ford Explorer is among the country’s most enduring vehicles. It didn’t have many competitors when it was introduced as a 1991 model in March, 1990. But little could be further from the truth today in the increasingly crowded class. Still, the Explorer continues to evolve and remains remarkably popular with more than 5.5 million sold to date.
For my weekly drive, I drove the redesigned 2006 Eddie Bauer 4×4 edition, one of 14 available Explorer configurations that feature four trim options and two engine sizes. With its 4.6-liter, 292-horsepower engine, the Eddie Bauer edition is formidable. Its power — increased from 239 horsepower in the 2005 model — is impressive. It takes you authoritatively wherever you wish to travel on the road or off road — particularly if there’s a need to do some extra work. (The Explorer’s maximum towing capacity is 7,300 pounds, more than twice as much as other SUVs.)
The Explorer is matched against a host of top competitors, most notably the Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot and Toyota 4Runner. And while many of the current SUVs are also seemingly nearly indistinguishable, the Explorer has also found a unique identity. The reasons include the combined benefits of 7-passenger seating, standard front side and side-curtain curtain airbags, a DVD entertainment center and the nice accouterments of a power-folding, third-row seat, a rear-obstacle detection feature and a standard anti-skid system.
The Explorer is also ruggedly handsome inside and outside and offers superior space for passengers as well as a vast cargo capacity. It also gets better marks for quietness and ride quality than many vehicles in its class.
The Explorer’s early success blossomed with the introduction of the Eddie Bauer signature edition, which became a status symbol throughout the 1990s. The 2006 version features a lot, and it should for $3,695. The optional package, known as the Luxury Group, includes a navigation system (new for ’06), leather upholstery, 10-way power driver’s seat, keypad entry, automatic day/night rearview mirror, automatic headlights, running boards, 17-inch, all-terrain tires and dual automatic heat and air conditioning controls.
My test vehicle, a 6-speed automatic, also included two additional expensive options, the powerfold third-row seat ($1,340) and the rear-seat entertainment center with DVD player ($1,295). Add a half-dozen other options and the Eddie Bauer’s final price is nearly $10,000 more than its base retail price and approaches $44,000.
Few SUVs are economical, and the Explorer’s estimated 14 mph in city traffic will empty wallets rather quickly. But thrift-conscious buyers are not likely considering the Explorer anyway. But for those looking for a sturdy, well-designed, spacious and attractive SUV, the Explorer is fine consideration, especially if you’re seeking a workhorse that doesn’t forsake finesse and style while getting the job done.
Safety Features — Dual front and side airbags.
Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 14 mpg (city), 20 mpg (highway).
Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/100,000 miles; (24-hour) roadside assistance program, 3 years/36,000 miles.
Base Price — $33,625.