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Ford Gives Explorer Major Facelift

After the all-new Fusion mid-size sedan, the most significant product in Ford’s 2006 lineup is the Explorer. Ford focused on three primary areas and revised nearly all systems for this heavy mid-cycle change. The program updated power, comfort, and safety.
Its all-new frame borrows engineering tips from the F-150, specifically the larger truck’s tube-through-tube design. This stiffer frame is the base that allows the overall safety and NVH improvements, improves ride and road feel, and should reduce long-term squeaks and rattles. Explorer’s 4.6L V8 is upgraded to three valves per cylinder and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This combination improves power to the tune of an additional 53HP (to 292HP), while improving fuel economy, Ford says, by about ten percent. The six-speed auto performs smoothly and quietly on the road and extra power is nearly always appreciated. Revisions to the V6 result in 74% cleaner emissions, but no extra power.
Exterior changes include a redesigned front grille that clues you in to the trim level you’re seeing. Most models feature a grille with two openings; the larger upper opening holds four bars. The XLS grille is grey, while XLT and Limited get chrome grilles.

Eddie Bauer models get F-150-inspired nostrils on either side of the three-bar upper opening in a chrome-laden front grille. All models got new taillights and liftgate, new side mirrors (larger and designed to reduce interior noise), revised wheel arches, new headlights, new hood, and integrated running boards. The running boards are either body color, black, or painted Pueblo Gold, depending on model.
The new frame and stiffer base contribute enabled much of the improvement in NVH levels. Conversations from third row to first row are easy even at highway speeds, and the noise level in all rows is noticeably reduced. Efforts to decrease NVH went beyond the frame, however. Interior improvements also involve upgrading materials and improving overall fit and finish. Some of the new materials contribute to decreasing NVH; improvements to the climate control system even help reduce interior noise. There are new sound-absorbing materials all over the cabin, including in the headliner, door panels, and floor.
Interior design cues from the F-150 include moving the shifter from the column to the floor. As with the exterior, Ford wants the interior to express a concept called tough luxury. Touches that help accomplish that goal include a nice, thick leather-wrapped steering wheel for most models, with available steering-wheel-mounted controls for HVAC as well as cruise control and audio systems, a very nice touch; an optional DVD navigation system; and the redesigned center console and gauge cluster. The dash and door panels are made up of fewer components, eliminating some unattractive cutlines and potential squeak zones. Various controls are rearranged for easier use, including moving the adjustable-pedal control easier from beneath the steering wheel to the center console and new push-pull buttons for power windows. The seats are thoroughly redesigned for more comfort and the 50/50-split third row folds to create an incline-free flat load floor. This was accomplished in part by raising the seat, giving third-row passengers a better view. The second row can be configured with bucket seats or with a 60/40 split bench that also reclines.
While the third-row now folds into a truly flat, non-angled floor, safety improvements bring the Explorer in line with known requirements through the 2010MY. Optional side curtain airbags continue to protect only the first two rows. Among them are the adaptive energy-absorbing steering column that collapses as force is applied to the driver’s airbag and tailors energy management to the driver’s seating position. There are more crash sensors, which evaluate conditions leading up to and during a crash for more accurate deployment of the passive safety features. The front-passenger seatbelt retractor adapts to crash and passenger-size loads. The front-passenger airbag detects passenger weight and deploys based on five levels: empty seat and child, small adult, medium adult, or large adult presence. Adaptive airbag venting helps provide a less powerful airbag when sufficient, reducing risk of airbag-related injuries. The 2006MY Explorer also offers optional front-seat side airbags for the first time.
Explorer Versus the Competition: Nice Updates May Satisfy Buyers Without Increasing Sales

While these 2006MY changes result in a terrific product, the segment is competitive enough that it may not result in signficantly increased Explorer sales. There are eighteen entries in the Premium Mid-Size SUV segment available for 2006MY, according to AutoPacific’s segment definitions, allowing entries to go after the buyers in a more focused manner. Some entries nearly play the role of a niche vehicle. As such, entries like the new-for-2006MY Subaru B9X Tribeca and Jeep Commander as well as the updated Ford Explorer can each approach the market with totally different personalities and be successful in their own way, both in terms of product attributes and meeting sales targets.

1 Comment

  • Bob Smith| November 2, 2005 at 9:48 am

    Wow. What a great article. Please keep up the great work.

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