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2006 Explorer – Healey Likes It!

If you are used to reading critiques of new vehicles in USAToday, Jim Healey can often become a curmudgeon over nitpicky details. It’s always interesting to see where his perceptions differ from those of AutoPacific’s staff. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we disagree.
Well, we had the chance to drive the new Ford Explorer a couple of months ago and came to generally the same conclusion as Healey ( The 2006 Explorer is certainly the best Explorer ever. It is quiet and it rides well. The pumped up 4.6L V8 now puts out almost 300-horsepower and gives the Explorer the ooomph it has always needed. Inside the Explorer has become one of the quietest of the traditional body-on-frame SUV on the market. It will give luxury SUVs a run for the money.

Styling Basically Unchanged Outside
This major, major change on the Explorer carries over the basic door ring of the body, but most body panels are all new. Always taking the safe road with Explorer styling, the new Explorer slowly evolves from previous Explorer styles. Not displeasing, but can’t be identified immediately as a new Explorer rather than an old one. Every few years, Ford shows an Explorer styling exercise at the auto shows. These are always much more expressive than what eventually gets launched. Wish they would stick their necks a little further out. It won’t get cut off.
3rd Row Seat Is Where the Story Is
One of the primary objectives of the new Explorer was to achieve a 3rd row seat package that could fold perfectly flat into the floor like the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. If you remember, the 2002 – 2005 Explorer won kudos for having a useful 3rd row, but the seat stowed at an angle. The 2006 Explorer fixes that problem and achieves a flat rear load floor.
Can’t Believe Ford Gave Up Console Space on Explorer!
On the negative side, we’d have to agree with Healey. Ford moved the transmission shift lever from the column to the center console. This probably a reaction to J Mays – Ford’s Chief Stylist – perference for floor shifters. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Clearly J is not an SUV driver. That empty space that used to be in the front center of the console is the repository for all the junk and stuff SUV drivers accumulate over time. Going against Ford’s grain, we’d opt for the shifter back on the column.
Cost Reductions Becoming Too Visible
Most mainstream manufacturers try to achieve reductions in product costs continuously. Ford is no exception. But the challenge in reducing costs in new products is to reduce cost where the customer won’t see or feel it and reliability and durability won’t be hurt. Cost reductions can be a combination of art and science. Ford’s material selections in the interior of the Explorer have moved in wrong direction and the effect is an interior that seems (and is) cheaper than the one before. Ford is coming perilously close to having the “Nissan disease” where interiors are thrifted within an inch of their lives and then need to be upgraded to regain customer acceptance.
Explorer Will Retain its Best Selling Position
Almost no new vehicle is perfect. The Explorer isn’t, but it is improved enough to help regain its place as the top selling SUV in the market. That turn around can’t come fast enough. Explorer sales, in the face of the aging Explorer predecessor and skyrocketing gas prices, dropped 290,00 units for the first ten months of 2004 to only 210,000 units in 2005. The 2006, better all around and with better fuel economy, should help Ford battle back to near its previous sales levels.

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