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2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer 4x4 Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Ford

MODEL: Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer 4X4
ENGINE: 4.6-liter V8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  292 hp @ 5750 rpm/300 lb.-ft. @ 3950 rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  6-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 113.7 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT:  193.4 x 73.7 x 72.8 in.
TIRES: P235/65R18
CARGO VOLUME:  85.8 cu. ft.
ECONOMY: 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway
PRICE:  $39,955 (includes $645 destination and delivery charge)

The Ford Explorer mid-size sport utility not only defined the market when it was introduced (okay, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was first, but the Explorer so dominates the market that the GC became an also-ran quickly), but it has been the best-selling mid-size SUV ever since. It is capable, has 53 more horses from the V8 than were available last year, and offers a decent ride for a truck-based vehicle.

Our tester was the top-of-the-line Eddie Bauer edition with almost $6,000 in options added to the $33,625 base price. A two-door V6-powered XLS trim Explorer has a retail price of $26,530, and the Limited version starts at $35,940, so you can spend just about as much as you want (or can afford) on an Explorer.

With the new power from the V8 engine (292 horses), Explorer now has 7300 pounds towing capacity. There’s also enough power for normal on-highway driving that will allow easy entry onto Interstates and effortless cruising at almost any legal speed. In addition, we averaged around 15 mpg during our test, which wasn’t great but it also wasn’t bad for a vehicle that weighs more than 4,600 pounds. Since most Explorer owners will probably tend to load up the rear with camping gear or outdoors equipment, besides wanting to tow something along, economy is decent for what it delivers.

I was particularly impressed with the ride quality of the Explorer. This is one of the few (if only) vehicles with four-wheel independent suspension, which contributes greatly to a ride quality that approaches that of a sedan. You can have all the luxury you want in a vehicle, but if the ride is harsh, a couple of hours spent in that vehicle can seem like days. Explorer’s ride, on the other hand, is first-rate and makes riding in it a joy.

Handling is also very good for a truck-based vehicle. Sure, there’s some top-heaviness due to the aspect ratio of the vehicle, but it’s something an owner can learn to live with after a few miles behind the wheel, especially on a winding road or three. In addition, there is standard Advancetrac with roll stability control that includes anti-lock braking and traction control. This will help keep the vehicle upright.

If you have a mistake and something drastic happens, there are driver and front side airbags as well as a safety canopy for rollover protection.

Our tester had leather-covered seats, with power controls for the driver and manual controls for the front passenger. We also had three rows of seating, with a maximum of seven passengers. The third row seat isn’t great if you’re tall, even though headroom is decent, but it’s convenient for shorter passengers or children. The second row offers very good legroom and headroom. Access to the third row is also challenging.

With the second and third rows folded, there are more than 85 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Even with the second row up, there’s plenty of room for a quartet of golf bags, leaving seating for the four golfers. A nice feature of Explorer is the glass-only feature that allows you to only open the glass area of the hatch rather than the whole thing. This is great for stowing grocery bags and other lighter objects in back.

Standard equipment included running boards. Now this might not seem like a big deal, but if you’re a senior citizen or have the least bit of trouble climbing into a relatively tall vehicle like Explorer, running boards are a nice feature.

Included in the Eddie Bauer luxury group package ($3,695) are special outside mirrors, a dual HVAC system, navigation system and a steering wheel with cruise, audio and HVAC system switches. None of these are what I would consider necessities.

In the Ultimate Convenience Group ($350) are adjustable pedals (important if you’re height-challenged and a universal garage door opener (important if you can get the Explorer in your garage). I appreciated the reverse sensing system ($255) that lets you know when you’re getting too close to something behind you. I’ll never live down the time I backed into my brand new garage door and seriously dented it. With reverse sensing, I can snuggle the Explorer right up near the door without the danger of denting it (unless I don’t’ listen to the beep).

Styling has also been revised for 2006, with a front end that is chromey and resembles (in its own way) the Fusion, with flat sloped headlamps and a chrome grille.

It’s easy going with a winner, and the Ford Explorer continues to set the pace in the midsize SUV market. Explorer will continue to own the market until a better standard-bearer comes along.

2006 The Auto Page Syndicate