The current version of the Ford Explorer has been America's best-selling sport/utility vehicle for 14 years, offering a desirable midsize package with a solid structure, responsive road manners, seating for up to seven passengers, an available V-8 engine, and available all-wheel drive. The Explorer range spans six trim levels, ranging from the black-bumpered, V-6-fitted XLS to the posh, featured-laden Limited. This spectrum addresses a wide budget range, demonstrating the versatility of the Explorer, which also serves as the basis for the Lincoln Aviator and Mercury Mountaineer. Though a compelling, competitive vehicle for 2005, the Explorer will receive a significant update for 2006, improving the interior, introducing a stronger V-8 with a six-speed automatic transmission, stiffening the chassis, and trading the short/long-arm rear suspension for a trailing-arm configuration.
The Explorer sits in the current SUV sweet spot: It isn't as big as full-size trucks, which have been suffering due to recent high gas prices, yet it's large enough for a commanding on-road presence and to transport up to seven people and significant amount of cargo. Its slab sides, upright grill, and flat surfaces bear more than a passing resemblance to the Expedition, enhancing the Explorer's truck-tough image. The simple exterior continues to feel modern and refined, choosing understatement over trendy flamboyance. Base models are distinguished by black lower aprons and 16-inch steel wheels, with upper trims riding on 17-inch wheels and either coated in either two-tone paint (Eddie Bauer) or more commonly given a monochromatic treatment.
Design flourishes inside are limited to wood appliqus on certain trim levels, giving the civilized Explorer cabin a serious, purposeful quality. Seats are wide and supportive, leaning to the firm side, especially for a sport/ute. Controls are clearly labeled, well placed, and sized for gloved fingers. The interior that impressed when the Explorer launched is now losing ground to more creative and tightly assembled import cockpits, though the 2006 update promises to again move the Explorer to the packaging forefront.
The Explorer can be ordered in five-, six-, or seven-passenger form. The five-passenger configuration has 46.6 cubic feet of luggage space behind the second row of seats. Fold down that row flat for a voluminous 87.8 cubic feet of space. In seven-passenger form, the Explorer has 44.0 cubic feet of space with the third row folded; 81.4 with both the second and third row folded. Behind the optional third-row seats is a mere 13.7 cubic feet of luggage room. Whichever model you choose, the seats all fold flat for a spacious cargo deck. Eddie Bauer and Limited models can be outfitted with second-row bucket seats in place of a bench.
Even base XLS Explorers come quite well equipped, with power windows and door locks, keyless entry, an AM/FM/CD stereo, and cruise control. The XLT adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, front bucket seats with lumbar adjustment, six-way power driver seat, overhead console, outside-temperature indicator, compass, and power mirrors, plus it can be ordered with a number of upscale features, such as a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, leather seats, and a power moonroof. Both the XLS Sport and XLT Sport are essentially appearance packages, both inside and out, that make nominal enhances to the main trim levels.Moving upscale, the Eddie Bauer Explorer has leather upholstery, heated front seats with eight-way power for the driver and six-way power for the passenger, steering wheel audio/cruise controls, a 290-watt stereo with in-dash CD changer, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Limited differs from the Eddie Bauer with varied wood and leather treatments.
Across the trims, major options include second-row bucket seats, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, Reverse Sensing System, rear-seat climate control, power moonroof, universal garage door opener, and power-adjustable pedals.