Front-seat airbags and seatbelt pretensioners are standard, and Ford's Safety Canopy System, which is a side curtain airbag for first and second-row passengers, is on the options list. Available adjustable pedals allow shorter drivers to sit a safer distance from the airbag in the steering wheel.Four-wheel, anti-lock disc brakes are standard, and all models have Ford's AdvanceTrac stability control with Roll Stability Control, which incorporates a roll sensor that detects imminent rollover and helps stabilize the vehicle by adjusting engine power and braking.
The Explorer was named a "Best Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in its offset frontal crash tests. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave it five stars for front passenger, four for driver, in the frontal crash test. In side crash testing, both front and rear seats earned five stars. NHTSA gave two stars to the Explorer in the rollover test.
The base Explorer engine is a SOHC 4.0-liter V-6 that makes 210 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque, ample verve for traditional commuter duty. Base tow capacity is 3,240 lbs, though a more aggressive 3.73:1 rear gear can raise that limit to 5,380 pounds, at the expense of some fuel economy. The more enthusiastic choice is the 4.6-liter V-8 engine with 239 horsepower and 282 lb-ft of torque. The greater power enables the Explorer to pull up to 7,000 lbs, when properly outfitted with a Class III/IV hitch. Both engines are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Base Explorers are driven by their rear wheels, but all-wheel drive is available for tackling inclement weather and mild off-roading. For 2006, the V-6 will get more torque, and a variant of the Mustang GT V-8, producing 292 horses and 300 lb-ft, will be fitted.
The Explorer is very comfortable and very easy to drive, with relatively taut suspension tuning more akin to a sedan than a traditional floaty SUV. The seating position is fashionably high, yet the vehicle feels stable and comfortable with its dominating road presence. Outward visibility is excellent, and Ford thoughtfully provides oversize side mirrors to make towing easier.
On the highway, the Explorer benefits from an independent rear suspension, teamed with a control-arm front end. Ride quality is far better than that of SUVs that use a traditional live-axle rear suspension: The Explorer handles mid-corner bumps in a much more compliant fashion, without turning occupants into life-size bobbleheads. If anything, the Explorer is quite sporty in the way travels a back road, and we like the accurate and direct steering.
Although the V-6 works well enough, the 4,300-pound Explorer is an awful lot of vehicle to haul around with only 210 horsepower --that's fewer horses than the GMC Envoy, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, or Toyota 4Runner in base configurations. Of the two available engines, the V-8 promises the greater satisfaction and work potential.The all-wheel-drive system is a desirable choice for drivers who face tough winters or travel dirt roads en route to their favorite fishing hole.
Like most American automakers, Ford offers a basic three-year/36,000-mile warranty, with 24-hour roadside assistance. With about 3,500 dealerships around the country, you'll never be far away from a service center for routine maintenance or if you have trouble on the road. When choosing an Explorer, consult the IntelliChoice Ownership Cost Value ratings, as there's significant value variance among trim levels.