2006 Ford Explorer

The Explorer interior was redesigned for 2006, with the F-150 serving as the primary source of inspiration. Limited models get redundant radio and climate-control buttons on the steering wheel. All Explorers are better at keeping road and wind noise out of the cabin.

The Explorer and its optional touch-screen navigation system excelled at keeping things under control on some of the least traveled "roads" in the country such as Kushaqua-Mud Pond Road. The DVD-based navigation system, which will find its way into several other Ford products in 2006, is the first original equipment unit sourced from Pioneer and boasts a six-disc CD changer and MP3-playback capability.

A power-folding third row is now available, borrowed from the Lincoln Navigator, though it's still a place best fit for the wee ones. The second and third rows fold completely flat in the '06 Explorer, making it more convenient for hauling large items.

The new taillights remind us of the Dodge Durango and Chevrolet Trailblazer, especially if you're following from more than a few car lengths behind. Not surprisingly, the '06 Explorer will not be shod with Firestone tires.

Could a crossover do this? Even though SUV sales are down, Ford let the new Explorer retain its rugged roots and left the Freestyle to satisfy crossover-hungry appetites.

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