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2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Edition

Humongous, Insane, Impressive and Irresistible

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By Colin Hefferon

2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Edition

Explorer's familiar shape gets more glitzy every year.

photo © Colin Hefferon
America's best-selling SUV for umpteen years running got a makeover for 2006. Much improved over the bad old days, the 2006 Ford Explorer is a leading candidate for today's SUV "least-likely-to-rollover-and-kill-you" award. Electronic Stability Control is standard as are all manner of air bags and structural crash protection -- the 2006 Ford Explorer won top crash ratings from both NHTSA and IIHS. 2WD or 4WD. MSRP: US $27K - $33K; Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; MPG 14 - 15 city/20 - 21 hwy.

First Glance

The Ford Explorer is the granddaddy of SUVs -- well, not exactly the granddaddy. It's probably more the daddy. Jeep invented the SUV category with the Super Wagoneer back in the late 1960s. (OK, I know. There were Wagoneers before the late 1960s. But with their weird Kubelwagen shape, they were not the kind of vehicle that successful people considered for serious transportation.)

I tested an Explorer Eddie Bauer Edition with the 18" alloy wheel package. Its looks attracted a lot of very positive attention (see below). Even my wife liked it, and she normally hates SUVs. Now draped in bling, it's considerably changed from earlier versions. Yet the familiar Explorer shape is still capable of pleasing the eye.

Since its introduction almost two decades ago, the Explorer has bulked up significantly and like many of us has both won and lost a few battles. But now in its golden years, life is good. The optional big wheels, the roof rails and the strong lower body treatment give this year's Explorer a pronounced we-ski-at-Whistler-these-days air.

With Explorer's considerable exterior dimensions, it looks like it has a huge interior -- but oddly I felt a bit cramped in there. Sometimes you really can't judge a book by its cover.

In the Driver's Seat

The Explorer's dash is elegantly arranged, with a nice array of controls and displays.

photo © Colin Hefferon
As I pulled the shining new Explorer Eddie Bauer Edition into my parking spot, my 20-something neighbor, who was loading up her CR-V in the next stall, gave me a big smiling thumbs-up. (I use her to take a reading on automobiles that I don't really get.)

"What" I said, "You like this?"

"Love it," she enthused.

"What do you like about it?" I asked.

"Oh, I don't know. The shape. The size. It looks really roomy, like it could carry a big family with all their kids and stuff. Just toss it all in and go."

With that I invited her to climb into the driver's seat: "It's OK but not as much elbowroom as I thought there'd be."

And then into the back seat: "Whoa, I can't see over the headrest. I'd get carsick driving around the block in this thing. And my knees are almost up against the front seatback. This is not nearly as big inside I thought it'd be."

The optional 3rd row seats hold two 5'8" adults (and their legs) for short trips or two children for longer trips. What's really neat is they fold flat at the touch of a button.

One word of caution: Avoid the tan color interior unless you plan on driving only at night. The glare from the dash can be very distracting in sunlight.

On the Road

Handling, overall driveability and occupant safety have both improved considerably since the bad old rollover days. Proper tires (with tire pressure monitoring system) account for a lot of the improvement but there have been a number of other welcome standard additions besides -- including 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic stability control with anti-rollover protection and advanced side air bags.

Performance has also improved with the optional 4.6L 292 hp, (300 lb-ft) V-8. The hoary 4.0L V-6 with 210hp (254 lb-ft) is still standard. A modern and very smooth 6-speed automatic is standard with the V-8; the V-6 still comes with a 5-speed auto.

The 4-wheel independent suspension and heavy-duty gas charged shocks make ride quality in this nearly two and a half ton mid-size (!) family hauler ride not at all bad. Don't forget we're talking about a pretty serious truck capable of much more than you'll ever ask of it -- like hauling 7,000 lbs, f'r instance.

What hasn't kept pace with the times, however, is its fuel economy. The EPA numbers of course look good on paper. But if my week long test drive of mostly short hop driving is any indication, you should be prepared to dig deep and often at fill-up time.

Journey's End

Explorer's rear features a massive tailgate and split rear window.

photo © Colin Hefferon
The current Explorer is again the top selling SUV in America and has been since the beginning of time. Maybe it just seems forever. In fact, it's been the best seller since 1990. There's still no getting away from it: this one's growing awfully long in the tooth and it's carrying way too much (mostly useless) bulk for the type of uses most people will put it to.

Paradoxically, as gasoline prices soar to previously unimagined levels in my part of Canada ($4.56 per US gallon in early August 2006), Ford of Canada reports that Explorer sales are actually up over last year. The real estate boom up here must have addled peoples' brains. I mean, who the heck needs a humungous 14 mpg truck for a few kids and some groceries -- especially with the insane headlines from the Middle East and the melting polar icecaps?

That off my chest (for the moment) let me say that I found the 2006 Explorer to be a much more capable, much more impressive vehicle than the one I drove four years ago. Of course, now it's got all the luxuries (like DVD entertainment system and satellite-based NAVI) that we've come to need in family vehicles. At $33K for the loaded Limited model in the United States, this one will again be irresistible to a lot of folks.

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