Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Explorer? I just met her. And you know what? I like her. I know: falling in love with a 14mpg SUV at this precise moment in time is like getting engaged to the boss' daughter a week after the old man's been indicted by the SEC. Still, Ford's provided plenty of justification for the love that dare not speak its name. Less poetically, they're giving them away! Arrive at your local Ford dealer on a rusty bicycle with a note promising to pay a hundred bucks a week, and I reckon they'll hand you the keys to a new Explorer in less time than it takes to pump $50 worth of premium down its steel-lined gullet.

Sure, the Explorer quaffs gas like an old tractor, but at least it retains its title as the world's least offensive looking vehicle. You could even say the Ford Explorer elevates inoffensiveness to an art– except people tend to look at art, whereas no one gives the Explorer a first glance. That's no bad thing. The SUV's non-charisma– completely unaffected by its faux-bling chrome 18's– helps owners avoid the slings and arrows of air conditioned environmentalists AND encourages them to treat the beast like an honest-to-God truck.

Which it isn't. Ford's finest has gone from the working stiff's station wagon to a luxury car on stilts. Credit the new tube-through-tube frame, co-opted from the F150. With these new underpinnings, the Explorer's wibbly-wobbly chassis– which used to CRASH over any imperfection larger than a flattened Coke can– provides a mild-mannered yet rock-solid ride. The new Explorer dismisses potholes and bumps with ease, cossetting occupants with a distinctly Old School ride (circa 1978 Cadillac).

Ford's boffins have also breathed some Mustang-related magic on the Explorer's 4.6-liter lump, adding an extra valve per cylinder and variable cam timing. The new powerplant stables 53 more horses than afore and plenty o' torque. Unfortunately, it's still not enough in-gear shove to motorvate the 4777lbs. leviathan into a determined sprint. And while fuel consumption has improved 10%, credit cards still cower in fear of fill-ups. On the positive side, the Explorer's V8 is a veritable Waring blender of an engine. Combined with a silken six-speed autobox– a first class class-first– the Explorer's drivetrain is as smooth as a 200-year-old river rock.

The hushed civility continues inside. The Explorer's cockpit benefits greatly from the expert ministrations of the decibel destroyers in Ford's Dickensian-sounding department of Noise, Vibration and Harshness. The interior's clean, fresh and modern design was originally cribbed from Land Rover and unleashed on American tastes in the F150. Like the pickup that preceeds it, the Explorer's cabin dodges the rental car bullet by dint of its light-colored, finger friendly plastics. The Eddie Bauer version adds imitation wood accents to the equation, which are about as convincing as a high school stage set.

The Explorer's third row is its most compelling interior attribute. Unlike the majority of the tippy-up addenda found in the mid-sized SUV market, the Explorer's outermost chairs were not designed with Oompah Loompahs in mind. Sure, adult ingress involves some sciatic-challenging clambering over jagged industrial surfaces, but the Explorer is a genuine seven seater. What's more, the way back seats have been raised to avoid child-related claustro-barfing AND they fold flat individually at the touch of a button. How minivan is that?

From a handling point of view, the Explorer out twisties the people carriers, most SUV's and quite a few cars besides. The steering effort is soccer Mom standard, but accurate enough to place the big brute with confidence. When thrown into a corner, the Explorer lists slightly, maintains horizontal composure admirably, and then, eventually, inevitably, slips gracefully into safe, predictable understeer. Thanks to its chassis and suspension upgrades and Volvo's Roll Stability Control (a system that would sound far more reassuring without the word "roll" in its name), the Explorer is about as likely to tip over as the Great Pyramid of Cheops.

Off-road, the Explorer slips off its sensible shoes and runs amuck. It may not be the most robust off-roader ever made, but caning this SUV down a dirt road without traction control is a pleasant way for a nutcase and his family to pass an otherwise dull afternoon. By the same token, the Explorer's more powerful brakes raise the vehicle's towing capacity to 7300lbs.; one boat may now tow another.

It's easy to dismiss the new Explorer as a gas-powered dodo, but the SUV does so many things so well– hauling, schlepping, cruising, crashing, towing and off-roading– that it's both unwise and premature to count it out. If Ford can hoik the Explorer V8's mileage into the mid-20's, this thing will fly off the lots. It's only a matter of time…

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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 1 comment
  • Zanary Zanary on Jan 05, 2007

    Y'know...I've yet to read a bad review of this vehicle, but so many dismiss it because it's a domestic (thanks, media, for your unending assault on the home team) and because it's, well, and Explorer-something so ingrained in the current culture that it's automatically part of the scenery. Just goes to show ya...the domesticss have to do WAY more than build good vehicles for the market to give a damn. Proof? Count the comments....

  • Mike What percentage of people who buy plug in hybrids stop charging them daily after a few months? Also, what portion of the phev sales are due to the fact that the incentives made them a cheaper lease than the gas only model? (Im thinking of the wrangler 4xe). I wish there was a way to dig into the numbers deeper.
  • CEastwood If it wasn't for the senior property tax freeze in NJ I might complain about this raising my property taxes since most of that tax goes to the schools . I'm not totally against EVs , but since I don't drive huge miles and like to maintain my own vehicles they are not practical especially since I keep a new vehicle long term and nobody has of yet run into the cost of replacing the battery on an EV .
  • Aquaticko Problem with PHEV is that, like EVs, they still require a behavioral change over ICE/HEV cars to be worth their expense and abate emissions (whichever is your goal). Studies in the past have shown that a lot of PHEV drivers don't regularly plug-in, meaning they're just less-efficient HEVs.I'm left to wonder how big a battery a regular HEV could have without needing to be a PHEV.
  • El scotto ooops, the third shot is at the gas pump voice-over saying "Yep, you can refill whenever you want."
  • El scotto The opening shot of the ad: Show a PHEV running a quarter mile, in about seven seconds and silently with the voice-over saying "What you want to do, all on electrons"; segue to bumper-to-bumper traffic and the voice-over saying "What you really do; all on electrons for your first 80 miles".