How do you improve upon a vehicle that created its segment and has continued to be the sales leader for 15 straight years? For the 2006 Ford Explorer, the answer is more power, improved fuel economy, low emissions, new advanced safety technologies, class-leading interior quietness, improved ride comfort and bolder styling.
Ford Explorer has been the world’s best-selling SUV for 15 consecutive years with sales totaling nearly 5.5 million because it adheres to a simple formula: put people first. Since its introduction in 1990, Explorer has defined the SUV segment by offering the capability of an SUV for towing and off-roading, along with innovations in package, comfort and refinement.
"We are fortunate to have the largest base of SUV customers in the industry," says Phil Martens, group vice president, Product Creation. "The input of more than 5 million owners helped influence the changes we made to the 2006 Explorer. The result refines what has made the Explorer such a success, while improving everything from the towing capacity to the choice of interior trim."
Explorer leads a changing segment
SUVs have been the fastest-growing vehicle type over the past 15 years, but market dynamics are clearly changing. For customers who need a traditional SUV, the ’06 Explorer’s combination of features and capabilities is unmatched.
The total SUV market grew from 929,000 units in 1990 (or 6.6 percent of the U.S. automotive market) to 4.8 million units (or 27.5 percent of the U.S. automotive market) in 2004. During that time, the number of nameplates increased from a few dozen to well over 200 distinct models, and the segment has fragmented into traditional truck-based and smaller car-based crossover models. Through the first half of 2005, traditional SUV sales are down, while crossover sales continue to increase.
"The SUV market is rapidly changing into two increasingly distinct types of vehicles, and Ford will deliver the best vehicles for each type of customer," says Steve Lyons, group vice president, North American Marketing, Sales and Service. "With the proliferation of new crossover vehicles, the market for traditional SUVs that offer full capability — including towing and the ability to drive off-road — is clearly not as large as it used to be. For many customers, crossovers like the Ford Freestyle deliver just what they need and want. But there will also continue to be a strong market for traditional SUVs, and the new Explorer steps up the game in delivering more of what those customers want."
More powerful, more fuel efficient, with low emissions: Explorer’s sophisticated new V-8 powertrain delivers
The 2006 Explorer’s new optional three-valve 4.6-liter SOHC V-8 that shares the same variable cam timing and three-valve cylinder heads used on the highly lauded Mustang GT and the 5.4-liter Ford F-150 engine. In the Explorer, the new 4.6-liter delivers 292 horsepower (53 more horsepower than the two-valve 4.6-liter previously used) and 300 foot-pounds of torque.
The V-8 is fitted to the first six-speed automatic in the segment, with a wide 6.04:1 gear ratio, enabling the engine to spend more time in its optimum powerband — either at peak power for acceleration, or at peak efficiency for more fuel economy.
As a result, V-8 4×4 models are expected to deliver up to 10 percent improvement in fuel economy, in addition to an increase of 53 more horsepower. And the new V-8 delivers low emissions, as well. It is expected to qualify for the stringent Tier II, Bin 5 federal standards, which is compliant with California’s Low Emissions Vehicle II (LEV II) standards.
"The new three-valve V-8 and six-speed automatic drivetrain is a tremendous advantage for the 2006 Explorer," says Raj Nair, SUV and Body-on-Frame Vehicles executive director. "Not only does it offer more power, more refinement and improved fuel economy, but it also offers increased utility. The additional power output helps Explorer handle an increased payload — more than 1,500 pounds — and has a 7,300 pound towing capacity."
Clean performance is standard on V-6 Explorer:
V-6 certified to same level of ultra-low emissions as the Ford Escape Hybrid. Explorer’s standard 4.0-liter SOHC V-6 engine received significant improvements for the 2006 model year as well. Idle quality was improved by 50 percent, thanks to a new camshaft and spark plugs. New engine calibrations and improved emission controls cut smog-forming emissions by 74 percent compared to the previous model.
These improvements are expected to allow the 2006 Explorer V-6 to meet federal Tier II Bin 4 emissions requirements to achieve ULEV II status — the same federal tailpipe emissions standards as the Ford Escape Hybrid, the world’s cleanest SUV.
Explorer leads its class with safety innovations
The 2006 Ford Explorer leads its class with 10 standard advanced safety technologies. Seven of these 10 standard features are new to the mid-size SUV class, including four new adaptive technologies specifically designed for Ford’s stringent internal safety targets. The new Explorer provides the most active and passive safety features in its class.
"The 2006 Ford Explorer’s suite of available safety features is unmatched in its class," says Sue Cischke, vice president, Environmental and Safety Engineering. "It offers active safety technology — including confidence-inspiring handling and braking combined with AdvanceTrac® with class-exclusive Roll Stability Control — to help prevent accidents from occurring. In the case of an accident, the 2006 Explorer offers enhanced side-impact rollover protection and four new adaptive safety technologies that help tailor frontal-impact protection based on crash severity, occupant size and safety-belt usage."
In fact, the new Explorer meets all known federal frontal- and side-impact crash requirements through 2010.
Explorer already achieves one of the best impact-protection ratings among mid-sized SUVs, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2005 model year New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) data. The new 2006 model is expected to improve on that rating.
To meet federal safety regulations and Ford’s even more stringent internal safety targets, the 2006 Explorer offers the following advanced safety technologies as standard equipment:
"Simply put, all safety features help manage the forces on the occupants during an impact," says Jeff Laya, Explorer crash safety supervisor. "Explorer’s new adaptive safety features all work together to estimate the size of the occupant and impact severity, and are then tailored to manage those forces. If you think of it in a slow-motion sequence, the safety belts absorb some of the energy, then the air bag absorbs more, and then the stroking steering column absorbs even more. We can provide enhanced protection for a wide variety of circumstances and tailor the protection to each individual event."
In addition, the 2006 Explorer features improvements and new features to help further protect occupants during a rollover or side-impact.
As with the previous model, the 2006 Explorer offers available Safety CanopyTM side air curtains that deploy in certain side-impact collisions or if an impending rollover is detected to help protect front- and second-row outboard occupants. The air curtains feature "roll-fold" technology. If an occupant is improperly seated and resting his head against a window, the Safety CanopyTM is designed to slide between the glass and occupant as it inflates. A new front "sail panel" of fabric attached to the A-pillar also helps position the Safety CanopyTM.
Also new for 2006 are standard side-impact air bags for the driver and front passenger. Mounted in the outboard side of each front seat, these air bags further enhance protection for the an occupant’s chest in the event of a side collision.
Explorer’s armrests and door trim also have been designed to help cushion the abdomen and lower torso during a side impact. And a four-inch-thick foam block installed between the exterior and interior front-door panels further helps manage side impact forces on the occupant’s hips.
Quietest Explorer ever:
NVH improvements provide best-in-class interior quietness
The 2006 Explorer interior benefits from a concerted effort by Ford engineers to decrease unwanted noise in the cabin. In fact, the Explorer team focused on every aspect of the vehicle, from the exterior, interior, chassis and powertrain to quell noise, vibration and harshness.
Significantly, the Explorer is not only quieter measured in the first row, but the third row is quieter than the second row of most competitors at highway speeds. In fact, the Explorer’s third row is just as quiet as some competitors’ front row. This is a key to passing Ford’s speed intelligibility tests, which enable occupants in the first row to effortlessly hold a conversation with passengers in the second and third rows at highway speeds.
The all-new interior features the use of advanced materials that dampen vibrations and lessen noise. New insulation materials have been used along the headliner, door panels and floor of the passenger compartment to help provide class-leading interior quietness.
The powertrains are more refined thanks to improvements such as additional exhaust resonators and intake manifold "valley stuffers" that quiet the air induction and exhaust sounds. Even the climate control system has been enlisted in the war on noise: it is now 30 percent quieter than before, yet improves cooling performance.
Although it features a more assertive design than before, the 2006 Explorer actually has a slightly lower aerodynamic drag than the model it replaces. The new sideview mirrors are larger for increased visibility, yet the mirror shell manages the airflow more effectively, resulting in less wind turbulence transmitted into the cabin. In fact, this new design is so successful, the mirrors actually reduce wind noise compared to tests conducted with no side mirrors at all. Further, the roof panel features modified "beads" — or ridges stamped into the sheet metal — that help prevent the large body panel from vibrating, stifling unwanted noise.
All-new frame, new front and rear independent suspensions,
improved brake system
Also improving interior noise levels is an all-new frame. Thanks to increases in section height and width, it is 63 percent more resistant to bending and 55 percent more resistant to twisting. The Explorer adopts the F-150′s tube-through-tube frame design, where the cross members pass through the section of the frame-rails, creating an inherently stronger joint. These joints are then completely welded around the perimeter for a fully boxed seam. The stiffer frame provides a smoother ride with better road feel, crisper handling and improved steering response because it allowed Ford engineers to improve the vehicle systems the stronger frame supports – including the front and rear suspensions, and the braking and steering systems. Paired with new manufacturing techniques that decrease manufacturing tolerances, the Explorer’s solid foundation also helps significantly reduce long-term squeaks and rattles.
The stiffer frame provides a smoother ride with better road feel, crisper handling and improved steering response because it allowed Ford engineers to improve the vehicle systems the stronger frame supports — including the front and rear suspensions, and the braking and steering systems. Paired with new manufacturing techniques that decrease manufacturing tolerances, the Explorer’s solid foundation also helps significantly reduce long-term squeaks and rattles.
Explorer’s improved independent rear suspension now features trailing arms and is more robust to accommodate the vehicle’s increased towing and payload capability, yet is slightly lighter than the previous short- and long-arm assembly. As before, the rear half shafts pass through frame portholes, lowering the independent rear suspension subframe for better third-row packaging and a lower center of gravity.
The front suspension also is new, retaining basic geometry with upper and lower control arms and a sway bar. It too features stronger components, yet is slightly lighter weight overall. Both front and rear suspensions now feature monotube shocks — replacing twin-tube shocks. The monotube shocks are tuned to take advantage of the stiffer frame, delivering even less impact harshness for improved ride comfort while still delivering excellent primary ride control.
"The suspension design and tuning are usually a compromise between ride comfort and body control," says Judy Curran, Explorer chief engineer. "Tuning the suspension for a plush, comfortable ride over potholes usually results in a floating feeling on the highway and too much body lean in corners. The stiffer frame enabled the engineering team to tune the 2006 Explorer for much better impact dampening while still delivering confident body control during cornering." Steering feel is improved by a new "drooping flow" pump that retains firm, confident steering feel at higher speeds, yet decreases parking-lot speed efforts by up to 15 percent.
As before, the four-wheel disc brake system features standard anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution and electronic brake assist. For 2006, Explorer’s brake system has been redesigned for improved heat dissipation and durability. These changes helped increase the vehicle’s maximum capacities. With a 1,520-pound payload and 7,300-pound tow rating, the 2006 model is the most capable Explorer ever.
Explorer’s class-leading package, with an all-new interior, offers improved comfort, segment-first power-fold third-row seat
The 2006 Explorer has an all-new interior with improved accommodations for all occupants. New front seats with available 10-way power on the driver’s seat provide more comfort and ride on extended tracks that allow a full inch more travel. The second row is available in three configurations; a 60-40 (no reclining) split, a reclining 60-40 split that allows access to the third row, and bucket seats separated by a center console. New, larger head restraints provide enhanced safety and articulate for improved rear visibility when the seat is unoccupied.
The available third-row seats’ bench height was raised 1.75 inches, providing better visibility for children while still affording comfortable headroom for taller occupants.
Another change is a 50/50 seatback split to allow greater versatility for varying loads of people and cargo. The third-row seat also offers a power-fold option. Ford Motor Company was first in the industry with this feature, introduced on the Lincoln Navigator, and Explorer will be the first in the mid-size SUV segment to offer this convenience.
Both the second and third rows of seats fold completely flat, when equipped with the second-row bench seat. Where previous seven-passenger Explorers had a slight incline of the load floor — approximately 10 degrees from horizontal — the redesigned seats allow a virtually flat floor, only two degrees from horizontal. The new fold-flat floor design also increases usable cargo volume in the flattest position.
F-150 inspires the New Explorer’s crisp, tailored interior
"The 2006 Explorer interior builds on the design leadership of the Ford F-150 truck," says Chelsia Lau, Explorer chief designer. "We wanted to build on the F-150′s theme of ‘tough luxury.’ For Explorer, we improved the craftsmanship of the interior and gave it a bolder, stronger design. As a result, the 2006 Explorer feels both more sophisticated and more adventurous: It’s tough, yet refined at the same time."
The 2006 Explorer is available with sophisticated details such as Preferred SuedeTM seat inserts and contrasting stitching paired with strong, vertical lines and wood trim. In addition, the new center stack houses Explorer’s first available DVD navigation system — the first system in its segment to include spoken upcoming street names as part of its text-to-speech programming.
Also a first for Explorer is the console-mounted transmission shifter.
Even the doors have been designed to make them more functional as well as attractive. Window control switches now use a more intuitive push-pull design. The door-release handle also has been revised. It is now integrated into the forward end of the armrest so that it is literally at a passenger’s fingertips.
Bolder, more refined exterior design
Fitting the Explorer’s increased capability, the new model features a new, bolder exterior design. Though the 2006 Explorer features the same footprint, solid proportions and planted stance as the outgoing model, the new Explorer has a much larger presence, most noticeably in the all-new front end. Everything is new from the base of the windshield forward. The new grilles, with three distinct styles wrapping the larger seven-inch Ford blue oval, make the strongest statement.
Like the front of the 2006 Explorer, the rear infuses Explorer’s classic look with a bold new attitude. The 2006 model also offers available 18-inch chrome wheels wrapped in P235/65R-18 all-season tires for a more rugged appearance. These changes visually communicate power, capability, and durability, reinforcing Explorer’s traditional, authentic SUV roots.
"Because of the vehicle’s rich heritage, we were very particular about the preservation of its classic attributes" says Lau. "For 2006, we injected a fresh, energetic touch, capturing the Explorer’s rugged and adventurous spirit. What we have done for 2006 — both inside and out — is make that classic look bolder and stronger."
New series strategy to better meet the needs of core SUV buyers
The 2006 Explorer will be available in four trim levels: XLS, XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited.
XLS is the value entry, for younger families that want a medium-size SUV, not a small SUV or a crossover.
The XLT is the core offering, totaling 50 percent of Explorer models. These customers tend to be older than XLS buyers and need to carry a family. But, the "sensation seeker" in them also wants a traditional SUV for the occasional weekend adventure.
The Eddie Bauer model has become the quintessential Explorer model, offering the best of both worlds: It offers capability and a bold style, paired with luxury amenities. It is anticipated that Eddie Bauer sales will double, as it is now offered in a broader range: The standard Eddie Bauer model will offer 17-inch wheels, leather-trimmed seats, wood trim and unique chromed grille. The available luxury package adds the choice of two-tone seats with Preferred SuedeTM inserts, heated front seats and a 290-watt, six-disc audiophile stereo. For the first time, 18-inch chrome wheels are also available on both Eddie Bauer offerings.
The Limited represents the top of the line for those who need the capability of a traditional SUV, but want something that represents success. The Limited offers monochromatic exterior, more interior amenities and standard chrome finish on the grille and 17-inch wheels. Like the Eddie Bauer, 18-inch chrome wheels are also available.
The 2006 Explorer will go on sale this fall in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It will be produced at Ford’s St. Louis and Louisville assembly plants.
Pricing will be announced closer to launch.
Class comparisons based on the five volume leaders in the mid-size, mid-price SUV segment: Ford Explorer, Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner, and Nissan Pathfinder.
(Source: Ford Motor Company)