2007 Ford Explorer

By March 1, 2007
2007 Ford Explorer

Ford Explorer is a traditional midsize SUV with body-on-frame construction. Available with V6 or V8 power, it competes against the Chevy TrailBlazer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner, and Nissan Pathfinder.

Explorer was completely redesigned for the 2006 model year and we were pleased with the new steering, the new suspension, and the new brakes, all of which were vastly improved over the previous-generation. The latest Explorer is quieter than previous models, and it rides better. It also leans less in corners and the brakes are more responsive. The rear seats fold flatter, and the interior has been improved throughout. More important, it's a very nice vehicle that's pleasant to live with and it compares well with the competition.

With the V8 engine, the Explorer is rated to tow up to a whopping 7,300 pounds; that's about as much as a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a Hemi. And Explorer is rated to carry up to 1,520 pounds of payload.

Explorer earned the best possible impact protection rating in the government's crash tests: five stars for the driver in a frontal impact, the front-seat passenger in a frontal impact, front-seat occupants in a side impact, and rear-seat occupants in a side impact. (This was in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 2006 model-year New Car Assessment Program.) Ford says the Explorer is designed to meet all known federal frontal- and side-impact crash requirements through 2010.

For 2007, Ford has simplified the model lineup. The Safety Canopy side air-curtain system is now standard on Eddie Bauer and Limited. An auxiliary audio input jack is now standard, and power-retracting running boards and heated windshield wipers are available. And the available rear-seat DVD entertainment center comes with a larger, eight-inch screen.

The most important change for 2007 might be the new interior door handles, of all things. We found the door pulls on the 2006 models awkward, traceable to thick armrests engineered for crash protection. This situation has been improved for 2007.

Though car-based SUVs, or crossovers, such as the Ford Edge are gaining in popularity for their smoother ride, better handling, and easier interior access, the Explorer remains a good choice for families that tow. Explorer's truck-based chassis gives it towing capability, while its clever independent rear suspension smoothes the ride for back-seat passengers.

Model Lineup

The 2007 Ford Explorer lineup comprises the XLT 2WD ($25,300), XLT 4WD ($27,595), Eddie Bauer 2WD ($28,300), Eddie Bauer 4WD ($30,595), Limited 2WD ($31,400), and Limited 4WD ($33,659). All are available with the standard 4.0-liter V6 and five-speed automatic transmission or an optional 4.6-liter V8 with a six-speed automatic ($1,200).

Standard equipment on the XLT includes cloth low-back bucket seats with manual driver lumbar adjustment; 60/40-split folding second-row bench seat with back-rest recline; power windows with one-touch-down driver window; remote entry key fobs; air conditioning; AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with auxiliary input jack; cargo management system; center console; two 12-volt power points; load-floor tie-down hooks; two-line message center with outside-temperature readout; privacy glass; one-piece liftgate with flip-open rear window; fold-away electric remote exterior mirrors; black roof side rails; 16-inch, painted aluminum wheels with P235/70R16 all-season tires; fog lamps; AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control; and a tire pressure monitoring system. XLT options include leather seating surfaces with heated front seats ($995), heated windshield ($300), and navigation ($2,505). The Ironman Package ($1,495) for XLT celebrates Ford's sponsorship of the Ironman World Championship with Ironman logos; 18-inch, machined-aluminum wheels; unique 10-way, leather trimmed, heated front seats; and exclusive Orange Frost paint.

Eddie Bauer adds automatic headlights; exterior mirrors with approach lights; fixed running boards; 17-inch, painted aluminum wheels with all-season tires; second-row dome lights; wood-grain interior accents; overhead console; four-line message center; electrochromic rearview mirror; leather upholstery; 10-way-power seat for the driver; illuminated visor vanity mirrors; keyless entry with keypad; and Safety Canopy.

Limited adds heated exterior mirrors; 18-inch, machined-aluminum wheels with all-season tires; unique interior wood-grain accents; dual-zone electronic climate control; Audiophile AM/FM audio with six-disc, in-dash CD, MP3 playback and subwoofer; auxiliary climate control; unique floor console; Reverse Sensing System; heated seats; leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise and audio controls; and a third-row manual-folding seat.

Seating choices include a manually folding third-row seat ($845) on XLT and Bauer, standard on Limited. A Power-folding third row is optional on all models. A four-bucket-seat configuration, with comfortable second-row captain's chairs, is available ($795) on Bauer and Limited. The third-row seat comes standard on the Limited, but can be deleted for credit (-$375), providing a flatter cargo floor.

Other options include a power glass sunroof ($850); rear-seat DVD entertainment ($1,295); power adjustable pedals ($150); rear heat and air conditioning ($675), Sirius Satellite Radio ($195); and power-retractable running boards ($695).

Safety features include the same roll stability control system already used by Volvo and Land Rover. It intervenes with throttle and brakes when the computer senses an impending tip over. Other safety features standard on all Explorers are seat-mounted side-impact air bags, adaptive energy-absorbing steering column, and passenger classifier in the front passenger seat. Safety Canopy air bags, standard on Limited and Bauer, are optional ($560) on XLT.

Walkaround

Up front, Ford Explorer looks like an F-150 pickup with finer, scaled-down features. At the same time, its generous use of chrome, big-and-bold lamps, and square-cornered aero mirrors make this latest-generation Explorer look more like a Lexus SUV than a Ford, and we mean that in the most complimentary way.

Between the elaborate lamps front and back, however, Explorer is a big, empty box with five large doors and a whole bunch of space inside.

Each Explorer trim level presents its own visual personality. XLT faces the world with a four-bar chrome grille, black wheel-lip moldings, and black roof rails. Black running boards are optional.

Bauer features a two-tone front bumper and an accent-color rear bumper; a three-bar chrome grille with side nostrils; accent-color wheel lip moldings; body-color exterior mirrors; silver roof rails with black end caps; and Pueblo Gold running boards.

Limited wears body-color front and rear bumpers; a chrome four-bar grille; chrome exterior mirrors; chrome roof rails with black end caps; body-color running boards; and body-color wheel lip moldings.

Interior Features

Everything inside the Ford Explorer was all-new last year, and continues for '07 with only minor detail changes. There are dark wood accents in most models and darker, richer wood for the Eddie Bauer version. The graphics are accented with metal surrounds both shiny and matte. On the downside, we saw a fair amount of glare reflected off the dash top onto the windshield.

The seats are at once more supportive and more comfortable than in older Explorers, where we found them a bit hard. The colors and trims and combinations are elegant and tasteful, the metallic trims just about right, not overdone.

Second-row seats are available as a 60/40 split bench with recline adjustment, or as two bucket seats and a console. The bucket seats are more comfortable for adults, but the bench seats fold down better for cargo.

The third row, when ordered, sits almost two inches higher than in an '05 or earlier Explorer, so kids can see out better. The third row is always a 50/50 split, but is available with manual or power folding and unfolding.

The cargo floor is completely flat when all the seats are folded, with almost no forward rise (2 degrees as opposed to 10 in older models). With three seats, you get 13.6, then 43.9, then 83.7 cubic feet of space as the seats fold down. The five-seater has slightly more room with the seats folded.

The DVD-based navigation system is very easy to use, with excellent colors and graphics, and a big eight-inch display.

The interior door handles are awkward to use, though this improves with familiarity.

Driving Impressions

Two engines are available for the Ford Explorer. Both powertrains are smooth and quiet. With the lighter V6, the Explorer is a bit easier to turn and maneuver, but both engines are pleasant and competent. Choose the V8 if you pull trailers.

The 4.0-liter single-overhead-cam V6 features variable valve timing and is rated at 210 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. It meets federal Tier II, Bin 4 emissions requirements for Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle II (ULEV II) status. With the V6, you get a five-speed automatic overdrive transmission.

The V8 is the latest from Ford's 4.6-liter Modular family, with single overhead camshafts and three valves per cylinder: two intake and one exhaust, for better breathing. It develops 292 horsepower, and 300 pound-feet of torque. The V8 delivers low emissions as well, meeting the Tier II, Bin 5 federal standard, which is compliant with California's Low Emissions Vehicle II (LEV II) standard. With the V8, you get a six-speed automatic with two overdrives, plus full electronic control of upshifting, downshifting and torque converter functions.

The steering has a nice, hefty feel at highway speeds, while still providing plenty of assist for parking. The suspension is relatively supple, giving the Explorer a nice ride on rough streets. Yet the Explorer does not lean excessively in corners, body roll is nicely controlled and there's a feeling of being solidly planted. The current chassis is some 63-percent stiffer than in older models; chassis rigidity is a key element for crisp handling and a smooth ride. Explorer manages to be isolated from the road, but well connected to it, at the same time.

Ford has done an exemplary job of insulating occupants from noise and vibration. The air conditioner is relatively quiet yet moves the air. Conversations are easily heard, the music sounds good, and the mirrors, with their square corners defying intuitive logic, are mercifully quiet, as are the tires.

The brakes work well, with much less pedal pressure and travel than before.

Summary

The Ford Explorer has never been better and represents an excellent choice among midsize sport utilities. It gets the basics right while paying attention to the details. We find the Explorer fully competitive in a tightly contested segment, succeeding as both an excellent machine and a high-value purchase. It's handsome, smooth, quiet, comfortable and competent.

New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Dearborn, Michigan.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:Ford Explorer XLT 2WD ($25,300): XLT 4WD ($27,595): Eddie Bauer 2WD ($28,300): Eddie Bauer 4WD ($30,595): Limited 2WD ($31,400): Limited 4WD ($33,659)
Engines:210-hp 4.0-liter SOHC 12-valve V6; 292-hp 4.6-liter SOHC 24-valve V8
Transmissions:5-speed automatic; 6-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard):stability control, traction control, roll stability control, ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, adaptive-venting frontal airbags, side-impact airbags; adaptive load-limited seatbelt retractors, tire-pressure monitor
Safety equipment (optional):roof curtain airbags for second and third row; reverse sensing system
Basic warranty:3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in:Louisville, Kentucky; St. Louis, Missouri
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):Ford Explorer XLT 4WD ($27,595)
Standard equipment:cloth low-back bucket seats with manual driver lumbar adjustment; 60/40-split folding second-row bench seat with back-rest recline; air conditioning; AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with auxiliary input jack; power windows with one-touch-down driver window; remote entry key fobs; cargo management system; center console with floor shifter; two 12-volt power points; load-floor tie-down hooks; two-line message center with outside-temperature readout; privacy glass; one-piece liftgate with flip-open rear window; fold-away electric remote exterior mirrors; black roof side rails; 16-inch, painted aluminum wheels with P235/70R16 all-season tires; fog lamps
Options as tested (MSPR):V8 engine ($1,200); third-row seat ($845); rear air conditioning ($675)
Destination charge:$695
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$31010
Layout:four-wheel drive
Engine:4.6-liter sohc 24-valve V8
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):292 @ 5750
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):300 @ 3950
Transmission:6-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:14/20 mpg
Wheelbase:113.7 in.
Length/width/height:193.4/73.5/72.8 in.
Track, f/r:60.9/61.8 in.
Turning circle:36.8 ft.
Seating Capacity:7
Head/hip/leg room, f:39.8/55.4/42.4 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:38.7/55.5/36.9 in.
Head/hip/leg room, r:37.4/45.3/34.9 in.
Cargo volume:83.7 cu. ft.
Payload:N/A
Towing capacity:7050 Lbs.
Suspension, f:independent, double A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Suspension, r:independent, trailing blade short and long arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Ground clearance:8.2 in.
Curb weigth:4777 lbs.
Tires:P245/65R17
Brakes, f/r:disc/disc with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist
Fuel capacity:22.5 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of March 1, 2007.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-392-3673 - www.fordvehicles.com