An enormous hit with buyers
The first Explorer arrived for the 1990 model year and became an enormous hit. Ford’s medium sized sport ute was upgraded in 1995 and was completely changed for the 2002 model year. A major makeover for 2006 included a stiffer frame, upgraded suspension and steering plus numerous cosmetic adjustments. A 210-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 was standard on base models, while a 4.6-liter V8 was optional and upped the output to 292 horsepower from 239. A five-speed automatic transmission was the starting point for the V6, while a new six-speed automatic came with the V8. Following five years of just-OK sales, partly due to increasing gas prices, an all-new and more car-like Explorer was unveiled for the 2011 model year.
THE GOOD STUFF
The third-generation Explorer was a ruggedly handsome vehicle that could be had in rear- or four-wheel-drive and configured to accommodate five or seven passengers with the optional third-row seat. The ride, although truckish, was stable and quiet, thanks in part to its independent rear suspension. The available 4.6-litre V8 was also stronger than the previous unit by 53 horsepower, yet still managed to deliver the slightly better overall fuel economy. This sport ute’s low center of gravity and wide stance gave it excellent road-holding capability. A maximum towing capacity of 7,300 pounds was an added bonus (the 2011 model is rated at 5,000 pounds).
The standard V6 was the obvious choice for those concerned with fuel economy, although it had a reputation as a noisy and underpowered operator. Note that the five-speed manual transmission that was standard on previous V6 Explorers was unavailable here. For handling strenuous tasks such as hauling a full-load of passengers and their gear, or towing large boats or travel trailers, a V8-equipped Explorer was the best way to go. The optional third-row folding bench seat could hold two passengers, but it was difficult to access past the second row and was short on leg and foot room.
The 2006-10 Explorer was a comfortable, competent hauler that performed significantly better than previous models. The roomy interior was especially appreciated when big cargo space was required and models fitted with the V8 offered excellent performance.
PRICES AT A GLANCE
The once-popular Explorer fell on hard times in the past few years as buyer preference for more passenger- car-based wagons took root. That could be good news for those searching for a reasonably priced model.
The low end of a given price range represents higher-mileage, low-option vehicles.
Year range Approx. price range
Engines: 4.0-liter SOHC V6 (210 hp); 4.6-liter SOHC V8 (292 hp).
Transmissions: Five-speed automatic (V6); six-speed automatic (V8).
Layout: Front-engine, rear- or four-wheel drive.
Body: Four-door wagon.