2007 Ford ExplorerClass leader gets even better
How do you improve a time-honored class leader? And, if it's already that good, why bother?
With competition extra tough and getting tougher every day, car companies must consistently improve their products. They must continue to upgrade and redesign them just to keep up, let alone get or stay ahead, but they typically tend to do it very carefully.
After a major redesign for 2006-including a new interior, a freshened exterior, more power, improved ride, quietness, emissions and fuel economy, as well as a host of advanced safety technologies-Ford's 2007 Explorer boasts more standard features, new, functional upgrades, and more available features across the model line. Additionally, the model line has been simplified to make building your own Explorer even easier.
The optional 4.6-liter SOHC V-8 shares the same 3-valve cylinder heads and variable cam timing used on the 5.4-liter Ford F-150 and Mustang GT V-8. Delivering 292 hp (53 horses more than the previous 4.6-liter 2-valve V-8) and 300 lb.-ft. of torque, it's mated to the first-in-class 6-speed automatic transmission, with a wide first-to-sixth ratio spread that improves both low-end performance and high-number fuel economy. As a result, for example, the V-8 4x2 Explorer delivers lower emissions than the '05 and as much as 10 percent better fuel economy (15 mpg EPA city and 21 mpg highway, even with the added power. The lively V-8 also churns out exhilarating performance and very satisfying sound.
The standard 4.0-liter SOHC V-6, upgraded for 2006, has new calibrations and controls that reduce emissions, while new spark plugs and a new camshaft improve idle quality by 40 percent, Ford says.
Explorer's frame was completely upgraded last year for 63 percent more stiffness in bending and 55 percent more rigidity in twisting, enabling great improvements in ride, handling, steering response and interior quietness. The crossmembers pass through the framerails (as with the F-150), creating inherently stronger joints. Combined with more precise manufacturing techniques, this very solid structure also helps to significantly reduce long-term squeaks and rattles.
The trailing-arm independent rear suspension is lighter and stronger than the previous generation's short/long-arm design. The control-arm front suspension, also lighter and stronger than before, like the rear uses monotube shocks tuned to take advantage of the stiffer frame for excellent ride with less harshness. The standard 4-wheel-disc brakes-with ABS, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist-are designed for improved heat dissipation and durability to accommodate the increased 1420-pound maximum payload and 7,115-pound maximum tow rating (when properly equipped) that came with last year's Explorer's major update. We found the braking to be linear and powerful and the ride, handling and steering-with a nicely tight turning circle-surprisingly well for a truck-based SUV.
The "bold" front end is offered with two distinct grilles dependent upon trim level: XLT and Limited, or Eddie Bauer. Celebrating Ford's support of the Ironman World Championship, the base Explorer XLT gets an options kick with a new-for-2007 Ironman Package that includes Ironman logos, 10-way, heated, leather-trimmed front seats (with the option for "Preferred Suede," 18-inch, machined aluminum wheels, and (exclusive to this package) Orange Frost paint. The standard Eddie Bauer sports leather-trimmed seats, wood trim and a chromed three bar with nostrils grill. The available luxury package on our test truck adds two-toned, heated seats with stylish "Preferred Suede" inserts and a 190-watt, six-disc Audiophile stereo. The top-of-the-line Limited offers a monochromatic exterior, more interior amenities and a chromed 4-bar grille.
A PowerFold third row seat and 18-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels, and power running boards are optional on both Eddie Bauer and Limited. A DVD-based Navigation system, rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a new, larger, 8-inch screen, and heated windshield are optional on all Explorer models. An audio input jack is now standard with all radios, and every Explorer model gets a redesigned door-pull cup on the front doors. Three new exterior colors are also added to the spectrum-Carbon Clearcoat Metallic, Orange Frost Clearcoat Metallic (Ironman only) and White Sand Tri-Coat Clearcoat Metallic (Limited only).
The new interior has quality accommodations throughout, including (unlike some competitors) a 3rd row that is actually habitable by full-grown adults. Comfortable front seats (with available 10-way power for the driver's seat) ride on extended tracks that allow nearly one half inch more travel for ample front legroom. There are three configuration choices available for the second row: 60-40 split bench, reclining 60-40 split bench, or bucket seats with a console. Both second- and third-row benches fold flat on 7-passenger configuration, while the available 50/50 back-row bench has a power-fold option-a class-exclusive in the midsize SUV segment-and is raised 1.75 inches for better visibility. New articulating head restraints, providing enhanced safety, can be folded down for better rear visibility when the seats are unoccupied.
The inside door handles are nicely integrated into the forward ends of the armrests, literally at your fingertips, and the window switches are a more intuitive push-pull design. Two more Explorer firsts include a console shifter and available DVD navigation that can verbally alert you to upcoming street names. We also loved the convenient audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel spokes.
The 2007 Explorer boasts 10 standard safety technologies, the most in its class, seven of them new to the segment. Among these are a five-level front passenger sensing system, standard front-seat side mounted airbags, adaptive airbag venting, and an adaptive steering column. Standard AdvanceTrac with class-exclusive RSC (Roll Stability Control) and Safety Canopy System-now standard on '07 Eddie Bauer and Limited trims-with side-curtain airbags and rollover sensor. Also, a four-inch-thick foam block between the inner and outer front door panels helps manage crash forces, and the new armrests and door trim help cushion the body during a side impact.
The cabin design benefits from a concerted noise- and vibration-killing effort in every area-exterior, interior, chassis and powertrain. The available third row is as quiet at highway speeds as the front rows of some competitors and quieter than many second rows, allowing easy conversation front to back.
The 2007 Explorer has slightly lower aero drag than the former generation, which helps both fuel economy and interior noise. Ridges on the roof help keep it from vibrating, and the larger outside mirrors manage airflow effectively. The HVAC system is 30 percent quieter with improved performance. Powertrain refinements include intake manifold "valley stuffers" and added exhaust resonators to quiet induction and exhaust noises.
It's no secret that sales of full-frame, truck-based SUVs have slowed in their growth and have started to contract, primarily due to fluctuating fuel prices. Ford feels though that its much-improved midsize Explorer remains an important core product, filling the gap between its smaller Escape and larger Expedition, while providing a relatively fuel efficient alternative to the car-based Freestyle crossover, for customers who need substantial hauling and towing capabilities.
The Ford Explorer was always very good. As it is now, the 2007 Explorer is even better-and just might again take the honors as America's best-selling SUV. (www.fordvehicles.com)