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2006 Ford Explorer

Written by PFM Staff

For 2006, the Ford Explorer has been restyled with a new grille, new 1 million candlepower headlights and a new front end. In fact, 70% of the sheet metal is new. The longer front end adds crush zone for safety and better airflow for less wind noise. The interior is much more like the upscale F-150 truck, and it has larger outside mirrors. For 2006, the 3-valve, 4.6L V-8 is optional. The only downside, and one to reckon with, the Explorer is available only with a center console and floor shifter. No console delete or column shift option exists. However, at least two aftermarket consoles that accept police gear and work around the floor shifter have been developed.

Powertrain

The jump in horsepower from the optional V-8 is significant. The 2005 Explorer was available with a 239 hp, 4.6L V-8. This is the same basic engine as the older Ford CVPIs. (The newer CVPIs have a 250 hp, 4.6L V-8.) The 2006 Explorer jumps right over the CVPI and uses a 292 hp, 4.6L V-8. This is the awesome 3-valve version of the same SOHC V-8 from the Mustang GT.

In addition to the more efficient 3-valve head design, the new engine also has variable valve timing. The camshafts are actually advanced or retarded with respect to the crankshaft to give maximum torque (low speed) or maximum horsepower (high speed). The CVPI needs this engine!

Compared to the 2-valve engine, the 3-valve version produces 22% more horsepower, has 10% better gas mileage and gets lower emissions. This V-8 meets Federal Tier II, Bin 5 and California Low Emissions Vehicle II (LEV II) emission standards. New for 2006, the 4.6L V-8 is teamed with a 6-speed automatic overdrive transmission. The new 6-speed auto has both a lower first gear and a taller top gear than the older 5-speed auto.

The standard powertrain for the Explorer is the 210 hp 4.0L V-6, which got a new camshaft and spark plugs for 2006. On the topic of emissions, the V-6 engine now meets Federal Tier II, Bin 4 and California Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle II (ULEV II) standards. That is the same category as the Ford Escape Hybrid. The V-6 engine is bolted to a 5-speed automatic transmission.

Both the V-6 and V-8 come standard with a 3.55 rear axle ratio. The 4.0L V-6 is made in Cologne, Germany. The 4.6L V-8 is made in Romeo, MI. The final assembly plant for the Explorer is Louisville, KY.

Body-on-frame

The Explorer has two body integrity and crashworthy items of notice. First, it uses a body-on-frame construction. New for 2006, the frame section is both taller and wider making it 63% more resistant to bending and 55% more resistant to twisting. At the front end, the frame now extends four inches forward for improved front impact protection.

Second, the Explorer has a right side gas tank fuel filler. Typically, rear crashes involve the left side of a parked police vehicle. A right side fuel filler is less likely to be dislodged by a left side impact.

The rear suspension uses a Short-Long Arm (SLA) suspension with a new “independent trailing blade” for better suspension control. The rear shocks are now monotube for a little less harshness and variable rate rear coil springs are used for greater load carrying capacity. The front suspension retains the same basic steering geometry, but has new control arms, a new bushing design and front monotube shocks.

The new Explorer uses a new power steering pump that has a firm feel (less boost) at higher speeds, but more boost at lower speeds. Ford calls this a “drooping flow” pump. It decreases parking lot speed steering effort by 15%. This added low speed assist is so effective, the new Explorer feels as if it has a tighter turning radius than the previous models. In fact, it is the same.

Tight turns at lower speeds are much easier. The low speed maneuvering feels more nimble. This is immediately noticed by climbing out of an older Explorer and into the new one, and just pulling out of the parking lot. This is an illusion, and a good one! The 2005 Explorer has a turning circle, curb to curb, of 36.8 feet. In comparison, the Ford CVPI is 40.3 feet.

For 2006, the brakes were redesigned with 15% thicker front rotors and larger diameter front brake pistons. The Explorer also has a revised brake pedal ratio for a more leveraged pedal feel. The Explorer has ABS, electronic brake force distribution and electronic brake assist.

Stability Control

One of the best aspects of the Explorer is stability control, which comes standard (and cannot be deleted for credit.) The Ford term is Roll Stability Control (RSC). This begins with ABS and all-speed traction control. Sensors for yaw and body roll are added. Yaw or side slip is the difference between where the vehicle is pointed versus where the steering wheel is pointed i.e., where the driver wants the vehicle to be pointed. Body roll is the leaning over on its springs as the vehicle makes a turn.

RSC senses yaw and roll, and it senses driver intent (steering wheel positions, gas pedal, brake pedal). If RSC detects excessive understeer (the vehicle under-responds to the steering wheel, plow, push, etc.) or it detects oversteer (the vehicle over-responds to steering, fish tail, back end comes around, etc.), the RSC activates.

In the case of understeer (plowing straight ahead) the RSC activates the inside rear brake. This pulls against the center of gravity of the vehicle to help turn the vehicle into the curve. In the case of oversteer (back end going wide) the RSC activates the outside front brake. This pushes the rear end of the vehicle back into line.

RSC allows the instant use of as much power and traction as the Explorer has...with no bad consequences. It allows some wheelspin and some sideslip, but not much. Traction control can be turned off with a push-button on the dash. However, RSC cannot be turned off.

We found the RSC to be the Explorer’s single best feature. There was never any worry about full throttle acceleration at any speed, on any portion of a road or on any road surface condition.

Of course the Traction Control “interferes” with the throttle! That is like saying ABS “interferes” with the brakes. And remember, this is a high roll center SUV, not a low center of gravity sedan. You definitely want both the traction control and the stability control to kick in quickly and take control of the vehicle.

RSC makes the Explorer easy and safer to drive hard for the average patrol. EVOC instructors and your department’s best drivers may find the RSC (and its integrated traction control) a little oppressive. However, the Explorer’s safety systems were not designed for the most skilled and attentive drivers. They were designed for the average driver, and that includes the average police officer.

In this regard, actual patrol is very different from a simulated pursuit. The Explorer is a special service SUV, not a pursuit sedan and not a racecar. The RSC is an extremely valuable safety feature.

New Interior

The interior of the new Explorer is roomier than the old model. Head, hip, shoulder, knee, leg and elbowroom are all perfectly acceptable for a uniformed officer wearing a full duty belt. Getting in and out of the Explorer is very easy to do...a simple step in and step out, easier than any police sedan.

The new interior ergonomics definitely take some time getting used to, for both Explorer and Ford CVPI drivers alike. The inside door release has moved from the front lower door panel (2005 model) to the front upper portion of the armrest on the door panel. This is very convenient.

However, the problem is the door pull handle has been moved from the arm rest (2005 model) to the front lower door panel where the old door release used to be. No grip area whatsoever exists near the arm rest. Don’t park next to the chiefs car the first time you exit a 2006 Explorer...you are guaranteed to ding his car with your door.

Not only is it extremely difficult to find and grab this door pull handle, due to its position closer to the door hinge, you have less than half the leverage in pulling the door closed. Side panel designs are a critical part of achieving the safest side impact ratings. Toward this goal, as much hardware as possible, i.e., the door opening latch, was moved forward in the door. This allowed more room in the rear of the door for foam padding to protect the occupant’s hips.

Ford has heard the voice of the customer, and a redesign of the door panel will be done for the 2007 model. The new design will have a hand grip built into the arm rest similar to the Ford CVPI.

The new Explorer also has a relocated turn signal stalk. It was moved from about 9 o’clock on the steering wheel to about 10:30 o’clock on the wheel. That may not seem like much, but it definitely takes getting used to.

The tilt wheel now uses the Euro friction lock design with the locking arm located under the steering wheel. We found this is extremely inconvenient to reach. If you can get in and out of the Explorer with the tilt wheel in the driving position, all is well. If you have to adjust the wheel each time you get in and out, you will absolutely hate this tilt lock design...especially if you have to get out quickly.

The new Explorer also has a new dash with a massive speedometer and a massive tachometer. Why such a huge speedo on a vehicle limited to 97 mph? Why such a huge tach on a 4x4 SUV?

The gauge you really need to see is the fuel gauge, especially on an SUV, and the new Explorer doesn’t have one. Oh, wait. There it is buried in the lower left portion of the tach. In fact, it looks like an extension of the tach dial. And it is just one inch long. The gauge is tiny, and depending on the stature of the officer, it is also partially hidden by the relocated turn signal stalk.

The seats have also been redesigned for more thigh support and have new contours. The front seat now has 1 inch more travel, with less legroom in the rear seat. The rear seats fold down to two levels, almost flat and absolutely flat...a clever seat hinge design. In the upright position, the rear passenger has “enough” legroom and plenty of headroom. At the rear end, the new Explorer has the split real glass and lift gate like the old Explorer. For 2006, the rear glass does not have a sheet metal surround.

The Explorer comes standard with a side (thorax) air bag. Side curtain airbags are optional. These airbags remain inflated for a full six seconds, since they are intended to provide protection for both side impacts and rollovers. This option is a real issue for officers who mount a prisoner partition or canine cage in the Explorer.

The side curtain air bag is not compatible with most back seat (second seat) prisoner or canine structures. The officer can still have side impact protection from the standard equipment air bag while the police aftermarket industry sorts out how to deal with side air curtains.

As an SUV, the Explorer has gobs of room for gear, 86 cubic feet to be exact with the rear seats folded flat. New for 2006, the luggage rack, is now optional. Law enforcement has virtually no need for the rack and it definitely interferes with mounting locations and brackets for the lightbar.

Floor Shifter

Most police fleet managers will not like one very standard feature of the new Explorer…the center console with floor shifter. This cannot be deleted. A column shifter is not available, period.

Havis-Shields and Jotto Desk to the rescue! Just after the Explorer was released for production, these two companies released their aftermarket police consoles that fully incorporate the obvious floor shifter. However, they also make room for switch controls, radio boxes, radar boxes, radio mic, cup holders and an armrest.

Don’t expect HVAC ducts to the rear, like the factory console. The rear partition would block the airflow anyhow. It is worth it to give up the air ducting to lower the height of everything else in the console. These are extremely valuable aftermarket options for police use.

Special Service Package

For 2006, the Special Service Package is actually a Vehicle Special Order (VSO) option, which is not found in the standard order books. The specifics of the Special Service Package were delayed due to the launch of the new generation Explorer. In the past, this package included a half-dozen different features. For mid-2006, this will be reduced to just the two core items needed for special police duty, 1) wiring prep package, i.e., running the wiring for lightbars to the roof, and 2) the radio noise suppression package.

For 2006, the interior lights can be fully suppressed via the panel dimmer control. As the control is moved upward, the lights get brighter. At the uppermost position, past the detent, the lights remain on. At the lowest position, past the detent, the interior lights remain off, even when the doors are open.

Driving Impressions

Our test vehicle had the second level, XLT trim and appearance package. The Special Service Package is based on the base level, XLS trim. Compared to the XLT in the photos, the XLS police vehicle will have a matte grey grille and bumpers. The police version will not have body side cladding or wheel-lip moldings.

Like the previous Explorers, the new version runs on 16-inch wheels and tires. The police Explorer will have 16-inch styled steel wheels, instead of machined aluminum wheels. And it will not have fog lamps integrated into the bumper.

Visibility from the driver’s seat is very good overall, but this varies. Visibility out the front and through the slender A-pillars is excellent. Visibility out the side and past the hefty B-pillars is very good. Visibility into the right and left blind spots and to the rear is only fair to good. The inside rear view mirror is small because the view out the rear glass is limited. The right and left outside rear view mirrors, however, are very good for their size. The hexagon shape makes the most of the mirrors, and, as a rule, makes up for the limited outside rear view.

As an SUV, the Explorer 4x4 has an obvious amount of ground clearance and plenty of off-road traction. The Explorer has dash push buttons for 4x4 Auto, 4x4 High and 4x4 Low, so it does have the 2-speed transfer case. We did a little gulch and gully driving in 4WD Low. It works just as any off-roader would expect. The Explorer is an awesome median crasher...and yes, of course, we did that dozens of times during traffic enforcement.

Revised Suspension

The Explorer uses a fully independent rear suspension, as it has since 2003. This greatly helps the ride over rough surfaces, broken pavement, railroad tracks, wavy roads compared to solid axle SUVs.

For 2006, the new trailing arm independent rear suspension seems to result in less body roll. In both emergency lane changes (quickly move over one lane) and in evasive maneuvers (quickly move over one lane then quickly move back) the Explorer handled very well. When pushed hard, the RSC kicked in to prevent the Explorer from excessive understeer or oversteer. Most vehicles oversteer, sometimes out of control, when evasive maneuvers are not done perfectly...and few officers other than EVOC instructors do it perfectly.

The Explorer is extremely stable at very high speeds. At wide-open throttle (97 mph), it tracked well and was responsive in lane changes without floating or feeling uneasy. During our 1400 miles, we drove on dry pavement, snow, mud, wet pavement, dirt, grass and gravel. The only common surfaces we didn’t get on were glare ice and sand.
Under all these conditions, and driving like a patrol officer, the RSC was a distinct benefit. We tried to get the Explorer in a slide or drift, and no matter the surface, it remained perfectly controlled. That will be good for the times that the driver does not intend to drift or slide, but road conditions or circumstances suddenly surprise the driver.

The new Explorer has a dramatically improved ride, and much, much better Noise, Vibration, Harshness (NVH) than the old Explorer. Officers currently issued Explorers notice the difference in ride quality immediately. This is not so evident by officers currently assigned to the Ford CVPI...because the Explorer 4x4 rides as well as the big sedan. It may even ride better and be quieter than the Ford CVPI, and this is from a 4x4 SUV!

Lots of Power

Smooth power is how we would describe the V-8 powered Explorer. Of course, the engine was responsive, but it was never harsh or with hard downshifts and lurches of power. Your canine will appreciate not being tossed around.

The 292 hp Explorer 4x4 is actually as fast to 60 mph as the 250 hp Ford CVPI. The 4.6L Explorer 4x4 is also faster to 60 mph than any other police package or special service package SUV. This is not just a low-end performer. The V-8 Explorer is also as fast to 90 mph as the Ford CVPI, and again, faster to this speed than any other 2WD or 4x4 police-oriented SUV.

The combination of nearly 300 hp and a 6-speed transmission meant the engine easily got to matched to the right gear for what the driver needed. Full throttle from a stop resulted in considerable hustle but no wheelspin, thanks to traction control. Downshifts to pass traffic were only as aggressive as the driver wanted, which is what you expect from a 6-speed trans.

The V-8 Explorer is speed limited to 97 mph, as are most special service package SUVs. This makes for a very unusual overtake experience. The Explorer accelerates quickly, like a pursuit sedan, right up to 97 mph, and then just sits at a steady 97 mph. The initial sensation for a veteran traffic cop will be “hurry up and wait.” However, from a larger perspective, around 100 mph is probably fast enough for a high centered, 4x4 SUV.

During our patrol, we were seldom hampered by the 97 mph top speed, even during traffic enforcement, since the catch time is so quick...and the turning radius is so short! We were able to make a textbook three-point turn on a two-lane road with no shoulders. No kidding.

Driving the Explorer in the Midwest in early winter gave us an opportunity to experience a wide variety of weather conditions. During our week with the SUV, we drove in light rain, a heavy downpour, warm and dry conditions, light snow, a sleet storm and during a high wind advisory with gusts up to 45 mph. We drove on everything from interstates to county gravel roads and, of course, the medians we cut during traffic enforcement varied from wet grass to wet mud.

We put 1,400 miles on the Ford Explorer in a wide combination of rural calls for service, four-lane traffic enforcement, interstate cruising and gridlock, rush-hour traffic. Our overall fuel economy was 15.1 mpg. This is a virtual match for the mileage we get under the same patrol conditions in the Ford CVPI. This 15.1-mpg compares favorably to the EPA figures for the 4x4 of 14 mpg City and 20 mpg Highway. In police use, the average mileage is 70% to 75% of the EPA City.

The 4.6L V-8 in 2WD has EPA ratings of 15 mpg City and 21 mpg Highway. Like the V-8 in 4x4, the 4.0L SOHC V-6 in the 4x4 drivetrain ALSO has an EPA rating of 14 mpg City and 20 mpg Highway. In 2WD, the V-6 has a 16 mpg City and 21 mpg Highway rating. For the V-6 powered Explorer 4x4, expect 17.1 mpg.

Overall, the Explorer remains an excellent special service package, non-pursuit 4x4. Big enough but not too big, fast enough but limited, and very comfortable for an off-road capable 4x4. With stability control standard, the Explorer is now the safest police-oriented SUV.

4.6L Explorer 4x4 Performance
(Courtesy of Michigan State Police)

Accel 0-60 mph         8.6 seconds

Accel 0-90 mph         18.6 seconds

Top Speed                97 mph

Brake from 60 mph     149.9 feet


Published in Police Fleet Manager, May/Jun 2006

Rating : 1.0


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