Review and photos by
Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com
Jeep may have established the SUV segment with its Cherokee, but it was Ford who managed to popularize it with the Explorer, which first appeared in 1990 and quickly became the household name that it is today.
The fourth-generation model, introduced in 2006, wasn’t an all-new truck, but was rather an extensive update of the outgoing Explorer. It got a new, stronger frame and a redesigned version of the independent rear suspension first seen in the previous generation.
A 4.0-litre V6 engine remained as the base powerplant, while the optional 4.6-litre V8 was revised with new cylinder heads and a bunch more power. The V6 made a middling 210 horspower and 254 lb-ft of torque, while the V8 was good for 292 hp/300 lb-ft, increases of 53 hp and 18 lb-ft. The V6 was offered with a five-speed automatic transmission carried over from 2005, but the V8 got an all-new six-speed automatic.
In the U.S., buyers could choose a rear-wheel drive Explorer, but here in Canada, all were driven by all four wheels. Depending on the model, the system was either an automatic all-wheel drive system, or a true four-wheel drive set-up with low-range gearing. The Explorer could also be had with a third row of seating, for a total of seven places.
Explorer buyers who also wanted a bit of pickup truck utility could choose the Sport Trac, which had four doors and a short pickup bed on the back. It will be covered in its own used vehicle review.
Changes in 2007 were small, but included Ford’s making curtain airbags standard where they had been an option in 2006.
Partway into the 2008 model year, the Explorer gained a host of new standard and optional features, including SYNC communications system, voice-activated navigation, 20-inch wheels and a capless fuel filling system.
The Explorer has never exactly been a poster child for environmental considerations, and its fuel consumption ratings reflect that. At its worst, the numbers in 2006 were 16.7/11.4 L/100 km (city/highway) for the V6 model and 16.8/11.0 with the V8. Those figures improved steadily, though, to 16.2/10.9 L/100 km with the six-cylinder, in 2010; surprisingly, the V8 became the economy champ in the same year, rated at 15.2/10.3 L/100 km.
For all of its popularity, the Explorer doesn’t boast the strongest reliability record either, with Consumer Reports rating it average at best and well below average at worst.
Complaints of a rough-shifting six-speed transmission in early trucks was addressed by a Technical Service Bulletin that advised reprogramming the transmission control unit. (http://www.explorerforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=199183) It’s worth mentioning that Consumer Reports notes plenty more serious transmission problems in the previous-generation model, indicating that the five-speed transmission (the only one used up to 2005) isn’t terribly robust.
CR gives the 2006 Explorer its dreaded “black dot” (much worse that average) in the drive system category; the publication doesn’t provide any details, but in 2005, a similar rating referred to bad rear differentials and wheel bearings, so I’d watch for the same in the 2006-and-newer trucks.
The giveaway that something’s up with a wheel bearing is a groaning or grinding noise that, depending on how bad the bearing is, might at first sound like an excess of tire noise.
Beyond that, look for air conditioning systems that leak refrigerant, the chemical essential for creating cold air.
According to Canadian Black Book, used Explorer values range from $15,575 for a 2006 XLT model, to $41,650 for a 2010 Limited version (it came standard with the V8) with the optional second-row captain’s chairs, DVD entertainment system and navigation.
The possibility of problems with the five-speed transmission and the surprisingly efficient V8 engine (it’s at least as efficient as the six-cylinder, according to ratings) point to the V8 powertrain being the superior choice. The Explorer is also a big, heavy truck, and if you plan to use it for what its designers intended (towing/hauling heavy stuff), then the V8 will be far better suited. For a 2008 XLT model optioned up to the V8, Canadian Black Book suggests a value of $22,450. The Explorer’s closest competitor in just about all respects is the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is valued similarly but fares less favourably in reliability.
From the imports, try the Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner and Kia Borrego (new in 2009), all three of which are more expensive than the Ford. The Jeep Liberty and Nissan Xterra are smaller and can’t be had with V8 power, and none of the above are bulletproof, reliability-wise.
The Explorer is a nicely-designed truck, and appears to be reasonably dependable, too, at least with the V8 drive-train. The best part is its low resale values, which translate into affordability for used buyers. Keep in mind, though, that many car-based SUVs with six-cylinder engines will handily tow about 5,000 pounds and will probably return better fuel consumption when not doing so.
Look for an Explorer that comes with detailed service/maintenance records, and pay special attention to the transmission’s operation, watching out for rough shifting or untoward behaviour, regardless of which engine you’re after. Have a trustworthy mechanic look the truck over, too, and ask them for their opinion on the state of its rear differential and wheel bearings.
Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) September, 2010:
|Year||Model||Price today||Price new|
|2010||Explorer XLT V8||$33,400||$37,499|
|2009||Explorer XLT V8||$27,500||$37,499|
|2008||Explorer XLT V8||$21,450||$41,399|
|2008||Explorer XLT V8||$18,825||$40,899|
|2006||Explorer XLT V8||$16,175||$39,999|
The most comprehensive site I found was ExplorerForum.com, whose 2006-and-newer Explorer discussion section covers both “stock” and modified trucks. You’ll also find a section called Explorer 911! and one full of handy how-to threads. FordForum.org and FordForum.com both have Explorer sections, but they cover all model years, so finding information specific to one generation is a bit of a task.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005356; Units affected: 13,581 (includes other models)
2006: On certain vehicles, the windshield wiper motor may have been produced without grease applied to the output shaft gear. After a period of continuous use on the high-speed setting, lack of grease may cause the gear teeth to distort and/or fracture during operation, resulting in the loss of wiper function. Correction: Dealers will inspect and, if required, apply grease to the output shaft gear.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007133; Units affected: 3
2007: On certain vehicles, the steering gear attaching bolts may have been over-torqued during vehicle assembly, potentially weakening the bolts. If a steering gear attaching bolt fractures, there may be an audible noise at low speed and the steering wheel alignment may be off center. If both bolts were to break, the vehicle might not respond to steering inputs which could result in a loss of control and a crash causing injury or death. Correction: Dealers will replace the steering gear to frame attaching hardware.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007287; Units affected: 94
2008: On certain vehicles, the bolt securing the transmission oil cooler line fittings at the transmission may not have been sufficiently torqued during vehicle assembly. As a result, the bolt may loosen and the cooler lines may disengage from the transmission, causing a transmission fluid leak and loss of power to the drive wheels. If leaking transmission fluid contacts the catalytic converter, it may pose a risk of fire under certain conditions. Correction: Dealers will tighten the transmission cooler line attachment bolt.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2010122; Units affected: 1,458 (includes other models)
2010: On certain vehicles the manual recliner mechanisms may have gear plate teeth out of dimensional specifications which could result in limited pawl to gear plate tooth engagement and create additional movement to the seat back. Correction: Dealers will replace the affected front seat manual recliner mechanism (s).
Crash test results
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.
Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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