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Ford Explorer - 2005 SUV Buyer's Guide

by Martha Hindes

Ford Explorer
Ford Explorer

Since its introduction when most SUVs emphasized utility over style, Ford Explorer has been the truck-based sport utility that gave drivers a lot of both. An early Eddie Bauer edition with leather trim teased us with automobile-level luxury and a surprisingly comfortable ride at a time most competitors wore spartan trim and workhorse suspensions. Yet Explorer's gutsy off-road capability sent many wannabe imitators away in shame.

A subsequent new generation Explorer (and Mercury Mountaineer cousin) smoothed out any suggestion of rough edges for the pair, and the vehicle has continued on in its popularity-dominating path for the three years since. (Some harrowing real world handling maneuvers of it in the highlands of Arizona made a convincing argument that Ford had addressed some earlier maneuverability complaints. Its status as a top seller remains a boast that it fills the value bill as well, with prices from the high 20s to low 30s.)

For 2005, as Ford gets ready to launch a rejuvinated '06, both marques get refinement touches designed to keep its good looks, powerful performance and strength of purpose regardless of duty, with an emphasis on safety. AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control becomes standard with both marques for '05. The system controls engine power and braking for rollover avoidance. Anti-lock disk brakes on all wheels are standard, while there's an available "Safety Canopy" side curtain airbag system and tire pressure monitors. Steel door beams and front crush zone helped it win top offset impact safety ratings.

A new XLT appearance package adds 17-inch silver-painted cast aluminum wheels with matching step and roof rails, plus color combinations mating exterior colors with interior insets. All sound systems gained standard MP3 and Sirius Satellite radio capability during the year. Performance-wise, an independent rear suspension smooths out bumps, even during yeoman off-road duty. A powerful, available 4.6-liter V-8 (generating 239-HP and 282-lb. ft. of torque) can tow up to 7,000 pounds as a 4X2. The 4.0-liter, 210-HP V-6 (254-lb. ft. of torque) tows about 5,600 pounds max.

With seating for five or seven, roomy yet flexible cargo area, good road manners and a wealth of amenity choices from six trim levels we think this is still a great variety-laden staple.