"What a difference," is the comment we recall most. It was an unsolicited complement for last year's redesign of the Ford Explorer, one of the grand-daddys of the midsize sport utility segment that cast a long shadow and forced just about every other car maker to eventually follow. For 2007, with a year of the redesign under its belt, Ford has turned more to upgrades, leaving dramatic Explorer news flashes for its Sport Trac pickup edition.
With the true SUV version, look for exterior and interior tweaks for '07. On the safety side, the upmarket Eddie Bauer and Limited Explorers now have Ford's side curtain "Safety Canopy" airbag system as standard equipment (available on XLT), a reason the vehicle won top government impact safety honors last year.
Power running boards are available on Eddie Bauer or Limited versions. And all series get optional heated windshields. There's a trio of new exterior clearcoat metallics, with Carbon and White Sand Tri-Coat joining the eye-catching Orange Frost highlighting the special, new Ironman package. That includes Ironman logos, 18-inch machined aluminum wheels and 10-way, leather-trimmed heated front seats to highlight Ford's Ironman World Championship sponsorship.
Inside, an optional rear seat DVD has a larger, eight-inch screen and standard audio input jacks. High-end trims include "Preferred Suede" seat inserts, contrast stitching, wood trim and, says Ford, the first ever DVD nav system (now available on all models) to "speak" upcoming street names with its text-to-speech programming.
Explorer highlight functionality over fleeting trends, says Ford, with solid, off-road credentials, and a max ability to haul cargo or tow thanks to ultra stiff frame joints. Three trims -- XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited -- come in 2X4 or 4X4 versions. Newly standard equipment for the Limited are auxiliary air conditioning, Reverse Sensing System and 18-inch machined aluminum wheels.
A segment-first six-speed automatic mates with the optional 4.6-liter V-8 for 292-horsepower. That keeps the engine in its optimum powerband for top fuel economy. A standard 4.0-liter V-6 meets ultra low emissions standards. Look for pricing in the $26,000 base range, and best fuel economy of 15/21.