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Ford Explorer: Interior Shortcomings Spotlight Distractions at Ford

Posted by: David Kiley on September 29, 2006


It took me this long to drive a 2006 Ford Explorer because I only went back on the car beat last May. I had heard from peers of mine that Ford did a great job on it. To a degree, that’s true. It’s smooth riding and well appointed inside.

But the SUV has such a basic flaw, it makes me wonder what goes on in the Dearborn studios. I sit behind the wheel, and right away I notice that my left leg is having a hard time finding a comfortable place. I move the seat all aroound in its numerous positions. No good. The door handle is incomprehensibly placed below the door-opener and the arm-rest (which should have an integrated handle). And there is an annoying hard plastic map/flotsam pocket in the door with a bulging and useless cupholder. Between the useless handle and the useless cup-holder, a trip of just 1 hour and fifteen minutes was a drag. Why on earth Ford didn’t just give us a hand-hold integrated into the arm-rest??I daresay it would have been cheaper AND better.

I had been hearing anecdotally from dealers and other journalists that dealers had been reporting losing Explorer sales specifically to the stupid handle that you can’t grab without contorting your wrist. I can believe it now.

What were they thinking?

The ride of the Explorer is very good for an SUV. But the designers and packagers seem to have forgotten that a great many people buy an Explorer, especially with the third row of seats, as a substitute for a minivan. And minivans should be vehicles that sacrifice a little design candy in favor packaging smarts.

And one more thing…the single greatest feature on this vehicle, as well as the Range Rovers, is the dashboard readout that gives you a constant measure of your average fuel economy. With most of our driving being city/suburban driving, it’s a great wake-up call to see a constant reading, in the case of the Explorer, of 15mpg. It gets 20 mpg on the highway. But in mixed driving, I only got as high as 15.1 mpg. The Land Rover LR3 never got above 14 mpg in my test drive a few months ago.

I wonder if the other thing working against Explorer is word-of-mouth by owners who tell their friends about how awful it is to see the constant mpg read-out staring them in the face.

Reader Comments


September 30, 2006 3:28 AM

Any vehicle getting 14 mpg average would seem to be a prime candidate for a hydrogen conversion whenever that option becomes available. The rumour in Britain is that only Arabs buy the new LandRover LR3 due to its propensity to swallow gasoline like the stuff is free. Thats right for them it is. For fuel consumption comparison try a diesel engine if they are allowed in your neck of the woods; after all 4x4's are really off-road vehicles unless you live at the top of a hill and you need all that traction control in winter snow. Why not buy a new house instead. It may be cheaper.

Dave T

October 11, 2006 1:04 PM

No, perhaps the biggest negative impact on Ford Explorer sales are the barrage of biased reviews like this one which focus on utterly trite issues. The Explorer has practically no competition in its class. It has the same engine as the Mustang GT, a 6 speed auto transmission, fully independent rear suspension and Ford's innovative roll stability control. The frame on this Explorer is about 70% stiffer than the previous generation Explorer and it feels very solid and stable on the road. It is also one of the quietest vehicles anywhere. The vehicle is simply awesome! And people aren't buying it because of a door handle and or a couple holder??? Newsflash - those people weren't buying it anyway. The door handle, by the way, is very ergonomic so I don't even have a clue what you are talking about. I guess people in the auto media aren't going to be satisfied until everybody is driving a boring, underpowered Toyota, which incidently, has had a pretty atrocious quality record this year... But maybe they have better door handles.

Dave T

October 13, 2006 2:02 PM

I posted a comment 2 days ago - what is taking so long to post it?

Explorer Owner

February 7, 2008 7:15 PM

As an owner of the 2002 edition I feel the need to chime in here.

The door handle/cup holder is not the best design, but not a big deal either. I DO find the cup holder bumpout allows the head of a D-cell mag light to fit in that door pocket.

I find it totally unacceptable the high number of small anoying issues we've had with the vehicle. Dome lights staying on after the doors close, ABS system malfunctioning, Air Bag sensors malfunctioning, etc. All minor electrical glitches. All can be fixed, but are time consuming, costly and anoying. I haven't had any major issues like the tranny going out or the engine blowing a gasket...

Speaking of engines- The first company who GETS IT and drops a small Diesel 6 cyl. or bigger 4 cyl. Diesel into their offerings will get some serious business. New Diesel technology is MUCH cleaner and WAY more fuel efficient as compared to a gasser. Biodiesel is also a better option as compared to ethenol.

My TDI Jetta is a blast to drive as compared to the domestic offerings I've owned in the past. Plus it gets 46-50MPG depending on how I drive. Stick that in your prius and smoke it!

Steve J

June 24, 2008 10:20 PM

I own a 06 Ford Exp. and the truck meets all my needs. I have 2 sons, a 5 mth old and a 2 yr old and with family back in Detroit this truck (w/4WD capibility when wet) makes trips home smooth, comfy and accomadating. The DVD entertainment sys. is user friendly and can be controlled by the driver, And space is never an issue. I fill up in the NW suburbs of Chicago and thats gets me there with a little under 1/4 tank. You can't beat that even with high gas prices. And the truck is so damn sporty!!

Mike M

February 24, 2009 7:11 PM

This is my first SUV and I do admit I would prefer to have the interior door handle in the position where it has been moved for newer models. The salesman at the dealer explained that the '06 was released this way as a side impact safety precaution. The 6 cylinder engine has plenty of torque in the low gears but in heavy wind, I would probably prefer the 8 cylinder for highway driving. I'm not sure what drivers of the japanese counterparts would say about the power here. I did recently let my friend drive it and he admitted that the advanced 5 speed transmission helped make up for any power inadequacies. Consequently he had recently bought an 8 cyl. GMC Envoy (his wife works for GM). He seemed almost envious of the overall driving and suspension capabilities and if you want a third row in a GM vehicle you'd have to buy a Tahoe or Yukon. Way too big and expensive in this economy. He commented on how the interior was far superior to the Envoy. The '06 explorer is the perfect offering between the Envoy and Tahoe and I absolutely love mine. I would recommend a test drive to anyone in the market for a new SUV.

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