Faced with the well-defined stratification of the SUV market and a troubled marketplace, Ford has redesigned the '06 Explorer to entrench its position as the best-selling, traditional SUV. We say "traditional" to denote the body-on-frame construction that distinguishes most trucks and SUVs from their unibody bretheren. Unibody is not limited to cars anymore; however, many crossover SUVs like Ford's Escape are taking on car-like designs. But the Explorer has planted its roots deeper into the midsized, sturdy, and luxurious SUV segment that it has led for so long.

To do this, Ford tapped the soul of the ultimate utility vehicle: the pickup truck. In this case, its F-150 and burlier F-series cousins, which exemplify the corporate, workaholic ethic of the upscale hay hauler. Cosmetic cues on the new Explorer, like the grille, hint at its kinship with the F-series pickups. Other bold body-style notes (bumpers, lights, profile lines) illustrate the "tough" in the Explorer's design ethos of "tough luxury." As does the redesigned frame, which is based on the tube-through-tube frame of the F-150. This results in 63 percent more stiffness, which, teamed with stronger suspension and body mount attachment points and all-new front and rear IFS, we could feel as we rumbled through mountain roads and rutted fields during a test drive in Lake Placid, New York, with minimal body roll and good handling.

We drove an Explorer with a 292hp, 4.6L V-8 with three-valves per cylinder and an SOHC with variable timing. Mated to it was a six-speed automatic transmission. Riding with two people in the vehicle and no cargo, we never felt that the powertrain's dynamic duo lacked power, although we were surprised that it didn't seem to have a reservoir of grunt to overcome hills with anything more than competent grace. The SUV is rated to tow 7,300 pounds and haul 1,520 pounds of cargo. Ford touts its V-6's green credentials, saying it produces 74 percent less smog-forming emissions. We drove the Explorer in two-wheel drive, but it comes with the Control Trac four-wheel-drive system.

Inside, Ford emphasized the "luxury" part of its design mantra quite well. The interior inherits some of the F-150's DNA, with fit and finish that exceeds that of the '05 Explorers we've tooled around in. Aside from the leather seats with suede inserts that ensconced us during many hours of driving with no hint of discomfort, most notable was the quietness of the cab. Ford went to great lengths to reduce road noise, particularly in the rear seats, by tweaking the aerodynamics of the Explorer's side mirrors, laying high-tech sound-damping material, and using butyl rubber body mounts, among other things. The result is noticeable quiet that never hindered conversation in the front seats at highway speeds and even seemed to hint at an echo. Power-fold, 50/50 rear-row seating, and 60/40 or bucket seat (depending on model) second-row seating fold down flat, and an in-dash navigation system got us to where we needed to go.

Thankfully, we never had the opportunity to test the Explorer's expanded safety features. Most interesting was the adaptive airbag venting that ties in with seat sensors that measure the size of passengers. This allows the airbags to inflate just enough to cushion small passengers without overwhelming them or to capture the greater mass of a large passenger.

Ford tried hard to keep its SUV standard bearer at the front of a crowded procession of midsized SUVs. From our brief encounter with it, this Explorer looks like a worthy contender. Look for more Truckin' coverage of Ford's '06 Explorer, coming soon. - Mark Halvorsen (exterior photos by Mark Halvorsen, interior photo courtesy of Ford)

'05 Envoy Denali XLTurnkey luxury. Those are the best words to describe the new '05 GMC Envoy Denali XL. GM's standard Envoy is no slouch in the comfort department, but the XL Denali model takes luxury, style, and drivability to a whole new level. For 2005, GMC stepped up to the plate and stuffed a 5.3L V-8 under the hood for a stout powertrain linked to a four-speed automatic overdrive. Our liquid-silver metallic tester featured XM Satellite radio, providing more than 130 channels of cruising entertainment. As we sunk into the confines of the leather interior, the onboard navigation unit kept our desired course, while rays of sunshine poured in from overhead courtesy of a power sunroof. The Bilstein shocks and load-leveling suspension ironed out the wrinkles in various rough spots and made the Truckin' staff want to run for the nearest GMC dealership. Electric, adjustable pedals ensure anyone who wishes to hop behind the wheel can set the vehicle up for their individual comfort. For those occupying the back of the bus, GMC tossed in rear-seat audio controls as well as rear A/C and heat controls for maximum comfort.

This stunning SUV package rolls on 17x7-inch polished aluminum wheels clothed in P245/65R17 all-season tires and comes to a quick stop with four-wheel antilock disc brakes. With a 15-mpg city and 20-mpg highway rating, the Envoy Denali XL could successfully pass a few gas stations on the way to that favorite vacation destination, and with a 300hp, eight-cylinder beast under the hood, lugging the toys shouldn't be a problem.

Our impression of the Envoy Denali XL was, without a doubt, a lasting one. The tight, smooth and powerful drivetrain delivered a top-notch driving experience, and the brakes and suspension were intact to make the whole package work. All the controls were conveniently placed, keeping the driver where his or her eyes should be: on the road. Exterior-wise, the lines are generally pleasing, but we could do without the excessively large luggage rack and molded-in running boards. The polished Denali-style mesh grille lends a high-tech touch to the front end. This is one factory SUV the staff here at Truckin' will be keeping our eyes on. - Travis Noack (photos by Travis Noack)

Attention!
Proform, a maker of engine performance upgrades, received an e-mail from a customer that it couldn't resist. It read: "I am 1st Sgt. James Hamm of I Company, 4-159th Aviation Regiment, the largest aviation maintenance unit in Iraq. We're currently deployed at Balad Air Base, where we have an older Chevy flatbed truck that we use to move people, tools, and parts. Our fleet is moving toward diesel, and this Chevy has more storage capacity to carry tools and test equipment than our Hummers. This truck is not in the Army supply system because we inherited it from the Air Force. I am using funds collected from the mechanics of my company to keep this vehicle rolling, and the reason I'm e-mailing is to see if Proform has an HEI distributor you could sell us. Otherwise, we have to walk up and down a 2-mile flightline, where we support 152 helicopters.

Proform shipped an all-new HEI distributor to the regiment and a Proform banner. The soldiers replied by sending images of themselves with their CH-47 Chinooks, a unit patch, and a certificate of appreciation.

Water Sports Behind the Scenes
GM Vortec is now sponsoring The Vortec Power Hour on Outdoor Life Network. The program features the best in wakeboarding and waterskiing and takes viewers on a behind-the-scenes tour of the lifestyle, its personalities, and the events of these two sports.

The Reaper Is My Copilot
Ever wonder which trucks and SUVs are more likely to kill you? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a report in March 2005 that ranked the lethality of vehicles based on the number of driver deaths that occurred between 2000 and 2003. The average was 87 driver deaths per million model years. Here are the report's deadliest trucks and SUVs and the safest, by driver deaths per million model years. (The rates are the number of driver deaths per million registered vehicle years. Two vehicles registered for 12 months each yield 2 vehicle years.)

HIGHEST
Chevrolet Blazer two-door 308
Kia Sportage four-door 197
Chevrolet Blazer four-door 190
Ford Explorer two-door 187
Mazda B-series 185
Chevrolet Tracker 183
Chevrolet S-10 182
Kia Sportage four-door 162
LOWEST
Toyota 4Runner 12
Lexus RX 300 17
Toyota RAV4 18
Nissan Pathfinder 25

Made in the USA
Edelborck's history is closely tied to that of the automotive aftermarket, and a new book by journalist Tom Madigan tells that story. Edelbrock: Made in the USA tracks the company, the aftermarket, and racing from the company's founding in the late '30s to today, touching on personalities like Wally Parks, Alex Xydias, Ed Iskendarian, Ed Pink, and, of course, Vic Edelbrock Sr. This book is available at www.truckinweb.com

Number Crunch
168
The average horsepower of passenger vehicles in 1994.

227
The average horsepower of passenger vehicles in 2004.

$9.6billion
The projected sales of wheels, tires, and suspension products in 2007.

$4,000
The cost of wheels, tires, and a suspension kit.

70,314;
149,281;
183,430
The number of Toyota RAV4s, Honda CRVs, and Ford Escapes sold in 2004.

10%
The amount by which GM wants to cut its North American production, as of July

500,000
what that percentage translates to in vehicles per year.

1,400
The number of people employed by American Racing, the venerable automotive aftermarket company that was bought in July by the acquisition firm Platinum Equity from Falconbridge Limited, a Canadian mining company.

SOURCE
Aim