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2006 ICOTY Vehicle Nominees
by Martha Hindes

SUV of the Year - 2006 Ford Explorer

If you were going to make a better Ford Explorer, what would you change? Everything, is the answer you'd get from the folks at Ford. Ford credits Explorer some 16 years ago as creating the original midsize SUV segment as a true, total-use vehicle with comfort as well as rugged, off-road bounce. (The early Eddie Bauer edition lent unexpected luxury and finesse.) In its trip to the winner's podium for ICOTY honors, Ford credited its success on a major Explorer redo for 2006. Despite a total overhaul some four years ago, a bumper crop of newly emerging rivals and revitalized existing ones was a reason.

Ford wasn't about to let its crown as mid-size SUV leader slip despite some 200 potential rival vehicles nibbling at its tire treads. So it added more power, better fuel economy, enhanced safety features, lower emissions, a quieter interior, improved towing capability for workhorse duties and handsome exterior updates. Among those changes were two improved engines for Explorer that take performance tweaks from Mustang and the full-size F-150 pickup truck. The segment's first six-speed automatic paired with a new, 4.6-liter, 292-HP V-8, gives optimum ratios during gear changes for better performance while boosting fuel economy as much as 10 percent. It took a major balancing act to get everything just right without sacrificing something along the way. The result? Judges agreed this was one fine Explorer, with improved handling, smashing good looks and a ride as comfortable as a car, despite its rugged-terrain credentials.


SUV of the Year - 2006 Range Rover

There's always a little bit of a chunky look with any Land Rover front end. The Range Rover Sport is no exception. That's not an oversight, of course, but is in deference to a longstanding family characteristic that has made it recognizable during millions of miles of travel through dense jungles, a parched African veldt or wending its way through ancient European cities or younger American ones. Take away that slightly blunted front and you lose what is quintessentially the essence of anything Land Rover. Anything lesser might look odd.

That doesn't mean it's stuck in the past. Indeed, present day Range Rovers (and other Land Rover kin) have evolved into handsome specimens, with thoroughly incredible technology underpinnings and some near-decadant luxuries, such as harman/kardon LOGIC7 technology for “surround sound” audio/entertainment/DVD-based navigation/SIRIUS satellite radio, or two-level front and rear seat heating. (Roughing it, indeed.) But now, adding to its renowned reputation for gutsy endurance and caution-be-damned charisma, it adds performance SUV to its stature.This high-performance rendition rides on a supercharged 4.2-liter, 390-bph V-8, or naturally aspirated 4.4-liter 300-bhp V-8. Suspension changes add flat cornering, improved control and some “wow” handling especially in “sport” performance mode with manual override, in addition to the expected all-terrain qualifications that made it famous. It's gusto and agility in a ruggedly handsome outdoor face.

Honorable Mentions:

Nissan Xterra
Combine X-treme (as in sports) and Italian "Terra" for earth, and you get an idea of the Nissan Xterra's capabilities. The newest version is even more so. There's no doubt the 265-horsepower, 4.0-liter sport utility with manual or automatic trans and advanced off-road system was made for serious dirt haulin' driving. Based on Nissan's full-size, hefty-duty truck platform, efficiencies rule, with easy clean floor and room for four with gear. New to the family: An entry-level X model for fledgling off-road intenders.

Most Sex Appeal/Sports Car
Pontiac Solstice

Most Spirited/Entry-Level
Audi A3

Most Compatible/Minivan
Honda Odyssey

Most Versatile/Crossover
Dodge Magnum SRT 8
Most Respected/Luxury Car
Mercedes-Benz CLS500

Most Resourceful/SUV
Ford Explorer / Range Rover Sport

2006 ICOTY Awards Links