Tow Vehicles: Chevrolet TrailBlazer vs. Ford Explorer

These versatile performers account for more than one of every four new vehicles sold in America.
In the vanguard of this driving revolution are two of America’s favorite mid-sized SUVs, Ford’s best-selling Explorer and Chevrolet’s pace-setting TrailBlazer. Both of these vehicles got the full make-over treatment for the 2006 model year, including serious power increases. Here’s a look at the highlights of these new snowmobile tow vehicles.

Chevrolet TrailBlazer
The new TrailBlazer SS is the first SUV to wear the historic bow-tie performance designation. But unlike other high-performance trucks, it does not sacrifice snow-season capability for quarter-mile numbers.

At the heart of the TrailBlazer SS is a Corvette-derived LS2 6.0-liter V-8 engine that cranks out 395 hp and 400 pound-feet of torque. Also featuring a new HydraMatic 4L70E four-speed automatic overdrive transmission and a 4.10-differential, this impressive power package is available in an all-wheel drive version that is rated to tow up to 6,500 pounds. Premium fuel is recommended, but not required.

The $5,195 SS package also includes 20-inch wheels, tire pressure monitors, and a racetrack-tuned suspension with stiffer springs that drops ride height 1 inch from other TrailBlazer models. An SS instrument cluster, bucket seats with side bolsters, and upgraded trim are found inside.

The SS is easy to recognize with its sleek exterior styling and monochrome color treatment in black, white, silver or blue. But that’s not the only powerful news for the TrailBlazer.
For 2006, the mainstream LS and LT models get an optional Vortec 5300 5.3-liter V8 that was only available in the larger TrailBlazer EXT. Featuring Displacement On Demand (DOD) technology that saves gas by shutting down some cylinders when not needed, it cranks out 300 hp and 330 pound-feet of torque.

The standard Vortec 4200 4.2-liter high-tech I-6 engine also gets a performance boost to 291 hp and 277 pound-feet of torque. Both engines use the HydraMatic 4L60E four-speed overdrive automatic transmission and have towing capacities of 6,500 pounds and 6,100 pounds, respectively, with four-wheel drive.

All 2006 TrailBlazer models have an enhanced quiet package, a revised brake system with low-drag calipers and a single radio antenna for OnStar and XM Satellite radio. The StabiliTrak electronic stability control system is now standard across the board. The LT and EXT LT have new front and rear-end visual treatments.

Ford Explorer
For 2006, the blue oval brand has changed just about everything but the name on its best-selling Sport Ute. But more power is the biggest news from Ford.
The new motivator is an optional 4.6-liter single overhead cam (SOHC) V8 with variable timing on its three valves per cylinder. This variant of the Mustang GT power plant produces 292 hp and 300 pound-feet of torque. It is backed up with the first six-speed automatic overdrive transmission in this vehicle segment.

This transmission allows the engine to spend more time in its optimum power band at peak power for pulling or at peak efficiency for fuel mileage. Therefore, this $1,200 engine and transmission upgrade is expected to deliver about 10 percent better fuel economy than its lower-powered predecessor.

An updated SOHC 4.0-liter V6 remains the standard engine, but it now meets the Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle II standard.It is matched to a five-speed automatic overdrive transmission.

The 2006 Explorer is built on an all-new and much stiffer frame that improves ride quality and steering response while reducing interior noise levels. New independent suspensions at both ends combine with an improved braking system for better overall feel on the road. Tow ratings now top out at 7,300 pounds for the V8 and 5,390 pounds for the six-cylinder version.

The revised interior picks up the “tough luxury” theme of Ford’s new F-150 pickup. Tire pressure monitors are standard, while a navigation system and Sirius satellite radio are options.

On the outside, everything is new forward of the windshield, including three distinct grilles that help define the XLS, XLT, Eddie Bauer and the luxurious Limited models. The back end has also been restyled.

AdvanceTrac with roll stability control is standard on all models. Options on various models include 17- or 18-inch wheels. Just don’t forget to specify the four-wheel drive variant, because that’s a $2,225 option. Ford has reduced Explorer base prices across the board, though.

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