Ford Explorer

What is It?
Ford 4.6-liter Modular V-8 239 horsepower/282 pound-feet 5R55W five-speed automatic

What We Like
The 4.6 Mod motor brings a refined combination of smoothness and power to the table, and we especially enjoy its long linear torque curve. There's plenty of grunt to pull a decent-size camper, and its SOHC valvetrain makes this a deep-breathing V-8. Having five gears allows the Explorer's engine to loaf at highway speeds, and with overdrive off, keeping trailer speeds at the double-nickel isn't a problem.

What We Don't Like
To be blunt, the Explorer's tranny is just about the worst part of this vehicle. During our evaluation, we were unimpressed with a transmission that continually hunted through the gears when under load; would free-spool when feathering the throttle, then slammed into gear as power was applied; would again free-spool for nearly five seconds when manually downshifting (allowing the SUV to gain momentum when engine braking was what was needed); and felt like it was absorbing a good portion of the 4.6-liter's power--something we've experienced with other Explorers. Also, if the engine developed its torque at a lower rpm, it would help the Explorer's acceleration when pulling a load.

How It Works
Ford's family of overhead-cam engines are known for their smoothness and eagerness to rev long and hard, and the 4.6-liter V-8 carries on that tradition. With its tall gearing, the V-8 doesn't even turn 2000 rpm at cruising speed, but stand on the throttle to pass a slow-moving vehicle, and the V-8 leaps into action. Ford's gem of an engine was unfortunately masked by its flaccid transmission. As Editor Mark Williams penned in the Explorer's logbook, "I can't tell if I should be impressed with the 4.6 V-8. I get the sense much of its power is being hidden by the trans."