I'm guessing the misspell on "Explorer" was intentional there.
Me and my stepdad both have a '96 model Ford truck. He's got an I-6 F-150 R/CAB 2WD, and I've got an I-4 Ranger R/CAB 2WD.
Wanna know the secret that combats the high-mileage and exempts them from your "junky Ford" stereotype? They're both rather small engines, and their both manual transmissions. This magical combination means that all we have to do is replace clutch and manual transmission fluid every so often, engine oil every 3 K miles, watch the differential fluid, keep the radiators filled with water, (and occasionally use some anitfreeze when we know we're going a long ways for the extra cooling it brings, but the outside temperature rarely drops below freezing here), change out the spark plugs every year, watch the belts to make sure they're not cracking, and those suckers will last us a long, long time.
I'm not a fan of large engines or automatic transmissions. A 6-cylinder, (pretty much any configuration, though a V-6 is what I've got more experience on), is plenty of power to haul the heaviest thing we've got to tow, (which is my Dad's WhiteWater bay boat). Also, automatic transmissions have a nasty habit of overheating when towing, unless you buy the truck installed with a transmission cooler.
Pretty much, "stick" with a standard. Better gas mileage, (when you drive it like you're supposed to, and not like a Duke), and more longevity. Their not that hard to drive, either, although it gets tricky when you have to pull out on an incline. I just use my parking brake, (not the best method, but it works). I've seen hand throttle controls before that rest atop the shifter than you can control when you need to use the brake, clutch, and gas all at the same time. But that was for a Jeep.
Back on topic, I would still definitely go for the Impala, but if you're considering an import, here's my (limited) advice.
Go with a Toyota. My mom's owned a Corolla since it was brand new and now it just pushed over 100 K miles... and there's been NOTHING wrong with that car. There was some crap where a guy at the service station didn't adjust the headlights correctly, and we had to get that fixed along with a crack in the windshield, but that's it.
If you're into more "flare" than a Corolla, obviously Toyota makes more than only Corollas. I saw a Corolla driving down the road before, though, and heard the telltale whine of a turbocharger once, though. So keep that in mind. There are obviously racing parts available for it.
Don't have much knowledge on imports beyond that, though. My sister's got a used Civic, but I don't know crap about it yet.