2016 Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
The new Ford Explorer Platinum more than holds its own against luxury brand SUVs
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Ford Research and Buyers Guide
The Ford Explorer was the poster child for the SUV boom of the 1990s, and was Ford's biggest hit for many years. Twenty five years later, it's still with us -- but is a very different vehicle. And much better.
The original Explorer was a classic pickup-based body-on-frame utility vehicle at heart. Its convenient size and urban-suburban comfort and style orientation made it a raging success. Unlike other SUVs of the day, the Explorer was not primarily designed and built for rugged offroad use, or at least fantasies of such use. It quickly became the category benchmark. And has continued to evolve away from its truck origins, getting fully-independent suspension and then unibody construction, for ever more car-like driving characteristics and comfort. If an Explorer really couldn't navigate the toughest backwoods trails, Explorer buyers -- seven million of them -- didn't care. They had other uses and needs in mind.
I first drove the latest Explorer, introduced for 2011, back in model year 2013. It was a revelation. As much as the previous Explorers had improved in their manners from the original's overly-soft ride and sometimes dicey handling, this one, in Sport trim, felt like one of the European-brand sport crossovers. Add the 3.5-liter turbocharged "EcoBoost" V6 and it held its own against them in performance as well. I went into my time with it prepared to be unimpressed. That was not how I left.
2016 sees the biggest changes to the current-generation Explorer. If at a quick glance it doesn't look any different, check your vision. Front and rear styling have been changed ever so slightly. Under the hood, the previous 290-horsepower naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter V6 and 365-hp 3.5-liter EcoBoost turbo V6 engines are familiar, but the 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo four has been replaced by the 2.3-liter equivalent found in the Mustang. Result? 280 horsepower, an insignificant decrease from the 3.5, and 310 lb-ft of torque, an extra 55. And 40 horsepower and lb-ft more than the old 2.0, for improved passing ability. With no fuel economy penalty. For the first time, the four-cylinder Explorer is rated for towing, with a 3000-pound capacity.
The other change in the lineup is at the top end, with the debut of the new Platinum model. Ford claims that 90 percent of Explorer Sport buyers already went for the most expensive packaging offered, so no surprise. The Platinum has everything the upscale buyer might want or need as standard equipment -- the full range of comfort, infotainment, and safety features. Options are limited to second-row bucket seats instead of a bench, and a console between the bucket seats. Power is from the EcoBoost V6, in multi-mode single-range four-wheel drive form.
And that is this week's test car. Yes, it really is a car in purpose, use, design, and construction. And comfort and handling. That pickup ancestor is in the distant past -- today's Explorer, especially in Platinum trim, feels like a good sedan, but with more room and cargo/passenger versatility, although I doubt that many Platinum models will be used for carrying large, possibly wet, dirty, or grimy things. This one had the second-row buckets and console, both praised by passengers. Such a configuration is less than optimal for carrying large items -- but with a 5,000-pound towing capability, use a trailer. This is a luxury car at heart -- with all of the comforts and conveniences that implies -- and differs from a "real" -- ie: luxury brand -- equivalent only in the nameplate. It combines the powertrain of the Sport with the opulence of the Limited and then some, with a suspension calibration between that of the two as an added benefit. With very good road manners, plenty of power, and no shortage of space, comfort, and convenience, the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum is a fine luxury vehicle.
APPEARANCE: Differences between last year's Explorer and this year's are evolutionary. The hood, front fenders, grille, and lower fascia are just a bit different, with the lights and grille reshaped, and (LED) foglamps resembling their counterparts on the latest F150 - which is as close to a pickup truck as the Explorer gets. The tailgate and taillights have changed a small amount as well. The Platinum model gets a unique satin-chrome grille plus satin chrome finish on its door handles, roof rails, lower side trim, and tailgate applique plus 20-inch alloy wheels.
COMFORT: All the comforts of home? More than in my home… At premium Platinum level, everything is expected. And everything is included, subject only to second-row configuration. Leather is used for seating surfaces and door, instrument panel, and console trim, with aluminum-bound wood trim on the doors and instrument panel. The leather part of the wood-and-leather steering wheel rim is heated, as are the front and second-row bucket seats. Front seat comfort is very good, and both have an active massage feature. Anything that can be powered is, meaning windows, steering wheel, pedals, and panoramic moonroof. Plus the foot swipe-activated tailgate. So no problem for anyone to get the perfect driving position. Instrumentation is bright and easily visible, with no glare problems. The steering wheel has controls for audio, information, and cruise systems. With the optional buckets, which are heated but manually-adjustable -- including about four inches of fore-and-aft travel -- passengers get comfort levels close to the front, plus climate controls and ceiling vents. There is plenty of storage in both consoles, plus more around the cabin. Third-row seats can be put up or down remotely, powered of course, and are best for children or small adults. Cargo capacity varies with second- and third-row use. A space-saver spare is under the rear cargo area. The tailgate may be opened by a foot swipe underneath with fob in pocket or purse, useful when hands are full. Power closing is a good feature for shorter people.
SAFETY: The 2016 Explorer Platinum has four-star ratings from NHTSA for driver frontal and rollover crash performance and gets five stars for front passenger protection. Passengers are protected by the usual airbags, plus blind-spot and cross-traffic alert, a lane-keeping system, and collision warning with brake support. Strong four-wheel vented disc brakes and the AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control electronic stability management system provide active safety, as do excellent road manners for a vehicle of its type.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The Platinum's fully-independent MacPherson strut / multilink suspension is calibrated a bit more softly than the Sport's, but not by much. It's still surprisingly pleasant to drive on a narrow, winding mountain road. Yes, and Explorer is not small, but neither is it overly wide and long. Which is good on a narrow road, or in narrow lanes of construction zones, or when parking. Which here can be helped by the Enhanced Active Park Assist system that can park parallel or perpendicular. Driver's hands off the wheel, but the driver is responsible for braking and it doesn't works for diagonal parking. Steering effort is appropriate, not too light. Body roll is minimal -- long gone are the tippy, soft things of the mid-90s -- and correctly-matched spring and damper rates and quality dampers mean a pleasant driving experience. Vented antilock discs at all corners stop the near-5,000 pound Explorer well. The "Intelligent 4WD With Terrain Management" system is transparent in operation. Long gone are the days of getting out and locking hubs in the mud, or stopping to shift into 4-lo. Here a switch on the console is used for Normal, Sand, Snow/Grass/Gravel, and Mud/Ruts modes, with torque delivery and throttle, brake, and transmission control and the stability control all modified to keep life pleasant.
PERFORMANCE: No V8? No worry! With maximum 365 horsepower (at 5500 rpm) and 350 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm, the high-tech V6 handily beats the 4.6-liter V8 that was in its ancestor I tested back in 2006. 292 hp, 300 lb-ft, 16 mpg, 0-60 in 8.0 seconds then. Now? More power, similar size and weight, 0-60 in 6.5 seconds, and 18 mpg. Credit Ford's EcoBoost concept, which combines direct fuel injection for maximum efficiency with turbocharging for power on demand and efficiency when that power is not needed. A couple of days of mostly city driving saw 14 to 15 mpg. Two hundred miles of mostly highway -- but rarely straight and never level -- plus mountain roads brought it up to 19. Then back down to 18 with more city, still not bad for a 5,000-pound, 365-hp "SUV".
CONCLUSIONS: The 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum more than holds its own against brand-name luxury SUVs.
2016 Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD
Base Price $ 52,970
Price As Tested $ 55,155
Engine Type DOHC 24-valve turbocharged aluminum alloy V6 with direct fuel injection
Engine Size 3.5 liters / 213 cu. in.
Horsepower 365 @ 5500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 350 @ 3500 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 112.8 in. / 198.3 in.
Curb Weight 4890 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 13.4
Fuel Capacity 18.6 gallons gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular acceptable, 91 octane unleaded premium for best performance
Tires 255/50R20 105H Hankook S1 Noble m+s
Brakes, front/rear vented disc all around, ABS and AdvanceTrac standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink
Ground Clearance 7.8 inches
Drivetrain transverse front engine, full-time all-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 16 / 22 / 18
0 to 60 mph est 6.5 sec
Towing Capacity 5000 lbs.
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Ruby Red Metallic paint $ 395
Second-row bucket seats $ 695
Second-row console $ 150
Destination Charge $ 945
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