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2016 Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD Review By John Heilig

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By John Heilig
Senior Editor
Mid-Atlantic Bureau
The Auto Channel

MODEL: 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD
ENGINE: 3.5-liter Ecotec V6
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with SelectShift
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 365 hp @ 5,500 rpm/350 lb.-ft. @ 3,500 rpm
WHEELBASE: 112.8 in.
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 198.3 x 78.9 x 71.0 in.
TIRES: P255/50R20
CARGO: 21.0/43.9/81.7 cu. ft. (3rd row seatbacks up/down/2nd row seatbacks folded)
ECONOMY: 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway/16.3 mpg test
FUEL TANK: 18.6 gal.
CURB WEIGHT: 4,571 lbs.
COMPETITIVE CLASS: Acura MDX, Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee
STICKER: $54,760 (includes $945 destination, $845 options (2nd row bucket seats and console)
BOTTOM LINE: When it comes to standard SUVs, the Ford Explorer stands with the best of them. It is large and solid and offers great ride quality.

When I started on this journey more than 32 years ago, the first vehicle I tested was a Ford Bronco II. This was what we would now call a mid-size SUV with two doors and a manual transmission.

The successor to the Bronco II was the four-door Ford Explorer, introduced in 1991, and which has grown a bit over the years. I remember the first Explorers as being mid-sizeish and comfortable.

The 2016 version of the Explorer (or the Exploder as it’s called internally because of its sales success) seems large, although there is also the Expedition, which is larger. However, with that size, comes a great ride and plenty of room to either carry people and all their luggage, or lots of cargo. And isn’t that what a SUV is supposed to do?

We had an interesting week behind the wheel of the Explorer. As grandparents, our assignment was to drive to Penn State and pick up our granddaughter from gymnastics camp, then drive her home to Virginia so that her father wouldn’t have to make an 11-hour round trip. Simple enough. Unfortunately, I became sick before we even left State College and spent a couple of nights in the (great) hospital there. Subsequently, my wife had to drive the Explorer back and forth from the hotel with my granddaughter. 

My wife usually doesn’t drive at night and this was in a strange vehicle where she was unaware of even how to start it (pushbutton) or adjust the mirrors. But when she got acclimated, she did well. Fortunately, a daughter who was on vacation detoured on her way home and drove the Explorer home from Penn State. She also had trouble adjusting the mirrors. 

Both women liked driving the Explorer, despite the size differential from their normal cars. My daughter commented that the brakes worked extremely well, which is something you want for a large vehicle. They tended on the tacky at times, but that’s better than the other extreme.

I had a chance to be a passenger, first in the front seat and then in the second row. Both seats were comfortable individual buckets with good side support. I liked the “Platinum Edition” styling of the seats, with diamond-shaped pleating on the sides.

In the rear there is plenty of legroom. I guessed this since my granddaughter didn’t complain during her short stint back there. The second row shoulder belts inflate in the case of a collision, acting like a small air bag. No, we didn’t test this out.

Driving the Explorer is comfortable. It seems like a  much larger vehicle, but that may also be a misconception of mine because I have been driving small and mid-size SUVs recently. The 3.5-liter Ecotec V6 seems more like a V8, and it delivers 365 horsepower. There was never any need for more power.

Handling is very good. We drove the Explorer on our tight hillclimb course and enjoyed the ride. There was no need to use paddle shifters (they weren’t there) or manually shift the gearbox. It just wouldn’t have been in keeping with the character of the vehicle. 

Cargo capacity is great. With all the seats up, there is a deep well behind the third row. The third row seats power down into the well when you need more cargo. Fold the second row seats and you have an enormous cargo volume, nearly 82 cubic feet, with 12 tie-downs.

For convenience there is a large, deep center console/arm rest. A large cubby at the base of the center stack has USB and SD plugs plus 12-volt power. At the rear of the center console there are 2 USB plugs plus a 110-volt outlet. Dual sunroofs add brightness for both front and second row passengers.

I had a few complaints. The speedometer is way too confusing and almost impossible to read, with KPH inside the MPH outer ring. I’m sure there is a way to eliminate the KPH, but I couldn’t figure it out. A digital speedometer in the center of the instrument panel would have been ideal.  Again, this may have been possible, but I couldn’t figure it out.   

There are  no assist handles, and, therefore, no large hanger hooks in the rear. There are small hanger hooks, but they were inadequate for the amount of clothes we had. There are assist handles on the front passenger A pillar and on both B pillars in the rear to ease entry and exit. 

I can see the Explorer as a good vehicle for families who travel, as an alternative to a minivan, for example. In our unique situation, it was ideal and I was grateful for the size. 

(c) 2016 The Auto Page Syndicate