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By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

INTRO TO THE EXPLORER VEHICLE Building on 25 years of innovation is the enhanced Explorer, and this mid-size SUV for up to seven passengers is loaded with more smart technology, performance and refinement than ever before. With an exterior design that features cues from the Land Rover brand, consider this family vehicle ready for any situation as it can tow, climb, and pamper.

I drove a 2016 Ford Explorer with the standard 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine coupled to a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission and Ford’s Intelligent 4WD System with Terrain Management. Available in five trims – base, XLT, Limited, Sport and the all-new Platinum – standard equipment for my Platinum trim is as follows: leather upholstery; wood interior trim; power front seats with massaging feature; heated and cooled front seats; second row heated seats; leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; upgraded Sony audio system; SYNC and MyFord Touch infotainment systems; voice-activated navigation; front and rear camera; dual-panel sunroof; the programmable MyKey system; remote start; dual-zone climate control; power fold-flat third row; illuminated scuff plates; fog lamps; roof rack; rear spoiler; trailer tow package; hill decent control; and a reverse sensing system. Price as described without options is $52,970.

Main competitors in size and performance abilities are the Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevrolet Tahoe and Toyota Highlander.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: The Explorer’s bold styling, ultra-comfortable interior and five loaded models make an impression, but it’s the Ford-exclusive features that really deepen your intrigue: rear cameras with wide-angle lenses and a washer; massaging seats for front passengers; and improvements to SYNC with MyFord Touch that features text-to-voice, voice-activated navigation, and smartphone music features like iTunes Tagging. The Platinum series just takes it to the next level with Nirvana leather featuring micro-perforation, special quilted stitching, brushed-aluminum, second-row bucket seats (passenger volume goes down to six) and satin-finished ash wood trim. Also, only the Platinum gains a Sony Audio System with Live Acoustics and Clear Phase technology, a dual-panel moonroof, rear skid plate elements, twenty-inch wheels, and advanced safety technology like active park assist, a lane-keeping system and rain-sensing wipers.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The Ford Explorer is earned mainly ratings of “Good” in crash-test areas omitting a “Marginal” with small overlap front from The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives it an overall recommendation of 5-Stars. Standard safety equipment includes AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control, traction control, an advanced airbag system, SOS post-crash alert system, and a perimeter alarm.

Cost Issues: My fully loaded Explorer Platinum trim with options raised the price to $54,970 – domestics are notoriously quite pricier as a fully loaded 2016 Honda Pilot reaches $46,420 and a similarly dressed Kia Sorento is $45,800. If it is a trail rider you want, go with the Toyota 4Runner in the Trail Premium trim at $40,445.

Activity & Performance Ability: My family gave the Explorer a thorough test drive through the Stanislaus National Forest in California during a recent wilderness trip. The Terrain Management System is in the form of a dial located at the center console – just rotate the knob to the most appropriate terrain picture. While capable, I wouldn’t say the suspension is designed to absorb the type of off-road abrasions we saw – boulders, ditches, and serious rocky patches – you’ll get smoother results from the Toyota 4Runner and better clearance. One of the unfortunate performance downfalls of the Explorer is that is feels bigger than it actually is when behind the wheel. This is not advantageous for some of us female drivers and the tight parking positions we find ourselves in on a daily basis. My five year old was able to click into the second row seatbelts instantly, which is always a source of relief for me. The third row is best for small children as it is cramped. Throttle problems with this model year have been sited on several review sites. There is also a new and smaller 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine option.

The Green Concern: Fuel economy is typical for the 3.5-liter V6 engine at 16 miles-per-gallon city and 22 highway for a combined 18. The Honda Pilot excels in this area with its 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine that gets a combined fuel economy of 22 miles-per-gallon with all-wheel drive (19-city and 26-highway) and in real life driving I was able to maintain 21.8 with that vehicle. Although it uses a less powerful V6 engine, the Mitsubishi Outlander does the best at 20-city and 27-highway for a combined 23 miles-per-gallon.

Ford’s flagship Explorer SUV definitely offers it all in terms of modern conveniences, comfort and performance for 2016. Make sure you don’t feel overpowered by its size once behind the wheel – or its price tag. Otherwise, you won’t have regrets or be held back from traveling wherever you choose to roam.

©2016 Katrina Ramser

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