2016 Ford Explorer Limited review notes: A soft and smooth three-row hauler


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Looks like a Range Rover, from a few hundred feet away

ROAD TEST EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN:

There’s a lot to like about this Explorer, starting with the refreshed look. I don’t know if Ford purposely ripped off Range Rover for the front end, but I like what it did. It’s a little less round, a little more aggressive and expensive-looking. The back end is about the same, which is still a little “meh,” ut the overall shape is good. I don’t like the blacked out C-pillar (D-pillar? The back one) though.

Inside, it’s more upscale than I expected with unfinished woodgrain and some chrome accents to go along with all of that rubbery plastic. I hate when automakers put that on the steering wheel, just make it leather, or fake leather, or Alcantara please.

It took me a few tries to get the seat and pedal setup right, but it’s all adjustable, including the wheel, so keep trying until you get it. Part of the problem for me was that the throttle pedal is so light to push. The weight of your foot pushes it to the floor, and that’s something American cars didn’t used to do. Because of that, I had to scoot the seat back until my heel rested just at the bottom of the gas pedal.

Option-wise, this was the Limited model, so we had lots of goodies like a sunroof, heated and cooled seats (which were some of the best I’ve ever used), the MyFord Touch system that I’m now used to, and all of the new safety features.

Power from the EcoBoost is great, maybe too good for a front-wheel-drive car. I felt a little torque steer, which surprised me until I realized it was a front driver. That seems silly, considering it’s a big SUV. If it’s not four-wheel drive, what’s the frickin’ point? It feels quick off the line and quick in passing maneuvers. The trans was smooth most of the time, but hung up on a few occasions when I was trying to switch lanes on the freeway. The brakes are a little soft and sensitive; I like the sensitive, don’t like the soft.

The chassis absorbs nearly all of the bumps and potholes in the city. I didn’t dodge any, and I didn’t notice any either, which is a good sign. Steering is super light in parking lots, but firms up on the road. There’s something about easy steering that feels luxurious to me. Not sure why. If the wheel was leather or wood, though, it would go a long way to making this SUV feel even more upscale. Quick lane changes felt fine; there wasn’t a bunch of rocking back and forth. Overall, the car didn’t feel huge on the road either, which is another bonus.

So the base model starts at about $32,000, this is up near $50K. As much as I like the EcoBoost engine, I could live without it. On second thought, I just looked and it’s only a $995 option, so maybe I would spec it.

I think the XLT is the volume trim here, and that could be had for less than 40K with a good amount of options. That’s probably the one I would go for if I needed a third row. But I don’t plan to (need a third row) for at least a few more years.

Photo: 2016 Ford Explorer Limited Photo 3

The active grille shutters on the Explorer close at highway speeds to reduce drag. Photo by Ford

ASSOCIATE EDITOR WESLEY WREN: Ford made a four-cylinder front-wheel-drive SUV? Why?

Because it was awesome, that’s why. Admittedly, this driveline would make the most sense in a crossover or a minivan, but it wasn’t a slouch in this 4,500-pound SUV. As Jake already mentioned, there is a little bit of torque steer to get used to, if you really get into it — which would be surprising if you didn’t know it was front-wheel drive.

The overall drive experience was pleasant but not exciting. Acceleration was smooth and the transmission didn’t give me any fits or jerkiness. The body had considerable roll, but that was probably due to the fact that the ride was so smooth. This Explorer just glides over the bumpy roads of Detroit, without much jarring in the cabin — it was impressive.

The look of the car reminded me of a Land Rover mashed up with a new Durango — that isn’t a bad thing exactly, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a good thing, either. It’s an attractive enough SUV, but the taillights look a little awkward hanging out on the quarter panel. If Ford brought the taillights out onto the hatch (like Dodge has done with the Durango), I think the rear of the car would look more complete.

The annoying part of driving this Explorer was Ford’s “Ford Sense” system, which is a little too sensitive. If you get near any wall, like you would if you went through a drive-thru or in a parking garage, the car goes nuts. The chirping of the alarm and flashing on the dash tells you that you’re close to smashing the car up — when really you’re just trying to get money out of an ATM.

Overall, if Ford brought out an Explorer Minivan edition, and it was exactly like this, I’d back it. But, as good as I thought this car was, it just feels like a slightly larger Escape. If I were buying one of these, I would probably shell out the money for four-wheel drive.

Photo: 2016 Ford Explorer Limited Photo 10

The 2016 Ford Explorer has PowerFold third-row seats and 80.7 cu.-ft. max cargo volume. Photo by Ford

EDITOR WES RAYNAL: Time flies … In 2016, the Explorer is 25 years old and there are more than 7 million on the road. 7 million !!! It’s understandable, then, that even though the ’16 has new sheetmetal and engine choices, Ford didn’t mess with it too much. Why mess with success, as they say?

I rather liked this drivetrain. Plenty of power, decent mileage and smooth-shifting six speed. The truck is quiet on the freeway — and that’s where I thought the four-cylinder might run out of breath, but it felt fine. The interior is nicely built and the seats are comfortable. I’m getting to know my way around the fussy MyFord Touch, but still don’t love it.

The ride/handling mix is mostly fine, handling being a relative term here. It’s soft but not too soft. The Explorer felt composed and again, quiet on the road for the most part, thanks mostly to the solid chassis (it still rides on a chassis that in a large part dates to the Volvo S80).

Overall, this is a fine people hauler and stuff hauler. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: This is a minivan for people who refuse to drive a minivan. It’s a front-drive-based unibody people mover, just like the Town & Country and Honda Odyssey I’ve driven lately. It drives just like them for the most part. 

Photo: 2016 Ford Explorer Limited Photo 12

Twenty-inch premium painted aluminum wheels are standard on Limited, but 20-inch polished aluminum wheels are also available. Photo by Ford

Options: Equipment Group 301A including enhanced active park assist, lane departure/lane keep assist, BLIS/rear inflate belt package, blind spot monitoring system, second row outboard inflate belts, rain sensing wipers and auto high beam headlamps ($2,000); dual panel moonroof ($1,595); adaptive cruise control ($1,150); 2.3-liter I4 EcoBoost engine ($995); second row bucket seat ($695); 20 inch polished aluminum wheels ($595); trailer tow package class II ($395)



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