Ford dumps everything it can find into top-shelf Explorer
What is it?
It’s a Range Rover with a Ford badge … which you’d think would be a Lincoln, but over in Dearborn, Michigan, the trademark for Blue Oval luxury is now Platinum.
If you’re not familiar with the basic vehicle, go read our 2016 Ford Explorer first drive; it’s essentially a substantial midcycle refresh of one of Ford’s best-selling models, intended to improve everything without messing with the successful base formula. There’s money at the top of the market, though, and with a base price starting at $53,000, the Explorer Platinum aims for customers who simply “want everything” in a simple, prepackaged model; according to Ford, there are quite a few of those buyers ripe for the picking.
Wood, perforated leather and metal trim adorn the luxurious cabin of the Ford Explorer Platinum.
Platinum is also meant to peel customers away from imports that may not have as much interior room or capability for the money, and also encourage folks who might be looking at a Yukon Denali despite not needing that body-on-frame truck’s beefiness. To sweeten the deal, the Explorer Platinum gets pretty much every option thrown at it, from a 3.5-liter Ecoboost twin-turbo V6 under the hood to quilted-leather door panels, massaging front thrones and heated second-row seats.
Since these things ain’t getting any smaller, Ford has also joined the growing number of automakers offering birds-eye camera systems on their girth-challenged machines. The Explorer goes a step further with a front side-view camera that “peeks” around corners at blind intersections and the like, plus washer-fluid sprayers for the front and rear cameras. Those of you in southern states may find that silly, but if you contend with snow and salt six months of the year, the camera washers are a face-palm innovation you’ll be thrilled to have.
Otherwise, the story here is coddling accoutrements and loads of tech: Aluminum and ash trim on the instrument panel and doors, a wood-and-leather-covered heated steering wheel, Smart USB ports for faster charging, park assist (parallel and perpendicular), lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights and a panoramic moonroof. Ford also made noise about its new 500-watt Sony audio system; megawatt multispeaker stereos are nothing new, but after spending time with a wide variety of program material on the Sony system, I can attest to its consistently stunning soundstage.
There are exterior design changes on the 2016 Explorer, but you need a keen eye to pick most of them out.
How does it drive?
If you have any experience with the current Explorer, you’ll find the refreshed 2016 a refinement of everything you like about this SUV. Step way up to the Platinum trim (get a ladder — its base price is a full $10K beyond where the perfectly nice Limited starts) and Ford delivers luxury-car levels of comfort and convenience, massaging your back and hindquarters as you gobble up interstate miles in serene quiet.
As Explorer Sport owners know, the 3.5-liter Ecoboost engine doesn’t make this hefty beast fast, per se; rather, it delivers on Ford’s marketing refrain about delivering V8 power in a V6 package — there’s no sturm und drang about its healthy 365-hp output, and it simply moves the Explorer along with ease in any situation. While we didn’t have a boat on hand with which to test, Ford claims 5,000 pounds of towing capability for the EcoBoost V6; its use for years now in the F-150 should allay any durability concerns.
We didn’t tax the Explorer’s off-road capabilities too much, but mud mode did come in handy.
It’s not trying to tow like a Super Duty, and Ford engineers will be the first to tell you the Explorer isn’t intended to be a replacement for your rock-crawling Jeep Wrangler, either. That said, when the New Mexican macadam on our drive route transitioned from smooth to granulated, then to unimproved before finally settling on rutted red mud, the Explorer seemed genuinely unfazed. Ford uses a terrain-management AWD system that adjusts parameters based on conditions, chosen using a console-mounted knob with normal, snow, sand and mud settings. We used mud for a portion of our drive, and the Explorer powered through the clay hills with the same nonchalance displayed on the open highway.
Do I want one?
In the interest of full disclosure, I already have one: A plebe-spec 2014 XLT replaced the Jetta Sportwagen TDI my family had outgrown (fortuitous bit of timing, that), and it’s been a flawless if slightly thirsty performer over the course of 16,000 miles. That said, in the two years since we bought our Explorer, the three-row crossover SUV market has seen formidable redesigns in the form of the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, while segment stalwarts like the Chevrolet Traverse and Dodge Durango continue to offer a lot of bang for the buck.
None offer this much sheer bang, though: There’s little doubt the Explorer Platinum gives buyers just about everything they could dream up in terms of equipment; the fact it still slots in tens of thousands of dollars below an equivalent Mercedes-Benz (or GMC Yukon Denali, for that matter) begs the question: Is it a ridiculously expensive Ford or the cheapest luxury SUV on the market?
The line continues to get blurrier.