A Victory & Reseda review of the 2016 Ford Explorer
It changed the landscape for the SUV. It still does so today.
The Ford Explorer's story had been one of ups and downs – a cliche in itself, really. As much as one could forget about the Firestone tire situation, the mid-sized SUV framed the history of a vehicle that had set in motion a revolution in family transportation.
Starting in 1990, one could buy a SUV to carry their family without fear or hesitation. It drove nicely. Simply put, the Ford Explorer helped kill the large American station wagon – the ultimate staple of the American family.
After four generations of being a traditional SUV, Ford decided to build the Explorer on top of a car-based platform. It was the sign of the times – car-based SUVs and crossovers made for better efficiency, while maintaining its own set of values as a three-row conveyance for growing families or to haul visiting relatives.
My first exposure to the fifth generation Explorer came in the form of the 2013 Sport model. I praised the fact that it was quick and had plenty of swagger for being a three-row SUV. The star of this show was the 3.5 Liter EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6 spewing 365 horsepower. Although there are meaner SUVs – namely the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, BMW X5 M, Mercedes-Benz GLE 63 AMG, the Range Rover Sport Supercharged and SVR – the Explorer Sport is more attainable to the common family.
Consider the word "attainable" for the moment. What does it really mean? Is a family satisfied to own a vehicle now costing upwards into the $50,000 range? Or, do we need to raise the ceiling for those wanting much more for a badge that represents the common person?
This is where the 2016 Ford Explorer comes into focus. When I worked the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2014, Ford unveiled their mid-cycle refresh of their popular car-based Explorer. The visuals were much improved, as were a few details inside and out. They also announced a new luxury model to crown the entire lineup – the Platinum. It was part of a program Ford is implementing with several mid-to-upper models introducing a level of luxury that might rival that of a Lincoln. In other words, Ford created a superluxe Explorer for those who want it all – with the blue oval up front.
I had a chance to drive the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum. One thing ran through my mind as I drove it – is this really a Lincoln in disguise?
First of all, I must define what a Lincoln should be. As my collaborator Tyler Lipa stated recently, a Lincoln is "the definitive American luxury brand now." He goes on to explain that Lincoln is not bound by Teutonic performance or the other trappings premium vehicle buyers expect from their rides. As Cadillac is trying to garner a global audience by being everything to everyone, Lincoln sticks to being as American as the 1956 Continental Mark II, the 1961 Continental or the 1971 Continental Mark IV – with a very modern twist.
The truth is that the Explorer Platinum does not offer the creamy luxury of a Lincoln – past or present. It has its own kind of luxury – defined by special trim, wheels, quilted leather seating and a high level of content.
The Platinum found the perfect canvas to exude its own form of luxury in the mid-cycle refreshed Explorer. The new "normal" looking front end offers an exclusive mesh grille texture and proper headlight assemblies. New rear taillights are a noticeable change, especially with new LED elements. The Platinum adds a few chrome accents without overpowering the overall silhouette of the vehicle, including the huge twenty-inch wheels. The Explorer looks much better than it used to be…and it helps with customers greatly!
Interior-wise, the light Soft Cream Nirvana leather upholstery was the main draw to the Platinum. This hide is covered over three rows of seating, where the first two are accommodating for five adults. Children will be in the third one. With the third row folded down – by a power operation from the rear of the cargo hold – there is still 43.9 cubic feet of space to fill up on a week's vacation fro four to five people. That does include camping gear…or "glamping" gear, if you will.
The cockpit is good, with Ford's customizable flank screen on either side of the center speedometer dial. The center stack is angled for better reach, which an improved switch set-up for the climate control, even with a set of controls on the touchscreen. Switches are good to the touch, and typical of larger Fords.
On this model, MyFord Touch and SYNC's second generation infotainment platform is still there. Improvements were made for speedier connectivity and response. Sony provided 500 watts of clean sound throughout the massive cabin.
There was a bit of a surprise under the hood. I first thought the 3.5 Liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 was exclusive to the Sport. Not anymore. The Platinum came with this same 365 horsepower monster, connected to a six-speed automatic transmission and an a four-wheel drive system. The system is controlled by the Terrain Management System, which sets the traction needed depending on road conditions – for example, in the wet, snow and in the desert. The Explorer came with a Hill Descent Control, which means you can possibly take this off-road.
Yet, there was something missing with this engine underneath the Explorer Platinum. Perhaps I was looking for the same excitement from the Sport in the Platinum. Yet, the engine pulls strong, even cloaked in a luxury trim. Fuel economy could also have been better, as I averaged 16.9 MPG in the end.
Being the Platinum means a true luxury ride – softer and stable. The smoothness of the Explorer Platinum matches the new Lincoln MKX, which supports an earlier theory about Ford"s latest products. They have great chassis and components underneath, no matter what you think about the design. Cornering shows some lean and roll, but it is very controlled thanks to the longer wheelbase of the Explorer. I found the steering to be fine with some play off-center, but a decent turning radius overall. Brakes were also just fine, with decent stopping power in normal and panic situations.
At the top of the line comes a high level of content. In particular, a suite of active safety features ensuring to keep the Explorer on the road. On board, the Platinum had standard Adaptive Cruise Control, Enhanced Active Park Assist, a Lane-Keeping System, Reverse Sensing System and a rearview camera.
The 2016 Ford Explorer starts off with a humble base model. This vehicle offers a base price of $31,050. When you scroll through the various models, you have the value-oriented and popular XLT, the near-luxury Limited and the rockin' Sport. Then, you get to this Platinum. My example came with a sticker price of $54,060 with all of the marbles.
Would you pay $54,000-plus for an Explorer? Here is something to think about: To get a three-row Lincoln, the MKT starts at around $43,000. You may not get the Explorer's chassis and Terrain Management Control system and Hill Descent Control, but you do get three rows of seating, that 365 horsepower EcoBoost V6 with two turbochargers and a better warranty. The price difference between the Explorer Platinum and MKT is $1,530 more for the Lincoln. The margin is a bit slim, but the Ford may turn out to be the better value, thanks to its capabilities alone.
One does not have to get the top shelf model to enjoy what the Explorer has to offer for families. The XLT and Limited are two solidly equipped models that offer high content and value. They may not pack the punch of the 3.5 Liter EcoBoost V6, but I can assure you that they will turn better fuel economy figures overall.
Which leads to one conclusion: The Ford Explorer is a great choice when one is looking for a three-row mid-sized SUV. If you want either great value or go for the top of the range, you surely will not be disappointed with the Explorer – an original in its own right.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by the Ford Motor Company
All photos by Randy Stern