Each year, the majority of our editorial content team makes a pilgrimage down to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show.
This year, we had a series of conferences and meetings set up, which resulted in six of us taking two cars for this three-day trip. My choice was the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum. Decked out with all of the latest technology and luxury that Ford has to offer, the SUV was the seemingly perfect choice to be filled up with camera gear, luggage, and passengers for the drive down to Motor City.
For the record, the last time we did this trip was with six people in a GMC Yukon XL (review here), also in its most luxurious trim. The logic behind opting for the smaller Explorer circled around fuel savings (thanks to the EcoBoost V6), a more maneuverable vehicle for urban exploration through Detroit, and the fact that Ford promoted this year’s refresh with the #ExploreMore hashtag, encouraging drivers to find new adventures. The new Explorer is a touch more elegant than in years past, though not varying too much from the traditional two-box SUV design. The 20” wheels on the Platinum are finished in chrome, which coincides nicely with other chrome details such as the door handles, roof racks and side trim.
On the inside, the premium feel continues. The Explorer Platinum boasts Nirvana leather seats with a quilted pattern, along with quilted upholstery on the inner door panels and lacquered wood on the steering wheel. All of the dashboard’s surfaces are soft, leather-like surfaces, with the only large plastic piece being the one that houses the buttons to control the MyFordTouch infotainment system. The seats feel very comfortable and have ample adjustments, but the massage feature was a hit or miss with our team. Very few of us actually made us of it, as the others complained that it was just an in/out lumbar motion that made far too much noise.
Even though the Explorer in base trim starts at just $32,999, the Platinum starts at a hefty $58,599. At this price, it includes the dual-pane moonroof, premium interior finish, Sony audio, park assist with perpendicular park, the most powerful engine in the lineup, all of the safety features families want, power folding third row seats, 20” wheels, trailer tow package which has a 5,000lb towing capacity, and front seats which are heated, ventilated, and have a massage feature. The attractive Bronze Fire Pearl on our tester commands an extra $450, along with a $2,100 dual-headrest DVD system, and second row bucket seats for $500. The total was $62,939.
This price range puts the Explorer right in the sights of the Infiniti QX60, the Lexus RX and even the Mercedes-Benz GLE (review here). American rivals such as the GMC Acadia and the Chevrolet Traverse just cannot compete in the luxury department. At the time of this writing, Lincoln has more-upscale versions of the Ford Edge and Escape, but there’s nothing in that lineup that matches the Explorer’s sheer size. After having driven what the latest Lincolns have to offer, I’ll attest to the fact that the Explorer is every bit as luxurious as any of the Lincoln crossovers.
The most powerful engine in the Explorer line is the 3.5L EcoBoost V6. This is a twin-turbocharged unit that has previously been used in applications such as the Taurus SHO, the MKT, and even the Flex. In the Explorer, it puts out 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. It’s a responsive engine where the torque comes in low enough in the powerband, which made driving around the city of Detroit at low speeds effortless. The throttle response is quick enough too, but the Explorer’s challenge is that it drives much bigger than it is. Despite being an entire segment below, it feels no smaller than the Yukon when piloting it around urban environments. Its size is beneficial on the highway, where it’s perfectly planted and the radar-guided cruise control is a godsend.
The only available transmission is a six-speed automatic, which does the job quite well. However, for the sake of fuel consumption and keeping up with the competition, I hope to see Ford implement an eight or nine-speed unit for the next major redesign, expected in the coming two years. The all-wheel-drive system is front-based, and sends torque to the rear wheels only when needed. We had the chance to drive the Explorer through a blizzard, where the Terrain Management system (straight out of the Land Rover playbook) came in handy. This feature allows settings for the all-wheel-drive system, throttle, and transmission for specific conditions.
Cornering is actually pretty surprising for a vehicle of this size – the Explorer held its own even on all-season tires (which performed notably well in the deep snow). The suspension is tuned for luxury rather than athletics like the Explorer Sport, and makes for a comfortable, smooth ride. There is a noticeable amount of roll in the corners, but not any worse than in any other competing SUVs. The actual steering wheel is light and electrically assisted, which makes for minimal effort at parking lot speeds.
Fuel economy is always an important factor on a road trip, where long highway jaunts allow us to gauge the absolute best numbers a vehicle can deliver. The 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum is rated for 14.9L/100km city and 10.7L/100km on the highway. Our combined trip mileage was 13L/100km, which included a considerable amount of low-speed city driving as well as idling thanks to the frigid weather. For just the highway portions, we were able to get the numbers as low as 11.3L/100km, which is almost dead even with the much larger, V8-powered GMC Yukon. The Explorer Platinum takes regular 87-octane fuel; there’s no need for premium-grade even with the forced induction.
There isn’t much not to like about the Ford Explorer Platinum. One small issue that I considered bothersome is that the glass sunroof retracts beneath the glass of the panoramic roof above the second-row seats. There’s no guard to stop any standing water droplets on the retracting pane from falling onto rear-seat passengers. Additionally, MyFordTouch is a decent system, but the buttons on the touchscreen are small and hard to pinpoint perfectly while in motion. Thankfully, Ford does offer real buttons for major commands, including climate, stereo controls and heated/ventilated seats. I can’t wait to see how the new SYNC 3 system looks when it’s implemented here, hopefully for 2017.
The 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum made for an exceptional road trip vehicle. Its third row of seating was plenty comfortable for full-sized adults, and there was plenty of storage space for all of our stuff. Those who don’t need the third row of seating could opt for the similarly priced Lincoln MKX, but I’d still argue that the Explorer Platinum is better looking and more useful. Priced to compete nicely against the already-good Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Explorer Platinum makes for a sensational choice for the family with an active lifestyle, and packs tons of luxurious features to ensure that nobody is left out of the fun.