Ford’s long-running, best-selling SUV, the venerable Explorer, returns for 2016 with a facelift, some new technology, and an available 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine.
There’s also a new high-end Platinum model, which raises the price of the top-end Explorer $52,970 – quite a jump from 2015’s top price of about $43,000.
With the re-do, the Explorer is actually a bit longer, too – 1.2 inches. But this isn’t a complete redesign, as the vehicle still rides on the same basic architecture as the 2015, down to the size of the passenger compartment, cargo area and even the fuel tank.
For consumers looking for better fuel economy, the optional 2.3-liter engine – included on our all-wheel-drive Limited model – is EPA rated at up to 19 mpg city/28 highway/22 combined with front-wheel drive, or 18/26/21 with all-wheel drive.
In comparison, the base normally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 has ratings of 17/24/20 with front drive, and 16/23/19 with all-wheel drive. With the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, which is standard in the new Platinum model (which comes only with all-wheel drive), the ratings are 16/22/18.
I enjoyed the zip of the new four-cylinder engine. It has more 40 horsepower and considerably more torque than the 2.0-liter four-cylinder it replaced from the 2015 model. It’s rated at 280 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque.
For the first time on Explorer, the four-cylinder EcoBoost engine can be paired with a towing package and intelligent four-wheel drive with Ford’s Terrain Management System.
The 2016 Explorer comes in five trim levels, ranging in price from $31,050 (plus $945 freight) for the base front-wheel-drive version, to the $52,970 for the all-wheel-drive Platinum.
Other models include base AWD ($33,050); XLT V-6 front-drive ($33,400); XLT all-wheel drive ($35,400); Limited front-drive ($41,300); Limited AWD ($43,300); and Sport AWD ($43,500). Sport and Platinum models are offered only with all-wheel drive.
Among new technology in the 2016 model are front and rear cameras with wide-angle lenses and washer – a class-exclusive, segment-first feature, Ford says. Most rearview cameras are mostly worthless in rain, as the water distorts the view.
Also available are perpendicular park assist, park-out assist and semi-automatic parallel parking. The system uses ultrasonic sensors and electric power steering to help drivers with parking. Park-out assist helps a driver pull out of parallel parking spots. The system controls the steering wheel, while the driver operates the accelerator and brake pedals and shifts the vehicle into gear, Ford said.
Smart-charging USB ports help keep portable electronics connected and charged. There are located in the front and rear of the vehicle, and can charge smartphones and tablets up to two times faster than conventional ports.
Ford’s hands-free liftgate, rolled out first in the redesigned Escape, now is available on the Explorer, and was included as standard equipment on our Limited model. Opening or closing the hatch requires only that a foot be kicked below the rear bumper.
Also new are active Grille Shutters, which open and close automatically to cool the engine or reduce drag.
Available on the 2016 Explorer – carried over from the previous model – are such features as adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support; a lane-keeping system; a Blind Spot Information System, which uses radar to trigger a warning when another motorist is in the driver’s blind spot; and cross-traffic alert, which also uses radar to alert drivers to oncoming traffic when backing up.
Also carried over are the available automatic high-beams, which use windshield-mounted cameras to detect oncoming traffic and adjust the lights between low and high beams; and Ford’s inflatable rear safety belts, which were introduced on the 2011 Explorer. They’re intended primarily to protect children from injury from seat belts in an emergency situation.
The new 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine is available for an additional $995, replacing the standard 3.5-liter V-6, on the base, XLT and Limited models. It’s paired with a six-speed automatic gearbox.
The 3.5-liter base engine is carried over from 2015. It has 290 horsepower and 255 foot-pounds of torque, and also is paired with a six-speed SelectShift Automatic transmission.
Explorer Sport and Platinum models come with a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 with 365 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque, also with a six-speed automaticl.
The new Platinum model brings such extras as multi-contour front seats wrapped in perforated Nirvana leather, special quilted stitching throughout the cabin, and some advanced technologies, such as the enhanced active park assist, lane-keeping system and rain-sensing wipers.
Its interior includes brushed-aluminum and satin-finished ash wood in multi-piece appliqués on door panels and the instrument panel. There is a wood-trimmed, leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel with the same stitching as the rest of the interior.
The Nirvana leather also is used on the instrument panel, console armrests, quilted door bolsters and upper door trim. The instrument cluster has a 10-inch digital display along with analog gauges.
Outside, the Platinum has special signature lighting around LED headlights; a dual-panel moon roof; premium silver-painted front and rear skid plate elements; and 20-inch wheels with bright machined face and tarnished dark-painted pockets. For audiophiles, the Explorer Platinum is the first Ford to get the new 500-watt Sony Audio System.
Despite its carlike construction, the Explorer has a solid, heavy feel to it, just as though it were still a truck. That makes more truck-like in its handling than some of the sleeker crossovers, such as Ford’s five-passenger Edge.
There is an integrated exhaust designed to reduce soot at the rear of the vehicle. A shield inside the tailpipes catches the soot so it doesn’t collect around the outlets.
Even with four-wheel drive, the Explorer no longer is suitable for serious off-road driving, something that is disappointing to those who enjoyed trail riding in the previous models.
That's because the four-wheel drive has no low-range gearing, although it is designed to be marginally off-road capable. It includes a terrain-management system like some trail-ready vehicles, such as the Land Rover LR4. It includes settings for snow, sand, mud and normal driving. A knob allows the driver to choose the most-appropriate setting. There also is a hill-descent mode for steep downgrades.
The ride has been improved, and our Limited tester’s leather front bucket seats were quite comfortable, even on a long highway drive.
There is decent head and shoulder room inside, along with flexible seating that can be configured for more cargo and fewer passengers. Also available are second-row inflatable rear seatbelts, designed to help protect children from serious head, chest and neck injuries.
Standard on all models are an air-filtration system, capless fuel-filler system, cruise control, power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote, tilt and telescopic steering column, four 12-volt power outlets, and rear cargo hooks.
XLT models also get automatic headlights, a manual-shift feature for the automatic transmission, a keyless-entry keypad, a reverse-sensing system, heated outside mirrors with built-in turn-signal indicators, and a perimeter alarm.
The Limited model adds power-fold outside mirrors, ambient lighting, a cargo net, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power driver’s seat with recline and lumbar-support features, rearview camera system, remote start, a 110-volt power outlet, an intelligent key with pushbutton start, and a universal garage/gate opener.
Cargo hauling is easy with the drop-down rear and middle seats. There is 21 cubic feet of space behind the third seat, but that expands to almost 44 cubic feet with the third-row seatback folded down, and 81 cubic feet with the second and third seats folded.
Standard safety features include such innovations such as Curve Control, a form of electronic stability control that helps keep the vehicle upright even as it negotiates sharp turns; and a special front-impact structure.
A rigid body structure helps keep occupants safe. It includes a boron front bumper beam, hydro-formed front frame rails, and high-strength steel side-impact tubes. Also included is Ford’s SOS post-crash alert system, similar to GM’s OnStar. Side-curtain air bags are installed in all three rows.
Base price for our all-wheel-drive Limited model was $44,295 including the extra $995 for the 2.3-liter engine. Our vehicle also had an options package ($3,000) that brought Active Park Assist, Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot warning system, and the inflatable rear-seatbelt package.
Total sticker price for our vehicle was $48,240, including freight and options.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com.
2016 Ford Explorer
The package: Large, front- or all-wheel-drive, five-door, six- or seven-passenger, V-6 or four-cylinder crossover utility vehicle.
Highlights: Explorer gets a major update for 2016, the first since a complete redesign for 2011 moved the vehicle to a unibody chassis, from its original body-on-frame truck-style architecture. It has room for up to seven people and most of the functionality of its previous truck-based generations, with a well-designed and comfortable interior, better fuel economy thanks to a new turbo four-cylinder engine, and lots of high-tech options.
Negatives: Can get pricey with all the extras; no low-range gearing on four-wheel-drive models for serious off-road driving.
Overall length: 198.3 inches.
Curb weight range: 4,457-4,890 pounds.
Engines: 3.5-liter V-6 (normally aspirated); 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder (turbocharged); 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 (turbocharged).
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 290 HP./255 foot-pounds (3.5); 280 HP./310 foot-pounds (2.3); 365 HP./350 foot-pounds (3.5 EcoBoost).
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Cargo volume: 21 cubic feet (behind third seat); 43.9 cubic feet (third row folded); 81.7 cubic feet (second and third seats folded).
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds (V-6, V-6 turbo); 3,000 pounds (2.3 EcoBoost).
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; roof-mounted side-curtain (all rows).
EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city/24 highway/20 combined (3.5, front-wheel drive); 16/23/19 (3.5, AWD); 19/28/22 (2.3, 2WD); 18/26/21 (2.3, AWD); 16/22/18 (3.5 turbo/AWD).
Fuel capacity/type: 18.6 gallons/unleaded regular.
Main competitors: GMC Acadia/Chevrolet Traverse/Buick Enclave, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Infiniti QX60, Land Rover LR4/Discovery, Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot, Dodge Durango.
Base price range: $31,050-$52,970, plus $945 freight.
Price as tested: $48,240, including freight and options (4WD Limited model/2.3 engine).
On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.