Since it first arrived for 1991, the Ford Explorer has been a top seller among larger SUV’s and crossovers, with over 7 million sales to date. But, the market for three-row family utilities is bigger and more cut-throat than ever. So, the latest Explorer is outfitted with lot of little changes that Ford hopes will bring big results, with less exploring and more conquering.
2016 marked the 25th anniversary for the Ford Explorer. And while it was far from the first SUV, it was clearly one of the first that made a case for being a family vehicle more than just a rutted roads runabout.
Today’s Explorer bears little resemblance to that truck-based original, now riding on a three row crossover platform that debuted for 2011. Styling updates for ’16 included more than just the usual front fascia; as hood, headlamps, and fenders were new as well.
Most everything got freshened in back also; lift gate, bumper, and taillights. And of course there’s some new wheel styles to choose from. 20-17 adds a Sports Appearance Package with 20-inch wheels and Magnetic Grey highlights for the XLT trim.
A straightforward 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated V6 is still the base engine. More entertaining is this twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 with 365-horsepower and 350 lb-ft. of torque.
The newest option, is the Mustang’s 280-horsepower 2.3-liter I4 EcoBoost that replaces the 2.0-liter.
If your budget is not restricted, by all means opt for the 3.5 EcoBoost. It makes the Explorer feel like a true performance-style SUV. Though all engines offer adequate power as well as all-wheel-drive; and come equipped with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Max towing is a class-norm 5,000-lbs.
The all-wheel-drive system features Ford’s Terrain Management System with settings for Normal, Snow, Sand, and Mud. In our experience, you pick your road conditions and the Explorer responds.
Now, there seems to be no limit to how far manufacturers will go to add poshness to utilities, nor buyers’ appetites for same. So, Ford brings the Platinum series to the Explorer. It features real wood and aluminum trim, as well as premium Sony sound and quilted leather.
And it’s altogether very nice, almost Land rover spec. inside. The brushed aluminum accents are gorgeous, and the animal hides are Nirvana leather, but think more of the place you want to spend eternity in, not the alternative rock band playing right now on Lithium.
7–passenger seating is standard, with 2nd row Captain’s chairs, an option.
Being one of the larger 3-row crossovers means that cargo space fairs well at 21.0 cubic-ft. behind the 3rd row, 43.9 behind the 2nd row, and maxing out at 81.7 cubic-ft. A hands free lift gate is available with XLT and Sport trim; standard on Limited and Platinum.
Platinum trim also includes enhanced Active Park Assist; and on the safety front, inflatable 2nd row safety belts are now available on all models.
As before, the Explorer won’t yet apply the brakes for you if a collision is imminent; but it will give plenty of warning, and provide full braking pressure once you initiate the stop.
Turbocharging may not me a total replacement for displacement, but our twin-turbo V6 felt plenty V8-strong at our test track. There’s good torque down low, and grippy all-wheel-drive hookup, for a 6.5-second sprint to 60.
There was plenty of high-end grunt as well, accompanied by urgent shifting from the 6-speed automatic; taking us to the end of the ¼-mile in 15.0-seconds flat, at 94 miles-per-hour.
Through the cones, the Explorer still feels big and heavy compared to its many more nimble rivals. But there are still plenty of people out there who want their Bronco-type vehicle to still feel like a truck.
It’s certainly manageable, though. Just keep the speeds down and your inputs smooth.
Despite that big-truck feel, a 121-foot average stopping distance from 60 is quite good for any family-size utility. Nose dive was moderate, with pedal travel on the long side.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings for the EcoBoost V6 with all-wheel-drive are 16-City, 22-Highway, and 18-Combined. Our average with Regular grade was right on, at 18.1 miles-per-gallon. That makes for a poor Energy Impact Score at 18.3-barrels of yearly oil consumption with 8.2-tons of CO2 emissions.
There’s a wide variety in pricing, as you might expect, starting at $32,105 for a base 2017 Explorer; all-wheel-drive adds $2,150 more. While Platinum trim comes with a tag befitting the name, at $54,180
Even after a quarter of a century, Ford has managed to find ways to significantly improve the Explorer without any turnoffs. The luxury intentions of the Platinum are obvious, while the rest of the lineup still plays the large family vehicle part perfectly. We think that will keep Explorer’s market-conquering ways intact beyond the horizon.
Engine: 3.5 liter
Torque: 350 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 6.5 seconds
1/4 mile: 15.0 seconds @ 94 mph
EPA: 16 mpg city / 22 mpg highway,
Energy Impact: 18.3 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 8.2 tons/yr