Ford Explorer Platinum Review: What Would Mike Brady Drive?
2016 Ford Explorer Platinum Review
As a truck and SUV traditionalist, I struggle to accept crossovers. If you need three rows, the ability to conquer horrific roads, and towing capability then you need a real SUV like a body on frame truck-based Expedition. Alternatively, if it’s generous interior space you’re after, you will be better served by a minivan. A Chrysler Pacifica provides more cargo capacity with four people seated than the Explorer offers with just two people.
Thankfully, one does not need to compromise their traditional automotive values to avoid viewing the Explorer as a car-based vehicle trying to mimic the proportions and capabilities of a real SUV. Instead, look at it as a contemporary interpretation of the station wagon. And that is exactly what the Explorer and its ilk are, station wagons in the finest tradition of the chariots driven by Mike Brady and Clark Griswold.
That does not mean Explorer Platinum is an ungainly, wallowing object of humor. Quite the contrary. The Explorer is a comfortable, safe, one-size-fits-all solution. Yes, it retains the compromises inherent to all crossovers trying to split the difference between truck-based SUVs and cars. As a result, this compromise will hit the sweet spot for 250,000 consumers this year. That’s 75,000 more than its nearest three-row rival.
On The Exterior
Ford launched the current generation Explorer in 2011, and in 2016 received a mid-cycle update. The big news for the 2016 Explorer was the replacement of the underperforming 2.0 liter EcoBoost, with the 280 horsepower 2.3 liter EcoBoost. A new top of the line Explorer Platinum trim, and a mild but impactful aesthetic refresh.
Most notably on the outside, its grill and headlights were reconfigured to give it a robust, more traditional presence. LED low-beams became standard; while signature LED lighting and LED fog lamps became optional. At the rear, detail changes to the license plate aperture, tail lights, and lower bumper insert will be visible to only the most discerning car spotters.
Ford designed an attractive and well balanced package from any angle. And despite retaining much of its sheet metal, the new front fascia all but eradicates the 2011-2015 Explorer’s egg-like shape. The one that paid homage to the short-lived, third generation Taurus (1996-1999). This Explorer is handsome, and though it has grown two feet longer and gained an additional row of seating, it looks great. The Explorer transitioned from body on frame to unibody construction, and it remains the spiritual descendant of the original 1991 model that took America by storm.
If it ain’t broken just tweak it. Ford reconfigured the door panels to provide arm rests with better vertical positioning. In addition, the subtly updated steering wheel gains a more contemporary look, while retaining its familiar button arrangement. And let’s not overlook the center stack mounted climate controls. The layout is unchanged, but the criticized capacitive haptic-touch controls have been swapped for conventional knobs and buttons.
The Explorer provides comfortable and spacious seating in the first two rows, and more third-row leg room than any other mid-size crossover. The materials, fit, and finish are also class competitive. But that’s not what Ford wants consumers associating with the Explorer. Hence, the Blue Oval enhanced the Explorer’s sound insulation with new door seals, engine sub-frame mounts, and acoustic glass. Most noteworthy, the range topping Platinum trim can give premium three-row shoppers an alternative to vehicles such as the Acura MDX, Land Rover Discovery, and Infiniti QX60.
Cargo space behind the third row is expansive at 21 cubic feet. It exceeds the volume of some full-size SUVs such as Infiniti QX80 and Toyota Land Cruiser.
The Latest Technology
The new Explorer Platinum offers a profusion of standard safety, performance, and convenience enhancing technologies. Most of which are optional on lesser trims, of course. Notable safety features include side-curtain airbags in the event of a rollover, forward collision warning with braking support that is less intrusive than some competitive systems, easy to use blind spot detection, and lane departure warning with lane keep assist. The Explorer Platinum scored five out of five stars in NHTSA’s overall frontal crash test, on par with Hyundai Santa Fe and slightly ahead of Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.
Most of the Platinum’s features can be had elsewhere in the Explorer range, including an easy-to-use adaptive cruise control, twin-panel moonroof, 500W Sony audio system, heated and cooled massaging front seats, as well as front and rear wide-angle cameras with washers.
First of all, activate the enhanced active park assist system with a button, drive by an open parking spot, and then follow the directions as the vehicle steers for you. Warning: failing to employ the brake pedal to modulate speed will result in a shockingly rapid, though still safe and well centered, parking experience.
The Voice-Activated Navigation System is user friendly and familiar to many consumers. Up front is also a power tilt/telescoping steering column, rain sensing wipers, and automatic high beams. First and second row passengers get Smart-charging USB ports that charge smart devices up to twice as fast as conventional USB ports. Furthermore, the second and third rows move out of the way under their own power and the rear lift gate goes a step further.
The Explorer Platinum is more than an exercise in making optional equipment standard and slapping on a badge. Ford made a real effort to differentiate the look and feel of the Platinum, with finishes that are unavailable elsewhere in the range. And so they should if they expect to command a $6,000 premium over the Limited.
From the outside, Platinum gets unique 20” bright machined faced wheels, and a satin chrome grill. But the most meaningful changes are inside, where Ford worked hard to transform the mainstream into premium. Nirvana leather wraps the instrument panel, console armrests, and seats. Quilted door bolsters and upper door trim with quilted stitching cosset passengers. A wood and leather-wrapped heated steering wheel features a unique brushed-aluminum Ford logo.
According to Mike Arbaugh, Ford Explorer chief designer, “This is the most upscale, high-quality interior we’ve ever offered on a Ford vehicle in North America.” I believe it.
How’s The Drive?
The Explorer Platinum may not be a high performance machine, but in terms of delivering sporty driving dynamics to the mainstream crossover crowd, it outclasses the competition.
The 3.5L EcoBoost V6 delivers a segment crushing 365 horsepower, and 350 foot-pounds of torque. The Japanese and Korean competition does not even come close. Weighing in at only 286 pounds more than a Taurus, this Explorer really goes! Throttle response is linear with the six-speed automatic transmission, whether on an uphill, passing on a two-lane highway, or just navigating urban traffic. This Explorer rarely wants for power.
Ford installed electric power steering tuned to deliver reasonable feedback. However, if you need the sharpest steering with more rapid initial turn-in, opt for the Sport with a 15.8:1 steering ratio, versus the other’s 17.1:1. The front strut multilink rear setup grants acceptable ride and handling, but cornering is compromised as compared to a Fusion. This crossover will take care of you in a canyon, but it won’t prompt you to seek out the twisties.
The Explorer in any trim is a low-slung crossover with little to no off-road pretensions. It’s intelligent 4WD and terrain management system do however make it well suited to battle snow and ice. It is also equipped with hill decent control, but don’t be deceived. Owners are advised to keep their Explorers on-road.
Ford Priced the base 2WD Explorer at $31,660. Stepping up through XLT, Limited, and Sport trims, the base price increases to $52,970 for the range topping Explorer Platinum. This tester had optional second row bucket seats and center console, pushing the MSRP to $53,815, plus $945 destination and delivery fee.
Lastly, is the Explorer Platinum worth $55,000? Customer demand will tell. And that ultimately depends on your perspective. If vehicles were being cast for Mike Brady and Clark Griswold today, the Explorer would undoubtedly be on the short list.