Reaching New Heights in Colorado with the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum

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Even after 25 years and 7 million sales in the U.S., the Ford Explorer continues to reach new heights. The $52,970 2016 Platinum model marks its ascension to the highest level of luxury ever seen on an Explorer. There, it will try to rise above its GMC Acadia Denali and Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit competitors.

Ford recently flew me out to a place with elevations as high as its aspirations to learn more about its newest Explorer variant as part of the Explorer Platinum Adventure Tour. The multi-week event started in Vancouver, Canada and ended in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One of my colleagues from the Texas Auto Writers Association, Jeff, and I drove a Platinum from Grand Junction to Durango, Colorado.

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We started our trip by lowering the power-folding third row and storing our luggage in the resulting 43.9 cubic feet of cargo space. I tried closing the hands-free liftgate by kicking one of my Bean-booted feet under it, but I only succeeded in looking like a crazy person – repeatedly. As we were about to leave our hotel, I asked my driving partner, “Is the engine even on?” The 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 was that quiet, although the thick sprinkles of rain falling on the dual-panel moonroof certainly helped give me that impression.

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The quiet of the leather-lined and ash-wood- and aluminum-trimmed cabin was due entirely to Ford’s engineers. Wind noise was surprisingly low, even at 75 mph. Its absence reminded me of the near-silence I heard behind the wheel of the 2015 Edge Titanium. On the other hand, the Explorer’s Hankook tires made their presence known by generating a relatively noticeable amount of noise.

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So did the thunder in the depressingly gray clouds above Jeff and me as we made our way out to the Colorado National monument. It was a short drive, but one in which I had my Nirvana leather seat massaging me the whole time. The worry-free Adaptive Cruise Control helped me relax even more.

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It didn’t bring the peace I felt while surrounded by layers of Cretaceous-period marine shale and Jurassic-period sandstone at the monument, though. The sonic vacuum in which I found myself was not eerie or disturbing; it was soothing.

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Once we were back on the road and headed south on US 550 toward Ouray, we cranked up the Explorer’s 12-speaker 500-watt Premium Car Audio System by Sony. The dispersion-eliminating Clear Phase technology heightened the experience of listening to ’70s rock, but the Live Acoustics were the most impressive audio feature. They immersed me in classical music. The notes from stringed instruments became sharper and more piercing and those from all other instruments became clearer.

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Jeff and I had the day more or less to ourselves, so we didn’t have to rush through our meal at the True Grit Cafe in Ridgway. Nevertheless, I found the six-speed SelectShift automatic to be too slow-moving for my tastes. As I did in the Edge, I preferred the gearbox to be in its livelier sport mode.

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The Explorer’s 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque never once felt inadequate in Ouray, where the elevation reaches as high 7,811 feet. However, my lungs did as I traversed part of the Ouray Perimeter Trail to take in my upteenth picturesque vista of the day.

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I took in even more of them during in the parking lot of a traffic jam on the Million Dollar Highway south of Ouray. The complete lack of movement gave me a chance to run my fingertips over the interior’s soft leather-covered dashboard and upper door panels. The quilted center sections of the door panels reminded me of the hides in Bentleys. Climbing into the second row allowed me to kill time and discover that I was able to sit comfortably behind my 5’10” self. The reclining seat was a nice touch, but both sections of the bench’s back need to be tilted back in order to make plenty of comfortable inboard elbow room.

Eventually, Jeff picked up speed and the two of us wound through S-curves and sleepy off-season ski country. Along the route to our final destination, the Explorer’s suspension told me imperfections in the pavement were present without making me suffer their company.

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The twilight was fading as Jeff and I pulled up to our lodging for the night, the Durango Mountain Resort. While retrieving my bags, I thought of how high Ford has gone with its new Explorer Platinum in terms of positioning, pricing, materials, and content. I then wondered if Ford can go even higher with a new Lincoln version of the Explorer. The Platinum’s interior and features make that quite a peak to reach.

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Derek Shiekhi contributes to a variety of Internet Brands’ Auto sites, including J-K Forum , Jaguar Forums, and 5 Series. He's also a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association.

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