Test Drive: 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum

Cruising in the revamped SUV through British Columbia

The Ford Explorer has been the best-selling SUV in America for 25 years, and in order to keep that title, the brand has given the model a refresh. For 2016, the cars come with new sheetmetal from the A-pillar forward, a remodeled back-end, updated interior, a new engine, new standard and optional features, plus upgraded safety. The Ford Motor Company has also just released an all-new trim that marries luxe comfort and materials with more sports-minded performance. It’s the most upscale, high-quality interior that Ford has ever offered on any vehicle in North America.

To introduce the newest member of the Explorer family to the automotive press, Ford designed a unique drive from British Columbia to New Mexico—motoring 2,738 miles, over 25 days, with 187 drivers. The company picked 25 spots to visit along our section of the route, in honor of its 25 years of ferrying people along the highways, byways and dirt tracks of North America.

The Platinum Edition—which we drove along a course from Kamloops to Calgary—elevates the three-row, seven-seater with even more upgrades than the entry-level vehicle. Walking around the outside, you’ll notice that the Explorer retains its familiar elongated shape, but is less boxy than previous versions. Outside, cosmetics include a new fascia, updated head- and tail-lights, with standard daytime running lights and LEDs, a new tailgate and exhaust ports. Platinum brings 20-inch machined wheels, three new colors, and premium silver-painted front and rear skid plates. Also novel is its hands-free liftgate, activated by waving a foot under the bumper, and a dual-folding moonroof that spans the front and rear seats.

Inside is a refreshed control panel for all trims and a gauge cluster that is a combination of analog and digital, which is viewed through a 10-inch display behind the steering column—a first for a Ford vehicle. Standing out from the crowd, Platinum adds real ash wood and aluminum, and indulgent features such as heated leather and wood steering wheel, and a leather bedecked dashboard and trim accents. With second and third row seats folded, 81.7 cubic feet of cargo space accommodates your gear.

The high-end trim adds extra USB ports for rear riders and the vehicle is also a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Notable is a “industry-first” premium sound package from Sony that bundles a 12-speaker, 500-watt system. Sony designers conducted over 100 hours of research in concert halls in Berlin, Amsterdam and Vienna to bring its technologically-astute, live-sound quality to the special edition. Also onboard is a new generation of SYNC MyFord Touch, Ford’s hands-free infotainment system that makes calls, reads texts, navigates, and plays music with Bluetooth, aux and USB connection, plus SiriusXM satellite radio.

Standard safety and convenience technologies includes Ford’s enhanced active park assist with parallel parking, park out assist, reverse perpendicular parking, and forward and side sensing systems that work together to make parking near effortless. A 180-degree front-facing camera is an aid and is self-cleaning—as is a rear camera—to keep forward and rearward views obstruction-free. Other added features include new inflatable rear safety belts on second-row outboard seating positions.

Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 engine with EcoBoost mated with a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission that produces 365-horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque; towing is rated at 5,000 lbs. The EPA rates its fuel economy at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway.

We drove the new model close to 400 miles on our adventure—just one leg of Platinum’s celebratory journey. Light-years from the first Explorer we drove 25 years ago—drivers feel cosseted in the upscale cabin and will appreciate the safety and security of the standard Intelligent 4WD, an all-wheel drive system that seamlessly adjusts to changing drive conditions 20 times faster than a blink of an eye. It sends torque to the front or the rear depending on weather or topography, while a Terrain Management System lets drivers select settings for different road surfaces (from “normal” to “sand”) with electronics that control throttle position, brakes, wheel speed and gearing—something that was useful on our drive. Altogether it’s an upgrade befitting the Explorer, and one in which drivers will feel function hasn’t been sacrificed for bells and whistles.

Ford’s 2016 Explorer is available now for $31,050 and the Platinum starts at $52,600.

Second image by Sue Mead; all others courtesy of Ford