Providing room for as many as seven, the 2016 Ford Explorer is a three-row SUV and one of six utility vehicles presented by Ford. This SUV tows up to 5,000 pounds and offers a terrain management system with its available all-wheel drive package.
The 2016 Explorer is a midsize SUV and a best-selling model for the Ford brand. While previous generations were based on a truck platform, the current Explorer offers handling that’s more carlike, with a quieter and more refined interior.
Ford offers the Explorer in five trim levels: base, XLT, Limited, Sport and Platinum. Front-wheel drive is standard and an available all-wheel drive system extends this SUV’s off-road capabilities.
For 2016, the Platinum series is new, adding a higher level of luxury and finesse to the product line. There’s also updated exterior styling and a newly available turbocharged 2.3-liter engine that replaces the previously optional turbocharged 2.0-liter power plant.
The 2016 Explorer receives a modest exterior update, including revisions to the hood, grille, headlamps, fog lamps and fenders. Changes to the rear bring in changes to the liftgate and tail lamps.
Along its profile, the Explorer is marked by a high beltline, pronounced sculpting and distinct character lines. The large wheel wells provide ample room for 18- or 20-inch aluminum wheels. The rear pillar is blacked out, giving this model the appearance of a wraparound rear window. All models come with second- and third-row privacy glass, roof side rails and a rear spoiler.
Ford arranges the Explorer’s interior with three rows of seating, which can include a bench seat in the second row or a pair of captain’s chairs. A 50/50 split-folding bench seat occupies the third row.
All models are equipped with air conditioning, power accessories, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, an audio system, a rearview camera, a smart-charging USB port and four 12-volt outlets. A power driver’s seat with lumbar support is standard and provides excellent support and bolstering. The front passenger seat brings in power controls at the XLT level.
A 110-volt power outlet, power-adjusted pedals, a power steering column, a heated steering wheel and a voice-activated navigation system are included with the Limited edition.
The Platinum level brings in a level of sophistication not previously found in an Explorer. A 10-inch digital instrument cluster is standard and is placed behind a real wood steering wheel wrapped in leather and offering a heating element. There are upgraded wood and brushed aluminum accents, a leather-wrapped instrument panel and an upgraded audio system. A dual-panel moonroof rounds out this trim level.
The multi-contour driver’s seat in our test model was comfortable, supportive and enhanced by a massaging feature that’s available only in the Platinum edition. Here, you can control massaging through the color display panel with diagrams of both front seats featured. Choose high or low settings to get the preferred level of massaging with separate settings for your back and for the seat bottom. Add in the cooling or heating element and you’ll enjoy a level of kneading your masseuse cannot match.
Three engine choices are available with the 2016 Explorer. The standard engine is a 3.5-liter V6 making 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. Newly available for 2016 is a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 280 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Also available with select all-wheel drive models is a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 that generates 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. All three engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The base, front-wheel drive Explorer gets an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg city/highway. Models with the smaller turbocharged engine get up to 19/28 mpg.
As tested, Ford supplied a Platinum edition. This model comes with the turbocharged V6 and has a standard all-wheel drive layout augmented by a terrain management system.
The test model offered excellent off-the-mark acceleration with only minimal turbo lag noted. Press hard on the accelerator and the full scope of the engine’s capabilities is unleashed as it steps up to deliver V8-like performance. On the straightaways, the Explorer moves up to highway speed with rapidity and offers excellent passing power. On twisty roads, the expected body roll was present, offering a reminder that spirited driving in this SUV does have its limitations.
Handling is crisp, braking is firm, and if you have the occasion to move off road, you’ll find that the Explorer has a broad range of capabilities. The terrain management system is controlled by a dial with four settings: Normal, Mud, Snow and Sand.
We weren’t able to take the Explorer to a sandy area, but we discovered this SUV performs admirably in muddy terrain. Ford also includes a hill-descent mode button centered within the dial. Give it a push and the Explorer will take over braking as you work your way down a steep descent.
The best news from Ford this year comes with the rollout of Sync 3, the latest version of its infotainment interface. However, the 2016 Explorer still has the second-generation system. That means if you want Sync 3, you need to shop the 2017 model. This matter may be a big deal for people who place a premium on all things infotainment, as Sync 3 is easier to operate and is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
All Platinum models are equipped with an all-new Sony audio system with a 500-watt amplifier. Outfitted with technologies typically offered in home audio systems, Ford claims the sound quality rivals that of some of Europe’s finest concert halls. We can attest that the quality is exceptional and crystal clear.
Additional new technologies for 2016 include front and rear parking cameras with washers. Also available are park-assist features such as park-out assist, semi-automatic parallel parking and perpendicular park assist. These technologies work as promised, delivering a taste of autonomous driving to come.
Ford also supplies a hands-free liftgate. You open it by performing a kicking motion under the rear bumper.
The 2016 Ford Explorer earned a top five-star rating for its overall performance in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In three crash tests (moderate overlap front, side and roof strength) the 2016 Explorer achieved the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) highest score of Good. In small overlap front testing, this SUV achieved a Marginal rating. When equipped with a front crash prevention system, the Explorer received a Basic rating from the IIHS.
All models are outfitted with a suite of air bags and a rearview camera. Unique to Ford are the inflatable safety belts for rear outboard seating passengers. When activated, the belts are designed to reduce the risk of injury to the head and neck.
Ford prices the 2016 Explorer from $31,050 for the standard front-wheel drive model. From there, shoppers can consider the XLT ($33,400), Limited ($41,300), Sport ($43,500) and Platinum ($52,970) editions.
Most shoppers will probably look at the middle three trims to compare. The Limited includes such features as a standard power liftgate and a power-folding third-row seat. The Sport edition brings in the turbocharged V6 and all-wheel drive capabilities for a modest $2,200 price differential versus the Limited.
Well-equipped models will run you about $45,000. That price is in the neighborhood of what you’d pay for a comparably equipped version of the Explorer’s main competitors, including the 2016 Dodge Durango, Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander.
The Ford Explorer is a proven name and a standout model in its class. If you need something slightly smaller, the two-row Ford Edge should be considered. For people desiring the maximum combination of passenger room and towing, the Ford Expedition is worth a look.
Choosing the Platinum model brings a level of sophistication rarely found among models that aren’t part of the luxury segment. Indeed, the interior is on par with that of a Lincoln product. Given that Ford’s luxury brand doesn’t have an Explorer equivalent, the Platinum is a worthy alternative to certain Land Rover, BMW and Infiniti SUVs.