The 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum is the new top-of-the-line version of Ford's midsize SUV. Think of it as the best of the Limited and Sport models in one package. As such, the Platinum features the strongest available engine, the superb 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, along with all-wheel drive. It also has the most luxurious Explorer interior ever, along with every available active safety feature. It's certainly a luxurious, capable package, but the real-world fuel economy of the standard twin-turbo engine typically falls short of its ratings.
What Is It?
The 2016 Ford Explorer is a three-row midsize SUV available in either front- or all-wheel drive with one of three engines. For 2016, the Explorer receives refreshed exterior styling, minor interior changes, updated safety features, revised suspension tuning, a new midgrade engine and the new top-end Platinum trim level tested here.
Base Explorers get a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. The new-for-2016 midrange engine is a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Topping the range is a twin-turbo V6 with 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. This engine comes standard in the Sport and Platinum models. All engines use a six-speed automatic transmission.
Pricing starts at $31,995. The base trim comes standard with a 60/40-split folding second-row bench and a third row split 50/50, among other features. The XLT is the next step up with a 10-way power driver seat (six-way power passenger seat), Sirius/XM radio, push-button start, back-up sensors and an exterior keypad entry system.
Next comes the Limited, which starts at $42,245. With this trim, the Explorer gains leather seating (heated and cooled up front). It's also equipped with 20-inch wheels, a 12-speaker Sony audio system, a front-facing camera, hands-free liftgate and navigation.
The Sport model gets blacked-out trim, 20-inch aluminum wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, all-wheel drive and the twin-turbo V6 as standard. It starts at $44,445.
Topping the range is the new-for-2016 Platinum trim, the focus of this test, at a price of $53,795. Ford threw just about every available Explorer option at this thing as standard equipment. It comes with the same twin-turbo V6 as the Sport, but adds upgraded leather upholstery with quilted stitching on the seats and door panels, front seats with heating/cooling/massage, a leather-and-wood steering wheel (heated around the entire wheel), heated second-row seats, rain-sensing wipers, a 500-watt Sony audio system, adaptive cruise control, automatic parallel and perpendicular parking and lane-keeping assist.
How Does It Drive?
One of the knocks against the Explorer is that it feels big from behind the wheel. That's still true to some extent, but Ford incorporated suspension changes for 2016 that have made a difference. Yes, the dash and base of the windshield still seem oh-so-far away, but the Explorer feels tighter and less cumbersome than before.
This is especially true in the Sport version we previously tested, as it's so well tied down that it completely dispenses with the "drives big" feel on the road. The Platinum model splits the difference, as it doesn't feel as floaty as the previous Explorer but it's still not quite as sharp as the Sport model. On curvy back roads the steering feels light and overboosted, with a minimal amount of feedback. It's a personality that feels right at home around town, even if it's less rewarding at higher speeds.
The 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine combined with the smart and smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission produces effortless acceleration any time you step on the gas pedal. It laughs at high-elevation mountain passes, as steep grades barely slow it down. At our test track, an Explorer Sport sprinted to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds, a quick run for a vehicle of its size and weight (nearly 5,000 pounds). With an identical drivetrain, the Platinum should prove equally speedy.
We did note that the throttle can be a bit abrupt when pulling away from a stop, although we got used to its feel quickly. Full-throttle upshifts in the Platinum were also harsher than expected, but with this much power you rarely need to press the gas pedal all the way to the floor. Outward visibility isn't a strong point either, but the Platinum's standard front and rear sensing systems, 180-degree front and rear cameras (with washers) and blind-spot warning system go a long way toward making the Explorer feel relatively easy to maneuver.
What's the Interior Like?
Ford claims the Platinum has the most upscale, highest-quality interior ever offered on a Ford vehicle in North America. We agree.
The Platinum's interior comes standard with brushed aluminum and ash wood trim and upgraded leather on the seats, instrument panel, armrests and door panels. Even the steering wheel has leather and wood trim. It's clear that considerable time was spent upgrading the cabin to the same level as some luxury brand SUVs.
Extra sound-deadening was added to the Platinum model, and the front side windows feature dual-pane glass. The result is a thoroughly quiet cabin with hardly any wind or tire noise to speak of, and zero suspension "crashing" sounds over big bumps. It's solid.
The Platinum features a 10-inch digital instrument panel display and a deep and crisp-sounding 500-watt Sony audio system with 12 speakers. As with all Explorers, the touchpad buttons on the center stack have been replaced by less fancy but more functional physical buttons for the climate control system. Some functions still go through the touchscreen, such as changing the audio source and the rear climate control, but the overall design is a big improvement.
The front seats are both cushy and supportive, and further aid comfort with heating, cooling and a massage function. The seat bottoms are a bit short, so thigh support could be improved. But the door and center armrests are thick with padding.
Second-row seats are stadium-like in terms of the high perch, though headroom is still pretty decent, even with the standard panorama sunroof. The second-row seats also have their own temperature controls.
If you can make do with the Explorer as a six-seater (as opposed to seven), we strongly recommend the optional second-row bucket seats ($695). Not only are they comfortable, they make it much easier to access the third row. That is, unless you also order the second-row console.
The third row is passable for smaller adults only. It's not so much the headroom that's the big problem as it is the lack of knee and foot room, not to mention the bolt upright seats.
If you don't use those seats much, they can be folded flat into a well in the rear cargo area, creating a large (43.9 cubic feet), flat load floor that'll hold a week's worth of luggage for a family of four without a problem. Cargo space behind the third row is competitive at 21 cubic feet, but the Explorer's max cargo capacity (all seats folded) of 81.7 cubic feet is dwarfed by the Honda Pilot's 109.2 cubic feet and the Chevy Traverse's 116.3 cubic feet.
How Safe Is It?
Standard safety equipment for the 2016 Ford Explorer includes stability and traction control, trailer sway control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a front passenger knee airbag and MyKey, which allows parents to specify limits for vehicle speed and stereo volume. The Explorer's stability control system also includes Ford's Curve Control, which can monitor speed carried into a corner and slow down to a safer speed if necessary.
A rearview camera is standard on the Explorer, while a 180-degree front camera is optional. Rear parking sensors are also standard on all but the base Explorer. Optional on the Limited and Sport but standard on the Platinum is a forward collision warning system with brake priming (bundled with the adaptive cruise control), lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, a blind-spot warning system (with rear-cross traffic alert) and inflatable seatbelts for second-row outboard passengers.
In government crash tests, last year's Explorer earned a five-star rating (out of a possible five) for overall crash protection, but the 2016 model hasn't been given an overall rating yet. So far, the government has rated the 2016 model with five stars for front-impact protection and four stars in the rollover test.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2016 Explorer its top score of "Good" for its performance in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. It received the second-lowest rating of "Marginal" in the small-overlap frontal-offset test. Its seatbelts and head restraints earned a "Good" rating for whiplash protection in rear impacts, and its child seat anchors (LATCH) received an "Acceptable" rating for ease of use.
In Edmunds testing, an Explorer Sport stopped from 60 mph in an astonishingly short 108 feet, thanks in no small part to the optional summer tires that were extra grippy. We don't expect anywhere near as remarkable a number with the Platinum and its standard 20-inch all-season tires. But the brake system itself is identical, and we noticed zero pedal fade in the Platinum, even while traversing several mountain passes. The brakes don't feel overly powerful; instead, the pedal has a nice, linear action that makes it easy to come to smooth stops around town.
What Kind of Mileage Can You Expect?
The front-wheel-drive Explorer with the base 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed automatic transmission is rated by the EPA at 20 mpg combined (17 city/24 highway). With all-wheel drive, that decreases to 19 mpg combined (16 city/23 highway).
Stepping up to the 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder sees an improvement to 22 mpg combined (19 city/28 highway) for the front-drive model, or 21 combined (18 city/26 highway) with all-wheel drive.
The top-level turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 comes only with all-wheel drive (standard on the Sport and Platinum models), and it's rated at 18 mpg combined (16 city/22 highway). These EcoBoost engines get thirsty when you use a lot of throttle. As such, an Explorer Sport we previously tested wasn't overly "eco," returning just 15.2 mpg overall and only 18.4 mpg on our 116-mile highway-heavy standard evaluation loop. Expect similar numbers from the Explorer Platinum.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider? Chevrolet Traverse: The Traverse hasn't been refreshed as recently as its main competition, but it's a solid midsize SUV thanks to its compliant ride and large interior with generous cargo area behind the third row.
Honda Pilot: The 2016 Pilot is all-new. It's got a new V6, a nine-speed automatic transmission, less weight and more passenger room than before, and good fuel efficiency for the three-row segment.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit: As an alternative choice, the Summit version of Jeep's two-row Grand Cherokee matches up nicely with the Explorer Platinum, with a high level of luxury equipment plus a similar $50,000-plus price tag. The Jeep also offers superb off-road capabilities.
Toyota Highlander: Thanks to a smooth and powerful V6, generous interior room, a thoroughly composed ride and general ease of use, the Toyota Highlander is a top choice in this three-row category.
Why Should You Consider This Vehicle?
You want the features and feel of a luxury SUV without the outward extravagance of a luxury badge. Or maybe you don't want to do anything more than pick the color of your new Explorer. You're covered on either front.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
If you don't need six- or seven-passenger seating, a smaller SUV will feel easier to drive than the Explorer around town, especially when squeezing in and out of tight parking spaces. If a comfortable third row is important to you, other rivals do a better job here.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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