Playing fancy dress in Ford’s aging three-row crossover is a pricey game.
– Detroit, Michigan
For a long time, the Ford Explorer was the de-facto family SUV – think about how many you saw at every soccer practice in the 1990s and early 2000s. It’s still a hit today, holding its ground as the nation’s best-selling three-row SUV, but it’s starting to feel like the Explorer is no longer the cutting edge of family hauling. Especially with the stylish and efficient new Honda Pilot and Mazda CX-9 on the market, the Explorer looks like the old man of the group.
Ford has attempted to freshen up the Explorer’s appeal by updating it inside and out, including the addition of a high-zoot Platinum trim level. But this pricey trim has me wondering if crossover shoppers’ $54,760 wouldn’t be better spent elsewhere.
- Six years into its life, this generation of the Ford Explorer still looks smart. It has a commanding presence on the road, especially when dressed up with the Platinum model’s 20-inch wheels, LED head- and taillights, chrome trim, and satin-chrome grille. Where so many crossovers have gone curvy and swoopy in search of wind-cheating aerodynamics, the Explorer stays loyal to its original boxy silhouette.
- The Platinum treatment also pays dividends in terms of cabin design. Who ever thought we’d see quilted cream leather and brushed-metal trim in an Explorer? Of course, it’s a huge risk getting cream-colored leather in a car that will carry snack-spilling tykes.
- Fighting against 4,890 pounds of mass and diluted by a lazy automatic transmission, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 nonetheless is a strong performer. No, it won’t blow your socks off, but I’m glad Ford still offers an unnecessarily gutsy engine in its family crossover; the tow rating of 5,000 pounds is generous for this vehicle segment. Yet as I’ve found time and time again, it’s really hard to see the “Eco” side of the EcoBoost equation, with indicated fuel economy during our my hovering around 15-19 mpg, just a bit below the EPA ratings of 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway, and 18 mpg combined.
- One thing Ford got correct from the get-go with this Explorer is the comfort of its third-row seating. Most competitors assume the only passengers back there will be kids and saddle them with thin cushioning, a seat bottom that’s barely off the ground, tight knee- and headroom, and tiny windows. The Explorer’s third row, though, has a thick and comfy cushion, decent space for a post-adolescent, and large side windows. It’s one of the best third rows in the class.
- The Explorer feels like a reverse Tardis, with less room in the cabin than its giant body would have you expect. That’s not to say you can’t fit people in all three rows, or that cargo room isn’t generous when the seats are folded. It’s rather to suggest that the high beltline, fat pillars, and up-high seating position conspire to give drivers a sense of claustrophobia. I much prefer the open, airy feel of rival SUVs like the Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder.
- You pay a lot of money to move up to the Explorer Platinum trim – it’s $9,470 pricier than the next-cheapest option, the Explorer Sport – and the functional changes don’t do much for me. The massaging front seats sound like a pleasant option, but there’s more whirring motor noise than actual massaging going on. Nor does the high-end 500-watt Sony sound system sound particularly clearer or more lifelike than the six-speaker systems in lesser trim levels (the Explorer Sport has a 390-watt version of the Sony audio system).
- While many new Ford products feature Sync 3, the Explorer is still stuck with the old MyFord Touch infotainment system. Between its inscrutable graphics, lazy responses, and lack of new features like Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, the Explorer’s infotainment system is a huge letdown when I know Ford can – and does – sell something far better.
|2016 FORD EXPLORER PLATINUM AWD|
|ENGINE||Biturbocharged 3.5L V6|
|OUTPUT||365 Horsepower / 350 Pound-Feet|
|EPA FUEL ECONOMY||16 City / 22 Highway / 18 Combined|
|TOWING CAPACITY||5,000 Pounds|
|CARGO VOLUME||21.0 / 43.9 / 81.7 Cubic Feet|
Photos: Steven Ewing / Motor1.com