Car Reviews First Tests

2016 Ford Explorer Platinum First Test

Easy Street

Easy Street

Back in 1962 in the heat of the Mad Men era, rental car company Avis made some waves with its new slogan: “We Try Harder.” Its point was simple: because it was second fiddle to rental giant Hertz, Avis had to work harder and offer up more to its customers to take on the big boys.

What’s this messy metaphor have to do with the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum you clicked the link to read about? Easy—since its debut five years ago, the fifth-generation Explorer has been steadily leading the three-row crossover sales chart, beating out the likes of the Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse, and even Dodge Durango, which was our last three-row crossover Big Test winner. While cruising on the sales chart ahead of the pack, Ford hasn’t necessarily had to try as hard to put new butts in Explorer seats. Perhaps that might help to explain why we found the new-for-’16, luxury-level Explorer Platinum felt decidedly downscaled compared to some of its up-and-coming new rivals.

The 2016 Explorer Platinum essentially exists because Ford was finding that its Explorer buyers were loading up their Explorer Sports to the gills with options and wanted a vehicle that leaned more toward luxury than sport. Ford started with the Explorer Sport’s mechanicals, and through some luxury goodies at it such as aluminum and wood trim, a heated steering wheel made of wood and leather, quilted-leather stitching on the door panels, “Nirvana” leather seats, and a variety of other luxury and tech goodies. Ford calls it “the most upscale, high-quality interior we’ve ever offered on a Ford vehicle in North America.”
2017 Ford Explorer front three quarters

It’s not even close, but we’ll circle back to that in a few paragraphs.

Under its hood, the Explorer Platinum packs a powerful EcoBoost 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 that produces a V-8-like 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. The V-6 is paired with a standard six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The combo is good enough to get this almost 5,000-pound (2,268-kg) porker up to 60 mph in a respectable 6.4 seconds, while the quarter mile falls in 14.8 seconds at 93.1 mph (150 km/h). The 60-0 mph panic-stopping test takes 127 feet.

Enabled by that twin-turbo V-6, the Explorer Platinum’s acceleration performance is impressive. Although not the quickest Explorer we’ve tested (that honor goes to the Explorer Sport and its 5.7 second 0-60 mph run), our 2016 Explorer Platinum is among the quicker three-row crossovers we’ve tested. Despite being down 85 horsepower, our 2016 Honda Pilot Elite long-termer, a rough-equivalent to the Explorer Platinum, does 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds thanks to a significantly lighter curb weight and a nine-speed automatic transmission. Notable competitors close behind the Explorer Platinum are the V-8-powered Dodge Durango R/T (0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds), and the new 2017 GMC Acadia (0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds). Other segment competitors, such ass the new 2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature, trail this Explorer in acceleration tests.

When it comes to corners, the Explorer Platinum gives up ground to some of its newer, lighter competitors such as the aforementioned Acadia and CX-9. Our Ford tester needed 27.1 seconds to round the figure eight while averaging 0.66 g, and it completed the skidpad averaging 0.79 g.

What do these numbers tell us? That the Explorer is going to be a great boulevard and highway cruiser and not quite so fun on rural back roads or tight inner-city streets.

Out on the streets, the above proves pretty true. The best part about the Explorer Platinum is its engine: it’s a monster. With little in the way of lag, the Explorer’s EcoBoost engine makes an otherwise humdrum people mover exciting once you dip into the throttle. The six-speed automatic, eager to eek every single mpg point it out of the boosted V-6, does opt for sixth gear wherever possible and is pretty reluctant to downshift. Thankfully the EcoBoost is torquey enough on its own to make up for the transmission’s hesitancy. You’ll pay for that performance at the pump, though, as the Explorer Platinum is EPA-rated at 16/22/18 mpg (14.7/10.7/13.1 L/100km) city/highway/combined, and we saw average fuel economy in the midteens during our testing.

As expected considering its weight and dated Taurus sedan-based underpinnings, steering feedback leaves a bit to be desired with not much in the way of heft or feel from the helm; More often than not, you’re left to guessing what the front tires are doing as you head down the road. Although it’s isolated steering leaves something to be desired, it does have the benefit of giving the Explorer Platinum a pretty cushy and well-controlled ride.

Although I doubt many Ford Explorer Platinum buyers truly care about their vehicle’s objective and subjective performance characteristics, interior comfort and features do matter a great deal. On that front, the Explorer is really beginning to both show its age and give up ground to newly revised competitors. For starters the Explorer’s packaging—never its strong suit—is far more cramped than its exterior dimensions would suggest. A door opening that’s too small makes getting into the back seat difficult, and the second row is mounted low to the floor in order to improve the feeling of leg and headroom but at the expense of knee and shin room. Accessing the third row is difficult too, as the second row requires pulling the heavy seat mechanism with two hands to get the seat to tumble forwards. The effort needed to access the third row is hardly worthwhile either, as anyone who’s out of elementary school will likely find space at a premium. As difficult as it is to fold the second row bucket seats, the third row couldn’t be any easier. The third row folds in a 50/50 split via three buttons mounted in the cargo area: up, folded (seats tilted forwards), and stow, which has the seats fold and flip back into the trunk. As with most crossovers, cargo space with the third row in use is at best for a few carry-on size suitcases; you’ll want to fold the third row flat when carrying any real family cargo, such as hockey bags or gardening supplies.

The Explorer Platinum might be the king of the hill of the Explorer line, but its luxury touches disappoint. Sure, there’s your expected uprated leather, cross-stitched paneling, and wood trim, but the quality of the materials left much to be desired considering its $55,155 USD sticker price. Newer competitors like the GMC Acadia Denali and Mazda CX-9 Signature undercut the Explorer Platinum on price while beating it in opulence and comfort.

Ultimately, that might be the single biggest problem with the new Explorer Platinum and the Explorer as a whole; for every one thing it does well, someone else does it better. Want something roomier? There’s the Honda Pilot. Want something more fun to drive? Look at the Mazda CX-9. Want something more luxurious? Check out the GMC Acadia. The Ford Explorer line might be thoroughly competitive on paper, but its dominance has ultimately led the competition to simply try harder. With others overtaking the Explorer in comfort, packaging, luxury, and dynamics, it’s now finally time for Ford to show “we try harder” when the next-generation Explorer hits the streets in 2019.

2016 Ford Explorer Platinum EcoBoost 4WD
BASE PRICE $53,915
PRICE AS TESTED $55,155
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 6-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/365-hp/350-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,956 lb (55/45%)
WHEELBASE 112.8 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 198.3 x 78.9 x 71.0 in
0-60 MPH 6.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.8 sec @ 93.1 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 127 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.79 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.1 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 16/22/18 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 211/153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.06 lb/mile