The Ford Explorer is one of the most popular midsize SUVs sold in the United States. For 2016, it gets an interior and exterior freshening, additional features and a more powerful optional engine. Explorer is available only as a 4-door wagon with front- or all-wheel drive and 7-passenger capacity. It competes against vehicles like the Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.
Explorer is available in one of five trim levels: Base, XLT, Limited, Sport and Platinum. The Base, XLT and Limited come standard with a 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Optional on those models is a turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder that delivers 280 horsepower. Standard on the Sport and Platinum is a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 that makes 365 horsepower. All models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Front-wheel drive is standard on the Base, XLT and Limited. Optional on those models and standard on the Sport and Platinum is all-wheel drive. When properly equipped, towing capacity is 3000 pounds on models with the turbo four and 5000 pounds on V6 models.
Standard safety features include traction and stability control, rear-view camera and dual-front, front-side, passenger-knee and canopy airbags. Also available are blind-spot detection, inflatable rear safety belts, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping, park assist and forward and side sensing systems.
Explorer pricing ranges from $31,050 for the base to $52,970 for the Platinum. The destination charge is $945 and Explorer is built right here in Chicago.
Explorer's base engine offers decent performance and acceptable fuel economy. Opt for the 2.3-liter turbo and you gain a bit of refinement and pick up a mpg or two in highway mileage and don't give up any performance. The available twin-turbo V6 provides ample acceleration and great passing power. It's also strong enough to keep Explorer in the fast lane with a full load of passengers.
Fuel economy isn't great, especially with the twin-turbo six. It's EPA rated at just 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Those numbers lag behind V6-powered competitors. Thankfully, real-world fuel economy is directly tied to driving style. Cruise around town with a light foot and you might see 20 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway.
Explorer's refinements for 2016 made the vehicle more drivable and more comfortable. The suspension easily soaks up large bumps and expansion joints. At the same time, secondary motions are well quelled. There's only modest body lean in turns, but the tires start complaining when the driver switches into performance mode. Brakes have plenty of stopping power and the steering is nicely weighted and accurate -- both around town and on the highway.
Explorer's interior gets a welcome facelift this year. Gone are the capacitive touch inputs, replaced by traditional buttons and knobs. Materials and assembly quality seem to be a cut above the norm for this class. The interior is quiet on the highway and outward visibility is great.
The front seats offer good head and leg room and are nicely padded for long-haul comfort. Second-row seats are comfortable as well, but the third-row is best left to children. Cargo capacity doesn't match up to the class leaders but is more than ample for most needs. Second- and third-row seats fold flat to create a long and even load floor.
Ford's Explorer combines an interesting blend of engines and comfort, convenience and overall refinement at an affordable price. It's not as spacious or smooth riding as its more car-like competitors, but it counters with cargo versatility and off-road ability. The midsize SUV and crossovers market aren't as hot as they once were, so dealers should be willing to discount.