2016 Ford Explorer – Major Minor Change0
The 2016 Ford Explorer marks the 25th anniversary of the vehicle line. When it launched as a 1991 model, the Explorer redefined what a sport utility vehicle should be – it was a high volume SUV with 4-doors (Ford wrongly estimated 4-door sales would be 30% of the mix – later, it became 100%). 7,000,000 sales later, Ford is launching a nicely updated mid-cycle product change. When the 2016 Ford Explorer launches, most people won’t be able to tell the difference from the present Explorer. While the vehicle’s sheetmetal ahead of the A-Pillar is all new and the liftgate and taillamps are all new, the differences are subtle to the casual observer. So while the change for 2016 is major, its appearance change is minor.
New EcoBoost 4-Cylinder The big news for the Explorer comes in the form of a new 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine available for $995 above the base 3.5L V6. The turbocharged 2.3L 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine achieves 280 horsepower and 310 lb ft of torque. Driving the EcoBoost four reveals a large, heavy vehicle that is pretty light on its feet. At 4,700 pounds, the little 4-cylinder has to work hard, but its horsepower and torque are sufficient to get the Explorer moving. The 4-cylinder achieves 28 mpg on the highway using EPA’s relatively soft testing methodology. In the real world, however, EcoBoost engines have not achieved anything near its EPA rating because any sort of spirited driving or driving under load triggers the turbo(s) and fuel economy craters.
The base 3.5L V6 has 290 horsepower but only 255 lb ft of torque. The top engine remains the twin-turbo 3.5L EcoBoost V6 with 365 horsepower and 350 lb ft of torque.
New Range-Topping Platinum Series Over 45% of Explorer sales are Sport or Limited series models. Ford’s research has shown that many buyers want even more luxury, plushness and bling. Voila! Here comes the Platinum Series. Throw every option and feature available on the Explorer and add exterior and interior trim fillips, and the result is what Ford calls “the most luxurious Ford ever”. The Platinum has a leather covered instrument panel, unique instrument panel appliques, unique door trim panels and seats trimmed in “Nirvana” leather. At first glance, the sew style is reminiscent of what you would find in Tijuana, but Ford’s designers used a thoughtful approach to the stitching. Platinum gets a Sony premium sound system with Clear Phase and Live Acoustics. The Platinum can be identified on the outside by a unique grille and satin chrome door handles, liftgate applique, lower bodyside cladding insert and roof rails. Platinum, priced at $53,495 (including destination), will give Explorer the ability to play at the same level as the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Edition and the GMC Acadia Denali. Hugely profitable, Ford’s mix in the Sport, Limited and Platinum trim levels should exceed 50%.
Functional Finesses In addition to the new engine and additional series, the updated styling has resulted in an improvement in aerodynamics of over 5% giving the Explorer a coefficient of drag of just over 0.3. Quietness has been improved with detail touches throughout the body and chassis. Ford claims the Explorer has class leading quietness, but we could not prove that when driving XLT, Sport and Limited models.
The Competition Ford is pleased that the Explorer has increased sales and market share over the past four years staying ahead of its key competitors – the relatively new Toyota Highlander and the soon to be replaced Honda Pilot. Since many of the journalists at the media preview in Rancho Bernardo near San Diego had been on the Honda Pilot launch in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, Ford execs were very interested in their reaction to the new Pilot. To a person, the journos said the Pilot was a very good vehicle, but would give no details because of Honda’s very, very lengthy embargo on releasing Pilot information. The Japanese competition seemed to be top of mind and not the Jeep Grand Cherokee or GMC Acadia.