Competes with: Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota Highlander, Dodge Durango
Looks like: An Explorer with Kia Sorento grille
Drivetrain: 290-hp, 3.5-liter V-6; 270-hp, turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder; 365-hp, turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 (all hp numbers estimated); six-speed automatic transmission; front- or all-wheel drive
Hits dealerships: Summer 2015
Three-row SUVs are a hot-ticket item and just about every automaker has an entry in the field. Ford’s seven-passenger Explorer is one of the continual best-sellers and has been overdue for a redesign. While not as thorough of a retooling as when the Explorer switched platforms to a car- based chassis in 2011, the 2016 model receives more than a face-lift with numerous areas massaged, inside, outside and under the hood.
Related: More 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show News
Possibly one of the user-friendliest changes is the addition of real buttons to the multimedia system; they replace touch-sensitive ones within the screen, a techy trend Ford is quickly reeling back in favor of tactile controls. A new Platinum trim level hopes to inject more luxury in the popular SUV to compete with luxury trims like the Jeep Cherokee Summit and GMC Acadia Denali.
The Explorer’s new front styling positions the grille and headlamps higher than the 2015 model in an effort to give the Explorer a more rugged appearance. The headlights are standard LED low beams and available LED fog lamps and LED signature lighting. Up top, a redesigned roof rack and rear spoiler improve aerodynamics. Other aero-improving features include active grille shutters that open and close at highway speeds to reduce drag.
An available hands-free liftgate used in other Ford SUVs like the Escape is new for the Explorer this year. With the feature, a kick of the leg under the bumper triggers the power liftgate when your hands are full of groceries or other items. You also may recognize the feature from the Lincoln MKC.
One thing you won’t have to use your hands for anymore is to clean the backup camera lens when it’s dirty. A front and rear camera washer is an industry first, according to Ford, and the Explorer comes with the self-cleaning backup camera standard.
Stepping up to the Platinum trim level adds a bevy of exterior features. In a release, Ford says one in five Explorer Sport (previously the top trim) buyers have owned a luxury vehicle, and that they typically purchase the most-expensive trim package available, signaling to Ford that buyers were ready for a Platinum version. Platinum Explorers have unique LED headlight lighting, a standard dual-panel moonroof, silver-painted front and rear skid plates plus 20-inch wheels and an integrated exhaust with chrome bezels designed to reduce the appearance of soot collecting at the vehicle’s rear.
Joining the multimedia system’s additional buttons for 2016 are what Ford calls “smart-charging USB ports” located in the vehicle’s front and rear. What’s different about these is that they’re capable of charging devices two-times faster than before.
The 2016 Explorer is fitted with more features to help reduce noise, vibration and harshness inside the passenger compartment. New tires, door seals, subframe mounts and available acoustic glass up front are ways Ford is making the Explorer a more peaceful place to ride and drive. Rear passengers may be at the most peace with increased second-row legroom helped by next- generation front seats. Platinum trim levels receive the high-end treatment with additional sound-deadening provisions plus Nirvana leather multicontoured seats and various upscale materials throughout the interior. The dashboard, door inserts, upper door trim and armrests are all leather-wrapped, while real ash wood and brushed aluminum accents are dispersed inside.
Under the Hood
The big news for 2016 is the small engine. The Explorer’s new turbocharged 2.3-liter four- cylinder first made an appearance in the 2015 Lincoln MKC, then the 2015 Ford Mustang and now the Explorer. With an estimated 270 hp and 300 pounds-feet of torque on tap, it’s more powerful than the former 240-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but Ford expects it to be just as fuel efficient: 20/28/23 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive. For the first time, the four-cylinder Ecoboost engine is now available with all-wheel drive as well as a tow package. The Explorer can be equipped with the turbocharged four-cylinder on base, XLT and Limited trim levels.
Ford retuned the Explorer’s suspension for 2016 to offer better handling and a quieter cabin as well as more differentiation among trim levels. The Explorer’s standard estimated 290-hp, 3.5- liter V-6 and available estimated 365-hp, turbocharged Ecoboost V-6 in the Sport carry over for 2016. Platinum models use the Sport’s 365-hp V-6 and all-wheel drive.
Adding to the Explorer’s already comprehensive list of available advanced safety systems — collision warning, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and more — are available 180-degree wide-angle front and rear parking cameras, plus parking sensors added to the front. Ford’s Active Park now includes park-out assist and perpendicular park assist in addition to semiautomatic parallel parking.