After 25 years of the Ford Explorer, the latest version launches with a media blast, where employees at the Chicago Assembly Plant welcomed Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of The Americas, and Jimmy Settles, director of the National Ford Department. Since its launch in the American market in 1990, more than 7 million Explorers have been sold, and from the looks of things, Ford doesn’t plan on sales slowing down anytime soon.
According to Ford “the 2016 Explorer represents a significant update to the iconic SUV,” and while it still has a similar outline to the outgoing model, its nose and sharper angles are far more masculine than anything we have seen to date on an Explorer. It also is being offered with the new 2.3 liter EcoBoost engine, and a Platinum version will arrive soon. Base, XLT, Limited, and Sport models all became available last month, and retail sales increased 24% over the same period last year, making it the best May since 2004 for the Detroit company.
But this isn’t just about America, as the Explorer has long been one of Ford’s top U.S. exports, and according to Ford’s research, approximately 54,000 Explorers were exported in 2014 to more than 100 different markets, an iconic American car that is both utilitarian and rugged, and offers everything a busy soccer (or football) mom needs.
Long gone is the boxy, simplistic economy Explorer with the styling of a Lego brick and the ride quality of a cement truck. This latest generation is a grandiose machine built around technology, efficiency, comfort, style, and safety. This is a genuinely nice car, with amenities galore.
Last fall, in an article that focused exclusively on the 2016 Explorer, we talked about Ford’s 2.3 liter EcoBoost engine and how this new engine offers us 280 horsepower and 310 torques, a bump of 40 extra horses and pound-feet over the anemic older engine. Available on Base, XLT, and Limited versions, Ford says that this boost in power will not negate fuel economy, and that front-wheel-drive versions will retain their outstanding fuel economy rating. Meanwhile, Sport and the Platinum editions get a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 that pushes 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet.
For the first time, a four-cylinder EcoBoost engine will be compatible with a tow package as well as Ford’s Terrain Management System, and this system “reassesses conditions about 20 times faster than the blink of an eye” to help maintain efficiency in cruising conditions. It’s worth noting that the Terrain Management System also defaults back to “normal mode” when the ignition is turned off, and drivers can use a dial to shift on the fly between normal, snow, sand, or mud settings, and that a fifth setting is included for navigating hills.
New technologies available in the 2016 Explorer include front and rear wide-angle lens cameras that have their own integrated washers (an automotive first), smart-charging USB ports that charge smart devices up to two times faster than conventional ports, an active grille that closes on the freeway to reduce drag and opens at lower speeds to offer more air, and “Air Curtains,” which are designed to minimize drag like what we saw on the Daimler SuperTruck.
The 2016 Explorer also gives us parallel/perpendicular parking assistance and Ford’s park-out assist. This new model also gets a hands-free liftgate, and many of the electronic warning and safety systems that came on the previous generation remain, as these technologies are still cutting-edge and work flawlessly.
According to Ford design director Christopher Svensson, the upcoming Platinum edition of the Explorer has “[t]he most premium, high-quality interior we’ve ever offered on a Ford vehicle.” This premium version features acoustic glass, brushed-aluminum and satin-finished ash wood trim pieces, and a heated wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel. Nirvana leather envelopes the instrument panel and wraps around console armrests, alongside quilted door bolsters and upper door trim pieces. Back up front the instrument cluster showcases a 10-inch infotainment center that has been outfitted with analog displays, and on the tail end of things a trick exhaust reduces soot via a shield that catches the substance so it doesn’t collect around the port holes.
Ford has also overhauled the Explorer chassis so that there is an entirely different driving experience in the XLT, Sport, and Platinum models. MacPherson suspension leads the way, with Sport models benefiting from a unique steering gear, front and rear performance springs, and stiffer struts and dampers, while four-wheel drive models get strut bars that are three millimeters thicker for added control.
The aforementioned aggressive nose and redesigned headlamps now feature LED low-beams and are available with LED fog lamps. Fully visible heat-sinks for cooling the LED headlamps remain an interesting touch as they are often hidden on most cars, and according to Ford this approach “puts innovation on display.”
Ford hit the nail on the head with the 2016 Explorer with a more aggressive exterior that is balanced by a lush interior, and apparently this is what Ford buyers want. Recent consumer research from Ford shows that “one in five Explorer Sport customers previously owned a luxury vehicle” and Ford’s vice president, Raj Nair, sums it up best: “Explorer is the centerpiece of Ford’s global utility vehicle lineup because it delivers an ideal combination of form and function. And with well over 7 million already sold, nearly everyone has an Explorer story.”