Ford may have ruled the 1990’s with the introduction of the Ford Explorer in 1991, but since then SUVs have gone fully mainstream. The 2016 Ford Explorer now has to defend its title as the best-selling SUV of the last 25 years against a growing contingent of worthy competitors. Targeting both mainstream and premium customers alike, the 2016 Ford Explorer debuts at the 2014 Los Angeles auto show with a new look, a new four-cylinder EcoBoost engine, and a high-end Platinum trim level.
New EcoBoost engine, now with four-wheel drive
Replacing the outgoing 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine for the base Explorer is the new 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine. Shared with the 2015 Lincoln MKC and the 2015 Ford Mustang, the new engine in this application makes at least 270 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque—up 30 hp and 30 lb from the old engine, which should make acceleration from 40 mph more confidence-inspiring. Ford claims that in addition to the increased performance, the new engine will help the Explorer return at least the same, if not better, fuel economy (the old 2.0-liter Explorer returned 28 mpg on the highway).
Perhaps the biggest change though, is the availability of four-wheel drive with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost. While customers before could not have both an efficient four-cylinder engine with anything other than front-wheel drive, they can now get the best of both worlds. The 2.3-liter engine will be offered on base, XLT, and Limited versions of the 2016 Ford Explorer. 2.3-liter Explorers also get special features like active oil pressure control, a higher compression ratio, an active wastegate, and low-friction valvetrain components.
Carrying over from the existing Explorer, we’ll still see the same 3.5-liter V-6 as standard for base XLT and Limited models, while the beefy, 365-hp, twin-turbo, 3.5-liter V-6 will come standard on Sport and Platinum models.
Refreshed looks, not all skin deep
As expected, the new Explorer receives refreshed front and rear styling for this mid-cycle update. Up front, familiar cues like blacked-out A-pillars remain, but the whole front fascia has been overhauled, with some changes unique to specific trim levels. For the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum, a new mesh grille with active grille shutters sits between more rectangular LED headlights, new LED foglamps are integrated into C-shaped housings that also function as air curtains, and the lower front intake gets a new design with a more prominent skid plate.
These design changes, combined with new flush roof rails, a redesigned rear spoiler, and a reshaped D-pillar, help reduce aerodynamic drag by five percent. As innovative of an achievement as this is, the new design in some ways seems like a step back for the 2016 Ford Explorer, as the grille’s shape and mesh pattern (unfortunately) harken back to the old mid-2000’s look from the frumpy Ford Freestyle crossover.
Nevertheless, the interior of the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum is a quantum leap in quality. Looking to nab some high-transaction-price market share from other premium SUVs like the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit and the GMC Acadia Denali, the Explorer Platinum spares no expense. Nearly every surface is covered in real brushed aluminum, finely polished wood, or plush Nirvana leather, which Ford says is the softest hide ever used on a Ford vehicle.
The Platinum trim comes standard with an enhanced active park assist system with park-out capability, a hands-free liftgate, 180-degree cameras with washers in the front and rear, quick-charging USB ports, a heated steering wheel, a fully digital instrument cluster, 20-inch wheels, and satin chrome exterior detailing. The cabin has a combination of quality materials and technology with a truly premium feel that could very well seduce buyers from luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz or Land Rover. The most welcome change (coming to all 2016 Ford Explorer models) is by far the addition of knobs and buttons for volume and climate control functions. Subtle changes like thinner A-pillars, better ergonomics, and improvements to acoustics and noise insulation are also new.
Ford has the benefit of a lot of history with the 2016 Ford Explorer, and it is hoping to continue that legacy with an even larger community of customers from both mainstream- and premium-shopping demographics. Information on pricing and equipment will be available closer to the summer 2015 on-sale date.