KAMLOOPS, British Columbia – When I was 5 years old and my dad pulled into our driveway with a brand-new Ford Explorer, I knew that this meant goodbye to our suburban subdivision and hello to uncharted wilderness. As a kid in the early 1990s, it was clear to me that driving an Explorer meant there was big adventure out there, and you needed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Who knew that the Explorer really meant T-ball and picnics in the park, not camping and fire-roasted beans?
Two decades later, I’m driving through a forest on the remote coast of British Columbia in a 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum. Has the Explorer finally embraced a spirit of adventure? Has it left suburbia behind? Meanwhile, Michael Bublé is wafting through the airways on crystal-clear HD radio, while this seat upholstered in Nirvana leather warms my butt and massages my back.
Riding in style, hardly roughing it
With the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum, the Explorer nameplate is trying to move dramatically upmarket, away from soccer games and school zones and into the kind of premium lifestyle represented by the GMC Acadia Denali and Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. This is not an easy target, because the Explorer Platinum must meld luxury, style, technology, and performance into one package.
Upgrades like LED foglamps, satin chrome trim, and 20-inch machined aluminum wheels make the Platinum look sharp from the outside, but the real attention has been paid to the interior. You’ll find quilted leather upholstery and both aluminum and wood trim throughout the cabin, and it’s all been put together impeccably. The Platinum offers a definite feeling of substance that you don’t get in other Explorers. Unfortunately there’s no getting around the fact that this is still an Explorer, and no amount of fine materials can disguise the subpar visibility as a result of thick A-pillars, a high beltline, and tall cowl.
But as the rain is coming down in wind-blown sheets on the chilly mountain two-lane of British Columbia’s Highway 99, I’m plenty comfortable, feeling like a toasted biscuit with the heated seats and heated steering wheel both cranked up. Heated second-row seats are also included with the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum, which means there will be a lot less fighting over which kid gets to sit up front in February.
Navigation is also standard, and it’s projected onto Ford’s new 10-inch touchscreen with Sync voice commands. The interface is simple and cleanly laid out, making it easy to switch among phone, audio, and map pages. Knobs and buttons on the center stack for climate control and audio functions intelligently support the touchscreen display, so I have no trouble changing volume or climate controls while keeping my eyes on the winding roads and misty skyline ahead.
Forging our own path
I have no doubts about the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum as a competent highway cruiser, so I take the first chance I get to traverse instead some more dramatic, unpaved roads. The narrow path off the main highway is wet and bumpy, so I switch the Explorer’s selective-drive knob from Normal to Mud to get the best combination of engine power, transmission mapping, torque split, and ABS. It’s no off-road course, but I’m nevertheless pleased with how easily the Explorer climbs the steep path. It doesn’t get frazzled by big rocks or even bigger holes, giving me the confidence to keep climbing.
There’s a gorgeously picturesque vista over the cliff as this rutted road reaches its end. I want to get closer for a better view, but there’s some construction going on and a pickup truck blocks my path. As I’m about to roll down my window to ask the construction worker if I can pass, he smiles and waves at me, puts his truck into gear, and gets out of the way. Canadians are so predictable.
Fast but not an athlete
After returning to the main road for a long stretch, the landscape starts to change as the mountains fade away and dusty, rolling hills come into view. This transition yields the windiest section of the journey, but twisty roads are not where the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum feels most at home. As you’d expect from a great big ute not meant for speed, there’s lots of body roll and slow, light-effort steering, so the Explorer lumbers through tight turns like a tranquilized bear.
The upside of the Platinum’s unique chassis calibration is it errs on the side of comfort, and there’s a good amount of suspension travel to make the ride compliant but not bouncy over rougher pavement. I’m a lot more confident pushing the Explorer through long, sweeping bends, where I can count on the ute to put down the power from its potent twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 engine. The Explorer’s six-speed automatic shifts somewhat abruptly when pushed, but usually it doesn’t have to strain too hard thanks to the engine’s generous 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough in any situation you’re likely to encounter.
Once the terrain flattens out a bit and there’s nothing but rolling, grassy pasture in every direction, I mat the gas pedal. The EcoBoost V-6 has a lot of grunt, but it comes on very smoothly and predictably. What I didn’t expect was how cool and collected the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum feels at high speed; it’s not the slightest bit twitchy, and the extra acoustic insulation really blocks out noise from engine, tires and wind.
Anti-climax, but with a smile
I’ve been told the world’s largest chainsaw can be found in the tiny gold-rush town of Lillooet, situated deep in the gorges of British Columbia’s Coast Mountains. I’m hoping that seeing something this big, loud, and destructive will give me some energy after hours of calm cruising in the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum.
After asking the wrinkled blond woman at the modest storefront if this is indeed the home of the world’s most enormous chainsaw, she politely informs me that she no longer has it. “That crazy thing? That’s Steve’s big saw,” she says. “He took it back to his house. But he’d be happy to show it to you I’m sure. Want me to give you his address and call ahead for you?”
No thanks, I say. That’s an adventure I’d rather pass on for now. I hop back into the Explorer, defeated. For my final leg of the trip to the city of Kamloops, I set the adaptive cruise control and let my mind wander, knowing the standard suite of active safety features such as lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and blind-spot monitoring will keep watch for me.
An Explorer for the modern customer
At the end of my Canadian road trip I have to accept that the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum is still not the adventure vehicle my 5-year-old self would expect. Of course, the truth is that the hundreds of thousands of people who buy Explorers every year as an adjunct to their suburban life don’t really care.
While the Platinum doesn’t address the Explorer’s poorly packaged interior space and lack of handling prowess, it does present an all-in-one package that is far more attractive and loaded with technology than any other version in the model lineup. So aside from the occasional family vacation (and perhaps now a trip downtown to the symphony), it’s hello to T-ball and picnics in the park just as before, only now enjoyed with a warm massage.
2016 Ford Explorer Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Price: $53,495
- Engines: 3.5L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/365 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 350 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
- Transmissions: 6-speed automatic
- Layout: 4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
- EPA Mileage: 16/22 mpg (city/hwy)
- Suspension F/R: Strut-type, coil springs/multilink, coil springs
- Brakes: Vented discs
- Tires: 255/50R-20 Hankook Optimo H426
- L x W x H: 198.3 x 78.9 x 71.0 in
- Wheelbase: 112.8 in
- Headroom: 41.4/40.6/37.8 in (front/second/third row)
- Legroom: 42.9/39.5/33.3 in (front/second/third row)
- Shoulder Room: 61.5/61.0/50.8 in (front/second/third row)
- Cargo Room: 81.7/43.9/21.0 cu ft (behind front/second/third row)
- Towing: 5,000 lb
- Weight: 4,890 lb
- Weight Dist. F/R: N/A
- 0-60 mph:
- Â¼ Mile: N/A
- Top Speed: N/A