Driving the 2016 Ford Explorer across the Arizona desert in July gave me plenty of time to think about how far we’ve come in our desire to journey onward.
We were on the road from Phoenix to San Diego. The back of the SUV was packed with furniture and other household items for our son’s new apartment. Somewhere along the way I began to think about the explorers who crossed this barren desert 150 years ago in rickety Conestogas and prairie schooners likewise loaded with goods for their future homes. What would they have thought about the total comfort and luxury of this trip? My Explorer was the Platinum edition loaded with massaging seats and a 500-watt Sony audio system. Unlike the pioneers who huddled under the cover of their canvas, I could pull back the shades on the huge glass sunroofs because the climate control could keep me downright chilly as the miles flew by.
I’m not saying that the Explorer is the ultimate vehicle. After all, most modern cars will make that trek in comfort. But if you’re looking to cross the desert in a full-sized SUV, the Explorer should be on your list to consider.
Ford gave the Explorer a face lift for 2016. The grille and LED headlamps are higher than last year’s model. The front, hood and bumper all look different. The fog lamps are styled to look like the ones used in the new Ford F-150. All in all, it’s a pleasant refresh without getting carried away.
My test car had the highest horsepower engine option with a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 that pumped out 365 horsepower. It was mated with the six-speed transmission. Interesting that six-speeds seem so mundane now that some other SUVs come with eight-speed transmissions. Having said that, I never noticed it lacking in smoothness or performance. The engine I would have liked to tried was the 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder. It’s good for 280 horsepower with slightly better fuel mileage. The smaller engine gets 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway compared to the 16 mpg city and 22 mpg on the highway for the bigger version. My trip across the desert averaged almost 21 mpg.
I was reminded of some of the Explorer’s other assets a few hours later on my trip. We passed a pretty nasty accident. Several cars were involved, one of which had been crushed from behind in a rear end collision. Used properly, the features on the Explorer could keep me out of harm’s way. To start with it has adaptive cruise control. Set it, and the car will automatically figure out how fast it should go to keep a safe distance from the car ahead which means no rear end collisions. It also had later keeper assist for those moments when your concentration wains and you begin to drift out of your lane. It gives you a gentle tug to bring you back between the lines. You can also adjust the amount of tugging or turn it off completely. I have to admit that I’ve driven some cars that have slightly better lane keeper assists. Some keep you away from the lane lines completely. With the Explorer, I occasionally found myself hitting the line before it moved me back. Still, it’s an amazing feature that can and will save lives.
Back inside, the Platinum version worked hard to give the interior a great look and feel. When the seat wasn’t massaging me, there were plenty of adjustments. Covered in what Ford calls “Nirvana” leather with micro-perforation it was a far cry from the wooden bench the pioneers used. The most amazing thing was the third row seat in the back. Like most, it could fold down flat to allow more cargo area. The fun part was that at the touch of a button, the seat automatically flipped forward, tilted up, flopped over and then flattened out. Trust me, your kids and grandkids are going to want to see this over and over. Maybe it’s just something that will break someday, but for now it’s darn cool.
The friends I hauled around that weekend enjoyed both the rear seats and, interestingly, the seat belts as well. They liked the fact that the belts were padded. What they didn’t realize is that the belts had an airbag tucked inside. In a crash, they spread the impact over a larger area and reduce the risk of a seat belt injury.
There were plenty of other great features. A front mounted camera to make sure everything is out-of-the-way before you start moving. Active shutters in the grille that close at highway speeds to reduce drag. A tailgate that opens when you swing your foot below the bumper.
Of course all this comes at a price. While the base Explorer starts out at about $31,000, my Platinum edition came in a $55,355. So is it worth spending nearly $25,000 extra for all the goodies? That’s for you to decide. But if you do fork over the extra cash, you won’t feel like you’re not getting your money’s worth.
Just ask the pioneers.