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First drive: 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum [Review]

by Mark Elias

Ford has a new range-topping trim for its popular Explorer SUV.

The Continuation of a Legend
The 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum is the latest in 25 years of SUV legacy to come from the Blue Oval. Featuring virtually every option available, it will, according to Ford, satisfy the wants and needs of those buyers who want just a little (or a lot) more in their Explorer.

As one of the originators of a segment, the Ford Explorer had to be innovative then, and continue onward with innovations today, lest it be consigned to the used car lot of once great ideas. The brand must be doing something right, because during the past 25 years, according to Ford, they have averaged one Explorer sale every two minutes. By the numbers, that's more than 7-million vehicles during that timeframe.

The Platinum is Ford's all-in version of the Explorer, in this case offering their powerful Ecoboost V6 engine, and Intelligent four-wheel-drive with Terrain Management System. Turns out, it's the perfect vehicle for the Ford Explorer Platinum road trip adventure, which is why the company flew us to Big Sky, Montana, to drive it through the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Talk about an iconic drive, it is one that took drivers on a route through nine cities starting in Western Canada and 25 days later ending in New Mexico.

New package, new power
The new Ford Explorer Platinum edition is complete with a version of the Blue Oval's 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine that makes 365 horsepower at 5,500-rpm, and 350 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission, with steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers for those with sporting intentions.

All Platinum models are outfitted with intelligent 4WD and the Terrain Management system, which is similar to that found in former Ford family member Land Rover's portfolio. Through this kit, the four-wheel-drive system tailors itself to everything from Normal roads, Sand, Snow/Grass/Gravel, Mud/Ruts, where the system senses what type of surface it is running through and adapts the gearing and traction accordingly.

From a packaging standpoint, Ford has freshened everything "north” of the A-pillars. LED low beams and fog lamps offer a distinctive look that helps to frame the grille. The other available trim levels receive trim-specific grilles and lighting. In the case of the Platinum, the grille is made up of a diamond matrix design that gives a class-above vibe that dresses up the overall appearance of the vehicle.

At the rear, a cleaner appearance is the result of exhaust finishers that are now incorporated into cutouts that give a more refined look. And although not visual, the hands-free liftgate makes an appearance on our Platinum Explorer, and opens the liftgate with a sweep of a foot under the bumper. All Platinum models are equipped with Class III towing packages good to 5,000-pounds.

It's what's inside that counts, too
Inside the Explorer Platinum, it's, to borrow another automaker's marketing motto, the best or nothing. Featuring Sony's 12-speaker, 500-watt audio system with Clear Phase Audio and Live Acoustics, which mimics the acoustic qualities of some of the world's legendary concert halls, to massaging front seats that worked us from top to bottom, the Explorer's interior is quite an attractive space in which to pass your time. The second row seating offers more legroom, while a power third row seat manages to carry a couple more, if needed.

A great road tripper, the Platinum is comfortable from almost every seat in the house. Interior designers did their part, as well, incorporating real aluminum, wood and leather, with diamond-quilted seating and Platinum stitching on the seat backs to let you know where all your hard-earned money went when purchasing this car. Smart charging USB ports were located throughout, and in the second row at the base of the center console. They offered high-speed charging on most modern smartphones.

Behind the third row of seats were 21-cubic feet of storage space. Stow them, and that space grows to 43.9 behind the second row. Fold those seats forward and watch the space grow to 81.7 cubic feet.

In addition to our high-zoot model, the Explorer can still fit most budgets from Base, XLT, Limited FWD, Limited 4WD, Sport FWD, and Sport 4WD. Prices range from a low of $33,400 to a range-topping $53,915. Available engines include a 2.3-liter inline 4-cylinder, a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6, and the 3.5-liter Twin-turbo EcoBoost. Ford realized a trend that showed more than 43-percent of buyers were opting for the higher range Limited and Sport models and figured the full-on Platinum was the next logical chapter in growing the Explorer's legend.

The Explorer Platinum will offer competition against such offerings as the GMC Acadia Denali, Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit, Dodge Durango Citadel, Chevrolet Traverse, and Toyota Highlander.

Tech galore
The 2016 Explorer Platinum by nature of its "king of the hill status” possesses an embarrassment of riches when it comes to convenience and safety features. Adaptive Cruise Control leads the charge, and manages to slow down or speed up as traffic flow dictates. Ford's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) keeps you aware of vehicles in your blind spot, while lane keeping assist causes a pulsing in the wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel when crossing lane stripes without the use of a turn indicator.

Our favorite of the bunch was the Enhanced Active Park Assist system, which in addition to finding and parking itself in a properly sized parallel parking spot will now do the same feat with a perpendicular space. The Platinum package also included a 180-degree front and rear camera with washers. The system helped, through its park-out assist abilities to warn of cross traffic while trying to negotiate a parking lot at the local big box warehouse store.

Road worthy?
A beast of a performance is what we saw from the 3.5-liter Ecoboost twin turbocharged engine. Its 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque were just the things to get by the road-chokers driving through such American treasures as Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton National Park. Rather docile at the start, the EcoBoost stood up as an engine to be reckoned with, because of a sudden jab at the accelerator.

That sudden jab was needed in most cases because the engine and its rather tall tip-in seems geared more to making around town commutes tolerable on the senses, as well as the wallet. Those types of situations gave us an average fuel economy reading of 19.1 mpg, besting the EPA and its 16 city/ 22 highway, 18 average ratings by 1.1 mpg. But if you were ever in the mood to see your petro-dollars fly away, stand on that sucker to see the engine plow forward with the sense of urgency of a jet trying to make up for lost time in a head wind.

The independent front and rear suspension of the Explorer offered a comfortable and quiet ride environment, save for the massaging seats that actually made a noticeable groaning sound while undergoing its shiatsu massage functions. Luckily it was only noticed when we were not listening to Sirius XM's Outlaw Country on the radio.

An aside: We understand the need for slower speed limits such as 45 and 55 mph, and slower still when wildlife presents itself, as it did in the National Parks, where we were able to observe rather closely, elk, buffalo, deer, beaver, and golden eagles. When it came to bears, we preferred the captive type as seen when we happened upon the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in the town of West Yellowstone, which had bears and golden eagles in captivity. But if the speed limit were posted at 55mph during safe conditions, we would hope drivers maintain that speed. Instead, we found such specimens driving 35 mph in a 55 mph zone.

Leftlane's bottom line
The 2016 Ford Explorer 4WD Platinum edition is a no-compromise SUV that enables its owners to have as much technology, power and luxury as they could possibly want, with the road going abilities that could take them virtually everywhere they want to go. That's called building a legend.

2016 Ford Explorer Platinum, base price $52,970. Destination, $945.

Photos by Mark Elias.