The family road trip isn’t dead; it’s just on life support.
Engine: 3.5 L turbocharged V6, 365 hp, 350 lb-ft.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Price (USA): Ford Explorer Platinum begins at $53,915 after destination charges, came in at $55,410 as tested.
Price: (CDN): Ford Explorer Platinum begins at $60,380 after destination charges, came in at $61,439 as tested.
EPA fuel economy: 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
CDN fuel economy: 14.9 L/100 km city, 13.0 L/100 km highway
In the digital age of instant communication and cheap airfares, loading everyone into the family hauler and hitting the road is becoming a lost tradition. Still, some people do embark on this nostalgic bit of Americana and, honestly, I think more people should.
The decline in Wally World-like pilgrimages is not due to a lack of vehicular options. Automobiles have never been more comfortable, efficient or high tech than now. Take the Ford Explorer for example.
SEE ALSO: 2016 Ford Explorer Review
For 2016, the big people mover has been refreshed inside and out, adding a more powerful base engine and a new top-of-line trim. Called Platinum, the new range-topping trim level combines luxuries and comfort not found in the Explorer Limited, along with the more powerful drivetrain that was previously reserved exclusively for the Explorer Sport. Think of Platinum as Ford’s answer to the GMC Denali lineup of vehicles.
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Hitting the Road
What better way to test the new Explorer Platinum than by taking it on a road trip? My journey started in Big Sky, Montana, and meandered south through some picturesque scenery on my way to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Along the way, I would pass this little tourist park called Yellowstone that features some mud and hot water.
It’s fitting that I left from Big Sky Country, as the Explorer is big – especially inside. Opening the rear hatch reveals 21 cubic feet of storage, which is a lot for a crossover with three rows of seats. With some careful loading, I was able to fit luggage for two people as well as all of our AutoGuide.com camera equipment back there. There may not be a lot of space between the seat backs and the rear hatch, but the storage well is deep – deep enough to fold the power third row into it minivan-style. And to access the cargo area is easy because the Explorer now has the hands-free power tailgate feature where you can just wave your foot under the bumper and automatically open the hatch.
Inside, second-row passengers enjoy more legroom with 39.5 inches of stretch-out space. People relegated to the back row still get 33.3 inches of rear legroom, which isn’t bad. This is one of the few three-row crossovers where I can actually fit in the back row, as headroom is ample and the seat cushion is set to a proper adult height. The downside is the third row only seats two people, unlike some competitors that can fit three passengers back there. This limits the Explorer Platinum’s seating capacity to six, as the second row features a pair of captain’s chairs.
A Lot of Nirvana
But it’s up front where the real pampering of the Platinum Explorer takes place. The front seats, instrument panel, armrests and upper door trim are all finished in Nirvana leather and no, that doesn’t mean the pattern is flannel and denim.
Real aluminum and real wood can also be found in here and for the first time ever, a brushed-aluminum Ford oval is stuck in the middle of the steering wheel. The refreshed interior isn’t too busy and I like the overall constrained design.
Quiet, Assisted Driving
As I headed toward Yellowstone National Park, a few straight highway sections allowed me appreciate just how quiet the 2016 Ford Explorer is. Ford claims this is the quietest cabin of any vehicle currently in the brand’s lineup and I can’t argue that fact.
The long highway stretches also let me sample the vast amount of driving technology stuffed into the Explorer Platinum. Although I didn’t get to try the active park assist, I did get extensive use out of the adaptive cruise control, which I have always been a fan of in the Explorer. It behaves a lot like a human driver would and lacks the jerky braking and accelerating found in some other manufacturer’s systems.
SEE ALSO: 2016 Ford Explorer Video, First Look
Ford has also outfitted a lane-keeping system in the Explorer Platinum that can be customized to the driver’s preference. The amount of intensity can be adjusted as well as whether the system sends out just an alert, an assist or both. With full assist activated, the Explorer would gently nudge the steering wheel to help keep the vehicle between the painted lines.
But the best feature of all has to be the built in washer jets for the front and rear cameras. Anyone living in the slushy snowbelt knows how quickly these cameras get covered in grime during the winter months, rendering them useless.
Power to the Platinum
With all this technology stuffed into the Platinum, it makes for a heavy Explorer. Tipping the scales at 4,890 pounds, the 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 borrowed from the Explorer Sport is a welcome addition. Making 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, the Platinum was never short on grunt while navigating some of the mountain roads around Teton Park, Wyoming. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the Explorer is fast, but the Ecoboost engine does give it more than enough power. And if I were carrying a full load of people, I could see how the extra torque could really come in handy.
The rest of the drivetrain consists of a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive that features Ford’s terrain management system. With big power, big weight and all-wheel drive, the Platinum is not an overly efficient vehicle, officially rated at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. But at least the boosted engine can run on regular fuel.
Although this isn’t the Explorer Sport with the stiffer suspension setup, Ford still wanted the Platinum to handle a corner with composure and equipped it with large 255-mm tires on 20-inch wheels. Pushing it through some bends on a twisting mountain road, it’s evident the Explorer is not a performance vehicle. It does seem to handle a corner better than a Honda Pilot, but it’s not as nimble as, say, a Kia Sorento. Its overall balance of handling and comfort remind me a lot of the Toyota Highlander. And when not trying to make three rows of passengers carsick, the Platinum can tow upwards of 5,000 lbs.
After 12 hours of driving and site seeing, a few things really stuck out. First, Montana and Wyoming have some incredible scenery, and Yellowstone National Park is a unique destination everyone needs to visit at some point.
As far as the Explorer is concerned, I really like the 10-inch digital display stuffed between the analog gauges and the rocking 500-watt Sony audio system kept me entertained. It’s just too bad the latter is still operated through MyFord Touch, but that operating system’s days are numbered because Sync 3 is coming soon.
SEE ALSO: 2016 Ford Explorer Priced from $31,595
When it came to driver comfort and fatigue, I couldn’t complain. The little details are all there including sliding sunshades to block the sun at the side windows, an adjustable angle headrest and well-padded arm rests. Plus, when my back or lower body began to get sore, I could turn on the front massage seats and work out the kinks.
The Verdict: 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum Review
Hitting the road on a family adventure is still as much fun and entertaining in 2015 as it was in 1955. And with vehicles like the Explorer Platinum, the journey is arguably more enjoyable.
Starting at just under $53,915 after destination charges, the Explorer Platinum isn’t exactly cheap, but it is an interesting alternative to more expensive, traditional luxury SUVs. But more importantly, it gives Ford yet another way to sell the already best-selling Explorer.
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