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2016 Ford Explorer: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader August 2015

It looks like the 2016 Ford Explorer will carry on as one of America's favorite full-size SUV crossovers, just like the 2015 model and the models before that. We're now in the Explorer's fifth generation and naturally this one is the most sophisticated, driving more like a luxury car than a truck.

Compared to its rivals, the Explorer stands apart with its smooth ride, sleek design and high-quality interior housing cutting-edge technology. This 7-seat crossover is not as roomy as a minivan or even some slightly larger competitors from GM, but it is undoubtedly one of the best in its class.

What's New for 2016?

It's time for the obligatory midcycle refresh, which means styling tweaks to the nose (new LED headlights and a revised grille) and tail, plus an all-new engine -- a 2.3-liter turbocharged (EcoBoost) 4-cylinder unit replaces the 2.0-liter turbo. More good news: this new engine can now be packaged with the optional all-wheel-drive system as well as the towing setup.

A new trim level comes in at the top of the range: Platinum. The company says "this is the most premium, high-quality interior we've offered on a Ford vehicle."

What We Like

Tranquil and upscale cabin, serene ride; good fuel economy from the 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo 4-cylinder engine, and impressive power from the 3.5-liter turbo V6; terrain-responsive intelligent AWD

What We Don't

Pretty snug in the third row; maximum towing ability is merely adequate at 5,000 pounds

How Much?

$31,595-$53,495

Fuel Economy

The entry-level engine for the first three trim levels is a 3.5-liter V6 developing 290 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. All Explorers have a 6-speed automatic transmission.

A base model with front-wheel drive is EPA estimated at 17 miles per gallon in the city/24 mpg hwy/20 mpg combined. Subtract 1 mpg in each case for all-wheel drive.

The top two trims also use a 3.5-liter V6, but this is turbocharged to produce 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Consumption is quoted at 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/18 mpg combined.

The newcomer for 2016 is the 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged 4-cylinder available in the first three trims. It balances a useful 270 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque with an impressive 19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined (front-wheel drive) or 18 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined (all-wheel drive). This version can tow as much as 3,000 pounds.

Standard Features & Options

The Explorer is offered in base, XLT, Limited, Sport and Platinum trims. Many of the standard features in the higher levels are available as options in the lower trims.

Base comes from the factory with a decent inventory of standard kit, including 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lights at both ends, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, USB ports, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel and a 4.2-in display.

XLT brings fog lights, heated side mirrors, rear parking sensors, upgraded brakes, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, push-button start and satellite radio.

Limited adds leather upholstery, 20-in wheels, hands-free power tailgate, front-facing camera, an 8-in touchscreen, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, a 110-volt outlet, navigation and a 12-speaker Sony audio system.

Sport has 20-in wheels of a different design to the Limited version. It also has a sportier suspension and all-wheel drive as standard. Some of the Limited's equipment is optional in the Sport, like the navigation system and power tailgate.

Platinum is pretty much everything that's been mentioned up to this point, plus a heated steering wheel, dual sunroofs, adaptive cruise control, parking assist for perpendicular as well as parallel spaces, higher-grade cabin materials and all the available safety features like blind spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic alert. The only options here are power-folding captain's chairs for the second row and a rear entertainment system.

Safety

The 2016 Ford Explorer comes with front, front-side impact, front-knee airbags, plus side-curtain airbags covering all three rows. Inflatable seat belts are optional for the two outside rear seats -- they cushion occupants from injury in an accident and are compatible with child safety seats.

Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock disc brakes, stability control, trailer sway control and Hill Start Assist, which keeps the vehicle from rolling backward when stopped on an incline.

The Explorer has received a perfect 5-star rating in government crash tests, including top marks for both front and side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also awarded the Explorer the highest possible score of "Good" in almost every category, although a "Marginal" (second-worst) score was issued in the small-overlap front-impact test.

Behind the Wheel

By three-row crossover standards, the Explorer feels solid and connected to the road. Steering is firm and accurate, and curves are handled reasonably well. From the driver's seat, however, the Explorer feels larger than it really is. That's partly due to visibility hindered by narrow side glass and thick front and rear pillars. It's a smooth and quiet ride, though.

The standard V6 engine has no problem pulling its weight, with good midrange power and a transmission that responds promptly when more urge is demanded. The 2.3 reconciles the demands of usable power and bearable fuel economy, while the Sport's 365-hp twin-turbo V6 is fun, but it's also the thirstiest. And not everyone wants to spend upwards of $45,000 on a family vehicle.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Chevrolet Traverse -- The Traverse has more front legroom and more cargo space behind its third-row seat.

2016 Honda Pilot -- All new for 2016, the Pilot has a large and versatile interior.

2016 Toyota Highlander -- The Highlander is useful and efficient family transportation with a crossover feel. There's also the option of a hybrid.

Used Audi Q7 -- Big and beautiful inside and out, the Q7 also comes with a diesel engine option for a massive 406 lb-ft of torque and 25 mpg hwy.

Autotrader's Advice

We think that the XLT offers the best value. We recommend opting for the fuel-efficient 4-cylinder EcoBoost for consumption-conscious buyers. There's no reason not to get this engine now that it can be linked to the all-wheel-drive system.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Ford Explorer: New Car Review - Autotrader