2016 Ford Explorer Rating Breakdown
2016 ford explorer
EPA est City/Hwy
12/17
Starting at
$33,050
Engine
3.5L Flex
Power
290 hp

Starting at

$33,050

Engine

3.5L Flex

Power

290 hp

City/Hwy

12/17

Seats

7


2016 Ford Explorer

- The Car Connection
The Car Connection Expert Review
Marty Padgett

Marty Padgett

Editorial Director

DISLIKES
  • Not as rugged as some might want
  • Turbo-4's more capable, but drops city MPGs
  • Middle seat too low to some
  • Platinum: the most expensive Explorer ever
ford explorer 2016

MSRP Starting From

$33,050

Today's Explorer only wears hints of its past, but that's enough to avoid the curvy-crossover cliche.

From its sport-utility roots, the Explorer has evolved into a proper family crossover in its current form. It's done a better job than most at preserving some of the authority of its SUV roots in a look that's taut and modern.

The softer lines have a more convincing silhouette than, say, a Chevrolet Traverse. There are clean edges, sharp corners, and a fair amount of texture applied to the Explorer's grille and details. We wouldn't go so far as to call it rugged, but the outline is a fond reinterpretation of what made the Explorer a success in the first place. The Explorer's visual DNA may be purely on loan here, but the tall body, big glass areas and the three-bar grille peg it as a Ford as much as its outline.

Explorer-spotters will notice the differences in trim levels. Sport versions have a darker grille and special wheels, while Platinum models get LED lighting and distinctive trim.

Inside, the current Explorer makes no attempt to give nod to the past—and that's perfectly fine. Early Explorers had miserable, plasticky interiors, which got better as it was groomed upmarket. This one's up there with the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango in tailored good looks, with maybe a half-degree more of the contemporary in its win column, thanks to those exclamation points of metallic plastic on the center stack. Audi and BMW are in its crosshairs, Ford says, and the Explorer delivers, in almost the same way the Flex and F-150 do.

Today's Explorer only wears hints of its past, but that's enough to avoid the curvy-crossover cliche.

The Explorer's steering and ride are more sporty than most crossover SUVs; the new turbo four has great low-end torque.

The 2016 Ford Explorer is moderately updated from last year's version; it's been in its current form since the 2011 model year, when it shifted from a loosely truck-based architecture to one derived from the Volvo XC90 first, then later the Ford Flex and Taurus, and Lincoln MKS and MKT.

You can draw the conclusions from there: the Explorer's no longer a rough-and-tumble SUV. It is a front-wheel-drive wagon with all-wheel drive, and it happens to be one of the more interesting crossover SUVs to drive thanks to boosted engines and a firm grip on ride and handling. Considering the way that owners actually use Explorer models—and have for decades—it's rightly tuned toward all-weather, on-road performance, with a good measure of trail capability baked in.

On the base Explorer, Ford fits a 3.5-liter V-6. It's been installed in Fords far and wide, from the Flex to the Fusion to the Taurus. In the Explorer, it's rated at 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, and is capable of mid-eight-second 60-mph acceleration through a 6-speed automatic transmission. If it sounds pedestrian, it's good to recognize that the V-6's far more powerful on paper than the the V-8 in the prior edition.

Acceleration from a stop is strong, and most models have a sport-shift mode for quicker throttle and shift responses, but these Explorers don't get shift paddles to go with the automatic. The transmission will hold lower gears when told, though, and that alone makes it more responsive than almost any competitive crossover. Where this powerplant falls behind is in varying speeds you'd typically encounter on a twisting road. Slow the SUV down dramatically, manhandle the shift lever to get it to downshift, and the Explorer limps back up to speed, lagged by its lax shift speeds as much as the thinner torque it develops at the low end of its powerband.

Ford has offered a turbocharged inline-4 as an upgrade, but this year's twist is more displacement, more power, and better low-end performance than either the past offerings. The new 2.3-liter turbo-4 is related to the one in the Lincoln MKC and Ford Mustang; it's rated at 280 hp and 310 lb-ft, both figures up by 40 over the old 2.0-liter turbo-4. It's better in every respect, from the throaty, amplified engine noise it pumps into the cabin, to the sharper acceleration and grunty low end it gives the Explorer—it cooperates particularly well in Sport shift mode, pulling out of curves with more authority than does the base V-6. It's also now offered with an option for all-wheel drive, something that was blocked with the former turbo-4. If your driving style is even slightly enthusiastic, it's worth considering over the base engine.

For 2014, Ford introduced a new 350-hp, twin-turbo-V-6 in the Explorer; this year, the engine is uprated to 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. This powertrain's offered only with all-wheel drive and gets a raft of changes to go with its exceptional power (Ford says it's two seconds quicker to 60 mph than the standard V-6 model). The result is a crossover SUV that feels far more fired up than the old Explorer V-8; just don't expect it to chase a Grand Cherokee SRT. It's not far from being the utility-minded version of the Taurus SHO; the Explorer Sport that gets the twin-turbo six also gets quicker steering, 20-inch wheels and tires, upgraded brakes, and a stiffer front body structure.

All Explorers have a MacPherson strut front suspension with isolated subframe, with an independent multi-link rear setup—and stabilizer bars front and rear. The Explorer Sport gets its own unique (quicker) steering gear, and its own suspension hardware, as well as a front strut tower brace and stiffer stabilizer bar.

In fact, Ford's tweaked the electric power steering on the entire lineup this year, slowing it down a bit on some models. It doesn't change the capable feel tuned into all the controls. In its basic front-drive versions, the Explorer's electric power steering and terrifically settled ride give it a nimble feel that's more like that of the smaller Edge. The Explorer carves into corners with zeal, and the steering unwinds with a feel that's closer to natural than some hydraulic-steer vehicles. The electric steering also means the Explorer can park itself—with the park assist options, which uses cameras to maneuver the steering while the driver keeps tabs on things with the brake pedal.

Meanwhile, on the off-road front, the Explorer remains happily in tune with the needs of most crossover SUV drivers. Towing capacity peaks at a middling 5,000 pounds, and there's no true low off-pavement gear ratio—but the Explorer can slosh through enough mud and ruts to get a family of seven to any ski resort or any bed and breakfast that doesn't require an overnight National Park Service permit.

The centerpiece to the system is a multi-traction drive system that spins from Normal to Mud and Ruts, Sand, and Snow modes, tailoring power and braking to suit the conditions. In esoteric instances, those electronics can't quite match a really well-trained off-road driver, since they require a little slip in the system to start working. For the remaining 95 percent of us, it's welcome relief to worry less about descending a hill with brake and engine modulation instead of simply flicking a switch.

The Explorer's steering and ride are more sporty than most crossover SUVs; the new turbo four has great low-end torque.

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The Explorer has very good front seats; the middle row is roomy but the cushion needs a touch-up.

The Explorer can seat up to seven passengers, but it's sized between the usual five-seat crossovers and the truly large seven- and eight-passenger 'utes—like the Ford Flex, the Honda Pilot, and the General Motors triplets (Acadia, Enclave, Traverse).

By the numbers, the Explorer measures 112.8 inches long between the wheels, 198.3 inches overall, and weighs between 4,400 and 4,900 pounds

In the first two rows, the Explorer never feels cramped for space, though we might ask Ford to put a little more effort into the rear-seat cushioning. The front seats feel like a parting gift from Volvo, which Ford used to own, and from which the Explorer's architecture is derived. The Explorer's front seats, even in basic versions, are supportive and comfortable. Softer cushions are paired with just enough side bolstering where you need it, and the seats are power-operated with heating control.

The Explorer's also designed with ample head room and leg room. Even ticking the sunroof on the options list won't cut into the overhead that much—and the same goes for the wide console, which doesn't trim leg room and knee room.

The seats in the second row are where things get a little limited. Three people can sit comfortably across the second row, but the middle person should be young or small, or both. Knee room is fine, head room is great, but the bottom cushion of the seat could be better tailored. It's short and angles down at its front edge. A pair of buckets can be ordered for the second row, and have the same cozy feel as those up front—without the optional ventilation, though.

The third-row seat is pretty cramped for adults, but it's more than adequate for children, who can climb into the narrow space created when you flip the middle row forward via an easy lever.

For cargo duty, the Explorer comes with a fold-away third-row seat, power-operated if you want. Power or fold the back seat and the middle seats, and the Explorer lays bare more than 81 cubic feet of cargo volume—almost all of it available for big, flat packages, since the seats fold nearly flat and wear an invulnerable grade of carpeting on their backs. With 21 cubic feet of space with the third row occupied by people, the storage space is fairly large, and lined with durable if inexpensive-looking plasticky material.

While there’s no radical redesign that applies to the interior, there are some noteworthy changes. Real buttons have replaced touch-sensitive ones in many cases, and armrests have been raised and made softer. Ford has redone the door seals and introduced new engine subframe mounts that are tuned to reduce vibration, and the 2.3-liter EcoBoost models get a specially tuned exhaust system. All but the base model get acoustic glass for the windshield and front doors.

The Explorer has very good front seats; the middle row is roomy but the cushion needs a touch-up.

The Explorer scores only a "Marginal" in the latest IIHS small-overlap test.

The Ford Explorer is one of the safer SUVs on the market, but it's not a strong performer in the latest, toughest crash tests.

The Explorer has earned five stars overall in crash tests performed by the NHTSA. The agency awarded the Explorer five-star scores in all subcategories except for the mathematically determined rollover score, where it earns a four-star score.

The IIHS gave the Explorer mostly high marks, including "Good" scores on the roof-crush and side impact tests—but it earns only a "Marginal" rating in the new small-overlap frontal test, which simulates hitting a telephone pole or other slim, vertical object.

Every Explorer comes with great outward visibility, thanks to a high seating position, except to the rear quarters where thick C-pillars create a rather large blind spot.

Bluetooth hands-free connectivity is standard, as is a rearview camera. MyKey lets parents set volume and speed controls for children who may borrow the Explorer. Optional inflatable rear-seat belts come bundled with blind-spot monitors.

For light towing, the Explorer has electronic aids that keep it and its trailer stable. The Explorer has a special "Curve Control" feature for its stability control, which adapts throttle and brake to upcoming corners; trailer-sway control also helps make maximum use of its 5,000-pound towing capacity.

The Explorer scores only a "Marginal" in the latest IIHS small-overlap test.


NHTSA 5-Star Safety Rating

2016 Ford Explorer Models

Overall Rating

5/5

Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating: (5/5)
Overall Side Crash Rating: (5/5)
Overall Side Barrier Rating: Not Rated
NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating: (4/5)



Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Ratings

2016 Ford Explorer Models

Side Impact Test Good
Roof Strength Test Good
Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint Not Tested
IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results Marginal
IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results Good


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A new Platinum edition carries the Explorer's most comprehensive features list—and highest pricetag—ever.

The Ford Explorer blows most of its competitors out of the water in terms of available technology. In some cases, it offers even more than you can find in some luxury vehicles, leaving it to compete almost exclusively with Jeep Grand Cherokee in terms of convenience features in a relatively affordable family vehicle.

Prices range from $31,995 for base Explorers to $53,915 for a Platinum edition with all-wheel drive.

Each Explorer comes with all the standard features you'd expect to find in a $30,000 SUV. It has power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; cloth upholstery; a rearview camera; steering-wheel audio controls; a tilt/telescoping steering wheel; SYNC with Bluetooth connectivity; and an AM/FM/CD player. The base model is offered with front- or all-wheel drive, and either the turbo four or the non-turbo V-6. Major options include a tow package, satellite radio, and rear-seat inflatable safety belts.

The Explorer XLT adds 18-inch wheels; satellite radio; a sport-shift mode for the automatic transmission; keyless ignition; power front seats; and reverse parking sensors. Major options include MyFord Touch; premium audio; remote start; front parking sensors; blind-spot monitors; 20-inch wheels; a power tailgate; a sunroof; and navigation.

The Explorer Limited adds leather seating; ambient lighting; a Sony sound system; a media hub with twin USB ports (one for 3G or 4G dongles that turn the Explorer into a mobile wi-fi hotspot), an SD card slot and RCA jacks; SYNC and MyFord Touch; navigation; a power handsfree tailgate; and a front-view camera.

The Ford Explorer Sport offers a turbo V-6 drivetrain, with standard all-wheel drive and Terrain Management. Along with its own wheels and styling filigrees—the "Explorer" name across the nose and 20-inch wheels—the Sport adds standard SYNC, MyFord Touch, and a media hub with dual USB ports, an SD card slot and a set of RCA jacks. As for luxury touches, the Explorer Sport has power front heated seats; automatic climate control; and a Sony audio system with HD radio and 12 speakers. Options include a navigation system; a DVD entertainment system; remote start; rear heated seats; a dual-pane sunroof; a power tailgate; a tow package; active park assist; blind-spot monitors; inflatable rear seat belts; and adjustable pedals.

Finally, the new Platinum edition gets a standard dual-pane sunrooof, adaptive cruise control, digital instrument panel, premium Sony sound, aluminum and ash-wood trim, park assist, lane-keeping assistance, and 20-inch wheels.

One feature that you'll need to come to terms with if you're considering the Explorer is MyFord Touch, which is a complex and controversial system in any Ford. The idea is to trade buttons and switches for LCD touchscreens, voice commands, and steering-wheel controls, so that drivers can run functions like audio or navigation more safely. Not only does it take time getting used to, the benefits of the system don't emerge after short stints at the wheel. The good news is that it's not mandatory; it remains an option on some Explorers and isn't offered on base or XLT models—and if you merely want Bluetooth connectivity, that's well-integrated on those affordable models.

Other Explorer options include a power sunroof; a heated steering wheel; automatic headlamps; navigation system; premium audio; 20-inch wheels; ventilated seats; active park assist; and a power third-row seat. Inflatable rear seat belts now come in a package with blind-spot monitors.

A new Platinum edition carries the Explorer's most comprehensive features list—and highest pricetag—ever.

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Finally, the turbo-4 engine is a real option—with available all-wheel drive, too.

The decision to buy a vehicle as large as the Explorer likely means that you've already parted with any hopes of exceptional fuel economy—but if you're willing to sacrifice some acceleration, the Explorer offers a relatively efficient option.

The base V-6 Explorer has gas mileage more in line with other seven-seat family wagons. With the 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and 6-speed automatic, it's rated at 17 mpg city, 24 highway, 20 combined; with all-wheel drive, it's pegged at 16/23/19 mpg, down one mpg on the city cycle from last year's figures.

This year, a new 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder replaces the former 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 in the Explorer. The old engine was more limited: it could only tow 2,000 pounds and was only available with front-wheel drive. Now, the new turbo-4 can haul more and can be fitted with optional all-wheel drive, but fuel economy is down marginally. Last year the smaller inline-4 earned EPA ratings of 20/28/23 mpg. This year's turbo-4? It's 19/28/22 mpg with front-wheel drive, or 18/26/21 mpg with all-wheel drive.

At its least efficient but most entertaining, the twin-turbo Explorer Sport drops the EPA fuel-economy ratings to 16/22/18 mpg. Although it's by no means green or fuel-efficient, it's better than former V-8 Explorers.

Finally, the turbo-4 engine is a real option—with available all-wheel drive, too.


Fuel Economy Information

Ratings Based on 6 cyl, 3.5 L, 6-Speed Shiftable Automatic

14

Combined

7.1 gals/100 miles

12

City


17

Highway


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