Ford upscales its Explorer

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2016 Ford Explorer Limited

The Ford Explorer topped Canadian sales charts for three-row SUVs and crossovers in 2015 leaving domestic and foreign competitors well behind. Will this year also see strong sales? A good question as the recession deepens in Alberta and Saskatchewan. If you’re still working and are thinking about getting the 2016 Explorer, you’d be making a wise purchase.

Ford has revised Explorer for this model year moving it upscale. Strictly business, of course. Expensive trim levels are easier to sell and more profitable, than lower content models. But it’s also because people who want to buy Explorers want more features and bling in their vehicle. So there is now a more luxurious Platinum trim level. Pricing has increased modestly with a base 3.5L V6 Explorer now starting at $32,999. The Platinum starts at $58,599. My Limited test vehicle had a base price of $47,899.

Under the hood the previous 2.0L EcoBoost is gone and in its place is a turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder which may be the Explorer driver’s engine of choice. Smoother, quieter and more fuel efficient, the 2.3L EcoBoost works quite well in this mid-size SUV. Certainly the turbo helps with providing good low-end grunt and enough power at higher speeds for better passing acceleration. Perhaps better than the larger 3.5-litre V6, which has to spin harder and higher to keep up. Whether it’s worth paying an extra $1,000 is up to the buyer who should try out both engines at a dealership. Fuel consumption for the four cylinder is rated at 13.1 L/100km in the city and 11.3 on the highway. In mixed driving in which I spent a week enjoying with the Explorer Limited, I achieved 12.0 L/100km.

My test model was a Limited with the 2.3L and six-speed automatic. A class II towing package was among the options along with four-wheel-drive. According to Ford the combo would be good for towing 1,363 kilograms (3,000 lbs). Rated at 280 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque it certainly sounds capable. The driving I did around town and out on the highway found the little EcoBoost engine up to the task of moving the hefty Explorer quite well.

Inside, the spacious interior provides more shoulder and leg-room than a few other SUVs out on the roads. Wear the biggest winter coats you have, there’s no crowding out the person beside you This SUV is as spacious as a sixties-era Lincoln. The seats are wide, supportive and very comfortable. My Explorer had middle rear bucket seats, which free up more interior space. If you want an Explorer and have two or three kids, get one with a middle bench seat, it’s more practical. Tasteful touches abound inside and there is good attention to detail. If you’re a tech junkie. Ford, responding to criticism second only to Sync, has done away with those infuriating capacitive touch-sensitive switches that never worked. Back again is the normal press/turn/slide switchgear that never needed replacing.

Other goodies include Ford’s Active Park Assist system, which will now park itself into a perpendicular parking spot in addition to a normal parking space. Oh, you still have to work the gas and the brake but a microchip does all the steering.

The hands-free liftgate is another great feature when your hands are full of grocery bags or other items. Just wave your foot under the rear bumper.

I’m also impressed with another ingenious item, a washer for the front and rear cameras. No more washing or wiping off dirt covered cameras. Ford is the first automaker to offer this feature.

Behind the wheel on the open road certainly the Explorer does feel large and to me somewhat awkward to drive in an urban setting. Ford says its engineers have worked on suspension settings to make the 2016 model more responsive. I can’t tell the difference from the previous generation, but overall in my Limited model the suspension can take whatever road surface you put it on and most buyers will be more than pleased with the ride and handling.

Otherwise the new generation vehicle presses all the right buttons with me including styling which still shows the previous generations lines but with a more aggressive front grille and LED headlights. I think that’s OK too as styling is the number one reason buyers have been choosing the Explorer.

Garry Melnyk is a St. Albert resident and lifelong car buff who has written about new cars and trucks for radio and print publications since the ’70s.

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