Test Drive: 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum

16FordExplorer_01_HROver the course of 25 years, Ford has sold an Explorer every two minutes, with more than seven million sold. Explorer has seen four straight years of share and sales increases, and has been the best-selling SUV in the U.S. for five straight years. Currently, with a complete redesign and the introduction of the Platinum trim, Ford is set to make its mark on the luxury SUV market.

As it is, one in five buyers of the formerly top-of-the-line Explorer Sport come to Ford from a luxury brand, with 90 percent of them opting for the most expensive option package at that trim level. So, there is a market for a capable, luxurious, off-roader that doesn’t bear the name Range Rover.

To compare the two seems a little unfair, as I could find very little wrong with the Range Rover HSE on a recent road trip to Palm Springs. But take into account the uncanny similarity in outward appearance of the two, and the fact that the Explorer Platinum is fully half the price of the Range Rover, the scales might just tip in Ford’s favor — especially for those not smitten with luxury badging.

16FordExplorer_08_HRWith a directive from Ford to “Explore More,” armed with a cooler full of snacks and a map marked with roadside attractions, we set out from Durango, Colorado, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to test the Explorer’s luxury chops. Step inside, and the Explorer Platinum is upscale all the way, with contoured Nirvana leather seats, aluminum and wood trim on the doors and instrument panel, a wood-and-leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, and rich stitching throughout. It’s visually appealing, and a comfortable home for a long road trip.

The engine is a 365-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and handles mountain roads with nary a hesitation or pause, sure-footed and quiet under heavy acceleration and maneuvering. Taking the long way around through Pagosa Springs, and down through Abiquiu, the Explorer struck a handsome profile for photo ops and a welcoming environment for traveling. Not least important, the all-new Sony Audio System recreates the acoustics of the world’s greatest concert halls, with sound dispersion that envelops passengers in their chosen soundtrack for the road ahead. The controls for nav, audio and climate systems are more intuitive than most (BMW and Buick, take note), and voice-command recognition is impeccable.

Naturally, the Explorer Platinum comes equipped with all the advanced technology you’d expect in a luxury vehicle, including enhanced active park assist with perpendicular park assist, park-out assist, and semi-automatic parallel parking; lane-keeping system; rain-sensing wipers; smart-charging USB ports; and a hands-free liftgate. The intelligent four-wheel drive system makes it very capable off-road, with sand, grass and gravel modes to traverse a variety of terrains, and a Terrain Management System to manage normal conditions, snow, sand or mud. Range Rover may have the edge here, with incomparable off-road chops, but realistically, how many of them ford water deeper than a monsoon-derived puddle, or surmount obstacles higher than a speed bump in the Whole Foods parking lot? Explorer Platinum is plenty capable for the adventures of most weekend warriors.

IMG_4262Really, it is the most well-appointed and capable Explorer yet, and can accommodate seven passengers in three rows of easily accessible seating. Over nearly six hours and 275 miles of driving, the Explorer was impressive well beyond expectations. Explorer Platinum is much more than a Range Rover wannabe, though it’s looks might indicate otherwise. At a price of $54,060, with, I daresay, every desirable option included, it is an undisputed bargain and a serious competitor in the luxury market.

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