The 2016 Ford Explorer is the 25th anniversary model. How time flies. We remember when the Explorer was a newborn. It was 174 inches long and weighed 3800 pounds. Today it’s 24 inches longer and 620 pounds heavier. In the beginning, its V6 had 155 horsepower and got 17 mpg; today it has nearly twice as much horsepower and gets 20 mpg. Then it had a 5-speed manual, now a 6-speed automatic. Then it was rear-wheel drive, now it’s front-wheel drive. There’s no comparison, safety-wise. Today’s Explorer seats seven and can tow 5000 pounds. And believe it or not, the 2016 Explorer is $3500 less expensive in today’s dollars.
For its silver anniversary, the 2016 Explorer gets a makeover of its front and rear end, including LED headlamps and taillights; retuned suspension and electric power steering; some new features, and more quiet inside.
The blowout over the years has been in efficient horsepower, with Ford’s four- and six-cylinder twin-turbo EcoBoost engines. For 2016 there’s a new 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that makes 280 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The base engine is a 3.5-liter V6 making 290 horsepower and 220 pound-feet. There’s also a killer EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 that makes a 365 hp and 350 lb-ft.
Today’s Explorer handles everything a family can throw at it. It does everything we want a mid-sized crossover to do. It welcomes a lot of people with their stuff, comfortably and efficiently. The base V6 rates an EPA-estimated 17/24/20 mpg City/Highway/Combined; the four-cylinder twin turbo EcoBoost gets 19/28/22, and the 365-hp V6 gets 15/22/18. Notice that’s still better fuel mileage than the original 1991 Explorer, while delivering 135 percent more power.
Explorer earns five stars overall in NHTSA crash tests, and a Top Safety Pick from IIHS. It would have gotten an extra +, but it only scored Marginal in the insurance industry’s new frontal crash test into a pole.
The Explorer’s body looks more smoothly finished than ever, with clean edges and an overall soft appearance, even with sharp corners. All the sheetmetal has been changed except for the sides, although the rear pillars are reshaped. The mesh grille is higher and more defined, while the LED headlamps have a chunky look to them. There’s a new spoiler at the rear, and exhaust tips integrated into the fascia.
Even two feet longer and way thicker, it’s still an Explorer. The tall body, generous glass, ad three-bar grille distinguish it, as much as its outline.
There are finally real buttons on the instrument panel, replacing some of the problematic MyFord Touch buttons. It’s quieter inside thanks to tighter door seals, new engine mounts, and acoustic glass in all models except base.
The Explorer is designed for families, and for passenger space. The first- and second-row seats are among the most comfortable in the class, although the second row is low to the floor; and the third row is usable by adults. The armrests are high and soft. Power-folding seats are available.
The base V6 can accelerate from 0 to 60 in about 8.5 seconds, which is adequate but hardly neck-snapping; sometimes it feels like it limps up to speed. The 2.3-liter EcoBoost four costs $995 more, and in addition to getting two more miles per gallon, it’s gutsy, less peaky, and more responsive, and sharper in acceleration than the V6; it should be, with tremendous torque of 310 pound-feet. The turbo four just feels like a better fit with the driving feel of the Explorer.
The 2.3-liter engine is new, replacing the previous 2.0-liter, adding 40 horsepower and 40 pound-feet of torque, to now bring 380 hp and 310 lb-ft. It’s also used in the Mustang and Lincoln MKC. It has a throaty sound that can be heard and enjoyed in the cabin. With the 6-speed transmission in Sport mode, it pulls out of corners with confidence.
The beast among the engine options, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 with its 365 hp and 350 lb-ft, comes standard in Platinum and Sport models. It bursts from 0 to 60 in about 6.5 seconds; that still isn’t with the fast sport sedans, but it has a lot of weight to carry. The Sport also gets quicker steering, 20-inch wheels and tires, bigger brakes, a front strut tower brace, and stiffer stabilizer bar. Unfortunately, no paddle shifters for the six-speed automatic.
Remember Ford’s high-performance SHO models? The Explorer Sport is as close to an Explorer SHO as you can get.
Although paddle shifters aren’t available, one good thing about the six-speed automatic is that it will stay in the gear you tell it to, in manual mode and shifting with the lever on the center console. However the speed of the shifts is lax.
The changes in the electric power steering for 2016 vary according to models. In the base front-wheel drive it feels nimble and natural, almost like the smaller Ford Edge SUV. It carves into corners with zeal.
Explorers uses MacPherson struts with an isolated subframe in front, and independent multi-links in rear, with stabilizer bars at both ends. The changes in the suspension for 2016 also vary according to models. The damping is still firm, and the overall ride and handling with 4WD approaches the standards of a sport wagon; and that’s saying something, with a vehicle as tall as the Explorer. We can’t think of an SUV other than the Jeep Grand Cherokee that handles like this. Nothing from Chevy, Honda, Toyota or Nissan can match the Explorer’s road manners.
Because it is a crossover on a car chassis, the Explorer can’t match the Grand Cherokee on trails. Still, a Terrain Management system controls stability and enhances traction through it modes: Normal, Mud and Ruts, Sand, and Snow. So the Explorer meets the needs of most SUV drivers; it can get seven people to just about any remote ski resort or fishing cabin.
The Explorer is smoother looking than ever, and offers a state-of-the art four cylinder engine that makes plenty of power and gets 22 mpg, a smooth six-speed transmission, and the best handling in its class.