In a price-conscious world, Ford fields the 2016 Explorer Platinum, which is purposely built to be pricey. At $53,915 fully equipped, it shatters the notion of pure practicality.
This is a luxury seven-passenger crossover sport utility vehicle that, Ford says, delivers the most premium, highest-quality interior ever offered on a Ford vehicle. Take that, Lincoln.
In truth, the new Explorer rivals Ford's luxury brand, although Lincoln doesn't offer a direct competitor. The Explorer Platinum slots in between the Lincoln MKX crossover and the full-size Navigator. But with its combination of quality and price, it could easily carry a Lincoln badge.
Ford brags there are no counterfeits inside: The trim is genuine satin-finished ash wood, not plastic. The metal parts are brushed aluminum, not plastic. The upholstery is soft, fine leather, not leatherette as in some European crossover SUVs. For now, the upholstery is available only in one color, a sinfully impractical "medium soft ceramic," which is nearly white and destined for instant soiling. Owners are expected to keep it pristine.
On the outside are satin chrome accents, as well as custom 20-inch wheels crafted of aluminum, as is the grille. A dual-panel sunroof admits air and sunlight.
Of course, you can buy a cheaper Explorer. There are a total of five trim levels, starting with the Base version priced at about $30,000 and advancing through the XLT, Limited, and Sport. The last model actually contributed to the gestation of the tested Platinum model.
When the Explorer Platinum was unveiled, brand manager Mat Zuehlk disclosed that 90 percent of the buyers of the existing Explorer Sport had ordered the most expensive options packages available -- a strong signal that customers were ready for the Platinum, he said.
In addition, buyers in China -- now the biggest new vehicle market in the world -- are gravitating big-time toward car-based crossover sport utility vehicles, according to Jim Farley, Ford's executive vice president. He said buyers there wanted the best and had the money to afford it.
To drive home the point, Ford sponsored an unusual introductory event for journalists and reviewers. It set up five drive routes, starting in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and ending in Albuquerque, N.M. This review is based on the segment from Grand Junction to Durango, Colo.
The Platinum displayed impeccable highway manners -- quiet, powerful, solid and steady with responsive handling and a comfortable ride. It is powered by a 365-horsepower V-6 EcoBoost engine with 350 lb.-ft. of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. EcoBoost is Ford-speak for turbocharging, which delivers high torque and improved fuel economy. The 4,890-pound Platinum manages 18 mpg on the EPA's combined city/highway test.
The setup includes all-terrain settings for the standard four-wheel drive, similar to the sophisticated system used on vehicles from Land Rover, once owned by Ford.
The Explorer dates back to 1991, when it made its debut as a truck-based sport utility vehicle competing with the likes of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It soon became the most successful of the genre and, in its best year in 2000, topped more than 445,000 sales. This year, sales are on a pace for 180,000, Farley said. More than seven million have been sold in all.
In recent years, along with others of its kind, the Explorer abandoned its SUV truck underpinnings and morphed into a car-based crossover. Crossovers now have become the utility vehicle of choice with the pure SUVs still preferred by buyers who haul big loads or tow heavy trailers.
That's not the Explorer Platinum's forte. The towing capability is 5,000 pounds. But it offers 150 cubic feet of room for seven passengers in three rows with 21 cubic feet of cargo space.
Among its amenities:
--Full safety equipment, including adaptive cruise control, collision warning with brake support, lane keeping assist, blind spot warning, and cross traffic alert.
--A 500-watt Sony audio system.
--Optional ($895) second-row captain's chairs with center console.
--Power-folding third-row seats that can be arranged in four ways.
--Tailgate that opens with a wave of a foot under the rear bumper.
--Automatic parking, both parallel and perpendicular.
--Front and rear wide-angle cameras with washers.
Compared to many prestige luxury crossover SUVs with stratospheric prices, the plush Platinum Explorer almost seems like a blue light special.
Copyright © 2016 Motor Matters
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