Ford Explorer Platinum Quick Review

Critic's Notebook takeaway: A plebeian SUV goes premium.

Ford Explorer Review

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff collection of impressions, jottings, and marginalia on whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: The Ford Explorer Platinum.

The Ford Explorer used to be an inexpensive SUV. Back in those glorious days when a candy bar cost 50 cents and Bernie Sanders was a wacky congressman from my home state, the nicest Explorer was named after a line of ripoff L.L. Bean apparel. Most of them came with cloth seats. Hell, a standard transmission still came standard.

But this is 2016, and in the car world, all the profits are in the premium models. So Ford, like Chevy and Dodge and Honda and basically every other “mainstream” automaker, is cranking out near-luxury versions of almost every model in its fleet. Which is how you or I can now walk into our friendly neighborhood Ford dealerships and drive out in a $54,310 Ford Explorer. If you’re thinking, “Jeez, that’s practically Lincoln money,” you’re wrong. Thatis Lincoln money. The Lincoln MKT, which shares a platform with the Explorer, costs roughly the same amount—fully loaded.

Of course, the MKT’s feasting-baleen-whale face and wagon-esque design have consigned it to livery duty for the rest of its poor, pathetic life. The 2016 Explorer, in contrast, is inoffensively attractive. Fresh from its mid-cycle redesign, it’s the sort of vehicle that has all the elements of a handsome design, but lacks the character to be memorable. It’s the Dylan McDermott of the automotive world.

The Explorers of old were heavy, leaden things, burdened with anemic engines and overbuilt body-on-frame chassis. The 2016 Explorer Platinum, on the other hand, is basically a Taurus SHO on stilts. Those ceratopsian dimensions belie the fact that the Explorer is built on the same bones as Ford’s biggest sedan. The 365-horsepower twin turbo V6 is shared with the SHO (as well as with everything from the F-150 to the Navigator, in various states of tune). Combine that with the six-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive system, and you get an SUV that vaults from 0-60 in around six seconds. For comparison: That same sprint took the first-gen Taurus SHO 6.6 seconds.

Of course, you can also score that SHO powertrain in the Explorer Sport, which is one rung lower in the lineup than the Platinum—and just shy of $10,000 cheaper. The Sport also comes with most of the features you’d want on an everyday SUV—automatic climate control, fully keyless entry, a touchscreen infotainment system, leather for all three rows of seats, and so forth.

What makes the Platinum worthy of its silver-colored steering wheel badge, then? Options—or rather, a lack of them. Ford tacked almost every one of the Explorer’s optional features, gizmos and gadgets onto the Platinum as standard, from adaptive cruise control to a 12-speaker Sony stereo to a massive moonroof. It also picks up a Platinum-exclusive interior complete with unique quilted leather trim. In my tester, the black-and-white color pattern made it look like the inside of a giant Oreo. Nice, sure. But not extra-ten-grand nice.

And choosing one of the lesser Explorers over the Platinum means more money for gas—and you’re gonna need it. In spite of its car-like unibody construction, the 2016 Explorer goes 16 miles per gallon of gas in town, and only 22 on the highway. Dive into the turbos with any regularity, you’ll be lucky to keep mileage out of the teens.

The Explorer is still a solid sport ute, buoyed up most of the qualities that caused people to fall in love with it all those years ago: four-wheel-drive, a commanding ride height, plenty of room inside, and a decent-looking mug. But those substantive characteristics come with every Explorer. All the frippery that makes the Platinum a Platinum is just...frosting.

So if you’re looking to pick up a mid-sized SUV, put the Explorer on your list. Just be sure to set a price cap.

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2016 FORD EXPLORER PLATINUM
PRICE (as tested):
 $53,915 ($54,310)
POWERTRAIN: Turbocharged3.5-liter, 365-hp V-6; six-speed automatic; AWD
0-60 MPH: Six seconds, give or take
MPG: 16 city, 22 highway
IDEAL PAINT JOB: Jurassic Park livery