Ford Explorers are everywhere. That's no surprise, considering Ford is on track to sell nearly 250,000 of them this year. Yet when the 2016 models go on sale, they will look different. Eagle-eyed car spotters will note new styling cues and a new trim level. While the 2016 Explorer benefits from significant improvements across the line, including a new base engine, the trim level that brings it all together is the new range-topping Platinum model. What does the Platinum offer? In short, everything. Everything Ford has to offer as far as comfort, safety and power are concerned. The only major option is bucket seats for the second row. Everything else, including a new Sony audio system and 20-inch wheels, both Platinum exclusives, come standard.

We got the keys to a Ruby Red Explorer Platinum, gathered our favorite road snacks (skipping the mystery-meat jerky sticks) and beverages, and set out from Durango, Colorado to see the American Southwest behind the wheel of one of the country's most popular SUVs.

Also: Class of 2016 -- New Cars Ready to Roll

On the Road Again

Our destination was Albuquerque, New Mexico, and we hatched an ambitious plan, hoping to make several stops along the way. Before setting out, we entered the destination in the nav system and added several waypoints -- both of which were very easy to do -- and we were on our way. 

Setting out through the San Juan Mountains, two things became clear: first, the 365-horsepower, 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine is a terrific source of power for the Explorer, easily scooting this midsize SUV along as altitudes changed. We started at 8,200 feet, which is no easy test for a vehicle. Second, the Explorer has a noticeably quiet, very comfortable interior. The combination of smooth speed and cushy cabin made it very easy to exceed the speed limit. This was where the Explorer's adaptive cruise control came in handy, both for safety and to keep us from driving too fast. Steering response was relaxed, but more noticeable were the touchy brakes, which took some getting used to.

Versatile Interior

The cabin was fitted with the best of the best from Ford: real leather on the doors, dashboard and seats. Real wood and brushed aluminum accents throughout. That morning in Durango, it was about 40 degrees, perfect weather for testing out the seat and steering wheel heaters, both of which worked quickly and efficiently. We also tested out the seat massagers, which can be controlled through buttons on the side of the seat or through the MyFord Touch screen.

The layout and packaging of this SUV's interior has been improved for 2016, with small changes that added more comfort. For example, the armrests have been redesigned to be easier to use for shorter drivers. For those who don't care for MyFord Touch, the climate control and stereo have redundant hard buttons that make the system easier to control. The Explorer's interior is easy to reconfigure to fit luggage, people or both. The Platinum has power-folding third-row seats which you can fold forward or flat. There is a rocker switch that'll fold left or right, or both at once. Legroom is acceptable in the third row, especially if the second-row passenger slides forward a touch. That second row allows for easy power-fold access to the third row.

Great visibility

We drove wide two-lane roads with soft curves, dividing mountains covered in pines, the perfect setting for the day. With the exception of the large C-pillar, the Explorer offers plenty of visibility for everyone to take in the sights, including Chimney Rock, a natural formation that resembles a chimney. We weren't that far from the New Mexico border (we discovered that state's welcome sign has red and green chili peppers on it), and we soon passed through Pagosa Springs and arrived in the small town of Chama, New Mexico in time for lunch.

As the day wore on, cup holders filled up with half-full water bottles and we used the USB ports to keep phones and electronics charged. Everything was within easy reach. We also discovered the fuel economy, which started at an impressive 28.4 mpg, was now hovering close to 22, thanks to a lead foot.

We tried out the lane keeping system, which provided subtle yet effective guidance to stay in the lane. It was confused by seams within the lane, but that is consistent with what we've experienced with other manufacturers' systems. As the scenery changed, and red, beige and white striated rock formations and mesas replaced the evergreen forests of the morning, we neared Santa Fe and then Albuquerque. New Mexico's capital city is at a lower elevation than Durango's, but Denver isn't the only mile-high city in America: Albuquerque sits at 5,312 feet. Since we were in "Breaking Bad" country, we visited the car wash where Walter White worked and the law offices of Saul Goodman. We also happened to spot a blue Pontiac Aztek in immaculate condition. As we finished our journey, fuel economy had gone up to over 22 mpg, not bad considering we had joined rush hour traffic for the last stretch.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

Most expensive Explorer ever, yet competitive

The Ford Explorer Platinum proved to be an excellent road trip vehicle. The ride is compliant without feeling mushy, and handling and steering are relaxed enough to make the miles fly by. This is the most luxurious Explorer to date, and, not surprisingly is also the most expensive. It starts at nearly $54,000, which may seem high until you look at the Explorer Platinum's competition. Ford is targeting upscale models like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and GMC Acadia, both of which are in that same price range when similarly equipped.

More Ford Explorer news...

2016 Ford Explorer Platinum: Moving on up

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