It's fair to say that Ford has never been perceived as a luxury brand. Clarification: We refer to the Ford division, as distinct from the Ford Motor Company, which still embraces at least one brand with luxury credentials. Now, however, Ford seeks to amend that perception, employing a surprising vehicle to spearhead the transition: the Explorer SUV in the form of a new Platinum Edition.

Already motoring into Ford showrooms, the Explorer Platinum Edition debuts with an MSRP of $53,915.  That's almost $10,000 more than the Explorer Sport, the previous top of the line, and clearly in luxury price territory. (Ford uses the word "premium.") Other SUVs of comparable price with seven- or eight-passenger capacity include the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Buick Enclave, Infiniti QX60, Land Rover LR4, Lexus GS, Volvo XC90, and even the Lincoln MKT, the division whose luxury image Ford Motor is striving to revive. (We should note that pricing for the Expedition, the biggest Ford SUVs, runs well into the $60,000 range, as does the Chevrolet Suburban. But neither is portrayed as a luxury vehicle.)

Only one option

Showcased in a multi-leg driving marathon running from Vancouver, British Columbia to Albuquerque, New Mexico (nine cities, 187 journalist drivers, 2738 miles), here are the key elements that purport to elevate the Explorer to the realm of luxury: standard 3.5-liter Ecoboost V-6 engine (365 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque); standard all-wheel drive; 500-watt, 12-speaker Sony audio system; a 10.1-inch digital center-dash display; heated and ventilated seats clad with perforated leather; a power tilt-telescope wood-and-leather heated steering wheel; brushed aluminum interior trim; and, the cherry atop the whipped cream, a Ford oval logo in the center of the steering wheel.

Ford's official summary of the Platinum package content: "everything." The only option is second row captain's chairs which cost $845.

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The product planners add that the Platinum suspension tuning differs from other Explorers, without specifying just how. Based on the driving segment from Big Sky, Montana to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, via Yellowstone National Park, it seems to be somewhere between the Sport model and the mainstream Explorer. (We'll leave driving impressions and trip highlights to Allyson Harwood, who drove the Durango, Colorado to Albuquerque leg.)

Other exterior touches include 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels specific to the Platinum edition; a standard dual-panel power moonroof; and silver-painted skid plates.

Posh interior

But the marketing emphasis is on the posh interior, with its premium audio, aluminum and ash wood trim, elegant stitchery, and leather upholstery. And not just any leather. Nirvana leather. Whether occupants will actually feel that they've achieved nirvana, i.e., a state of peaceful freedom from stress and/or pain, of course will vary from individual to individual.

Nevertheless, Ford execs are confident the Platinum interior treatment will satisfy America's growing taste for luxury. According to Explorer design chief Mike Arbaugh, the Platinum edition possesses "the most upscale, high-quality interior we've ever offered on a Ford vehicle in North America."

Explorer brand manager Matt Zuehik says that "bringing Explorer Platinum to market is a natural extension of the Explorer lineup-giving our customers even more of what they want." How this resonates with the Lincoln division is not recorded.

See full review and pricing information for the 2016 Ford Explorer or build and price your own to unlock its Fair Purchase Price, 5-Year Cost to Own, and more.

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