2016 Ford Explorer Sport and Limited First Review

By Trevor Dorchies on May 18, 2015 9:25 AM

The Ford Explorer has been a staple in the midsize SUV segment for 25 years now. In fact, Ford has managed to sell over seven million units since it was introduced back as a 1991 model. Half-way through its fifth generation, the Explorer has gone under the knife for the 2016 model year and gained a new trim level in the process. Everything from the Explorer's A-pillar forward has been redesigned while other things like the tail lights and interior have been tweaked. The 2.0-liter inline-four cylinder engine also has been ditched in favor of Ford's new 2.3-liter inline-four cylinder EcoBoost engine. 

Two flavors of EcoBoost

New for 2016 in the Explorer is the 2.3-liter inline-four cylinder EcoBoost engine which is available in the base XLT and Limited trim. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine has gone away and is replaced by this new form of motivation. While it's also found in the Mustang and Lincoln MKC, Ford claims the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine has been calibrated differently for use in the Explorer. In this configuration,  it's good for 280 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, up 40 in both categories over the displacement of the 2.0-liter EcoBoost it replaces. Ford estimates this new EcoBoost engine will be good for 28 mpg on the highway with front-wheel drive, be able to tow up to 3,500 pounds, and it will be available with all-wheel drive. Other available engines for the 2016 Explorer include the 3.5-liter Ti-VCT V6 and Ford's wildly popular 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine. We had a chance to sample the latter in an Explorer Sport model which we'll get into more below. 

We'll wait for the rest of the rest of the Explorer's EPA-certified fuel numbers to come out but after initial contact we found the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine to be the one to get. It provided adequate power during our drive route through the hilly terrain near Escondido, California. The 6-speed automatic transmission went about its job without much fanfare and getting up to highway speed was done so in adequate fashion. With the 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine found in the Explorer Sport, power comes on quickly and feels familiar to anyone who has driven an F-150 that's similarly equipped. Navigating the elevation changes on our drive route was handled with ease as power came and went as soon as you stepped into or off of the throttle. Overall the Explorer Sport was easy to handle due in part to the steering which Ford slowed down for better feedback.  

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015 

New Platinum Edition 

Ford claims that one out of every five Explorer customers comes from luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Enter the all-new Platinum trim level which takes aim squarely at those coming from luxury brands. The 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum starts at $53,495, which includes an $895 destination and handling fee, and boasts features like brushed-aluminum and satin-finished ash wood on the door and instrument panels. Underneath the hood, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine serves as motivation and is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Explorer Platinum will also be the first Ford vehicle to feature a 10-inch digital display with analogs backups. Another Ford-first found on the Explorer Platinum includes an all-new 500-watt Sony Audio System that delivers crisp, clear sound. 

However, while the Explorer Platinum delivers a refined touch, 43 percent of all Explorer sales leave the dealer lot dressed in Sport or Limited trim. The Limited offers two different engine choices -3.5-liter V6 and 2.3-liter EcoBoost-while, like the Platinum trim, only the 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine is available with the Explorer Sport. Ford will wait until the Explorer's on-sale approaches this summer before it confirms fuel figures but we expect the 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost to be in the same neighborhood as the F-150 (17 city/24 highway/20 mpg combined). As for the 2.3-liter EcoBoost, we already know it will touch 28 mpg on the highway so we wouldn't be surprised if the other figures closely mimic the Lincoln MKC's (20 city /23 mpg combined). 

Verdict

Halfway through its fifth-generation life cycle, the 2016 Ford Explorer appears that it'll be able to carry the sales torch without an issue. The addition of the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine and the carry-over of the V6 EcoBoost variant give the Explorer a reason to stick out in a segment filled with the likes of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Murano, and Honda Pilot. However, it will still be a battle for the Explorer as Murano and Pilot sales are expected to spike as both have been completely redesigned for 2015 and 2016, respectively. Jeep and Toyota sales, on the other hand, have been a runaway freight train lately with no signs of slowing down in the near future. Even still, you don't sell over seven million units without offering something for the masses and we expect the 2016 Ford Explorer to keep the mojo going for the Blue Oval. 

More 2016 Ford Explorer...

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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