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We Explore More in the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum

by Paul Strauss
We Explore More in the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinumzoom in

    2016 Ford Explorer Platinum

  • Engine: 3.5L Turbocharged V6
  • Horsepower: 365
  • Torque (lb-ft.): 350
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic w/paddle shifters
  • Drive Configuration: 4WD
  • City/Hwy/Combined MPG: 16/22/18
  • Curb Weight (lb): 4,633
  • Wheelbase (in): 112.8
  • Total Length (in): 198.3
  • Width (in): 78.9 (w/o mirrors)
  • Base Price (USD): $52,790

Now in its 25th year of production, the Ford Explorer really was the vehicle that created the whole SUV industry. What originally started as not much more than a pickup truck with an enclosed bed is now a sophisticated and steadfast daily driver for millions.

Ford recently invited me out to Western Colorado to see just how far the Explorer has come, with an opportunity to take the new top-of-the-line 2016 Explorer Platinum on a road trip. We started our trip in Grand Junction, with our ultimate destination being Durango. The trip is under 150 miles as the crow flies, but between mountains, switchbacks, fog, roadwork, and plenty of stops along the way, my driving partner and I managed to turn it into a 12-hour road trip.

Had I spent the entire day in pretty much any other vehicle, I would not have been a happy camper. But the Explorer Platinum is perfect for long trips. I like to describe it as your living room on wheels. As we arrived at our vehicle to start the day off, I was immediately apparent this was a very special Explorer. Outside, it’s been appointed with one of the most substantial car grilles I’ve seen – a thick and chunky aluminum number – no plastic here. The 20″ aluminum rims do a nice job complementing it, as do the satin chrome bits trimming the exterior. Every new Explorer now gets LED low-beam headlights and taillamps, and the Platinum gets some nifty LED signature lamps too.

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But it’s the inside of the car where we were going to spend the next dozen or so hours, so that’s what really counts. As soon as we popped open the doors, it was clear that Ford’s interior designers weren’t messing around. You’re immediately treated to rich leather seats and door surfaces with a unique quilted pattern, real hardwood trim on the dash, doors and steering wheel, and real aluminum throughout the dash and door trim. Even the good old blue Ford oval on the steering wheel is now aluminum. One item of note is that the leather is currently only available in a light color called “Medium Soft Ceramic.” This looks great, but I’m concerned that one spill of your kid’s Juicy Juice box or repeated trips in denim won’t be a good thing. Here’s hoping Ford eventually offers some dark colors too.

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The front seats not only offer heating and ventilation, but have massage functionality to keep your back and backside from cramping up on long road trips. As a three row SUV, there’s room for seven people, though the back row is definitely for kids only, and even the middle row had a little less knee room than I would have hoped – but I’m 6 feet tall. Overhead, there are a pair of moonroofs for both the front and middle row passengers.

The center console is thoughtfully organized, offering cupholders, a large storage bin in the armrest, and a compartment up front with ample space for a couple of phones. You’ll find both a USB and 12VDC connector up here, as well as more ports and a 110V power outlet in the back. Ford says the USB ports can charge gadgets up to 2x faster than typical ports too. The highlight of the center stack has to be the Sony premium audio system, which sounds simply spectacular. It’s not just that its got 500 watts of power running to a dozen speakers. This is the first automotive application of Sony’s Clear Phase and Live Acoustics tech, which both dramatically improve the soundstage for music. Clear Phase is great for Rock and Pop music, replicating the sound precisely as it was recorded, while Live Acoustics provides an expansive, surround sound that’s great for classical.

After we assessed our upscale surroundings, we headed out on the road, with only a vague notion of where we might stop along our route. As we left the hotel parking lot on what started as a grey and rainy morning, we were almost immediately greeted with a spectacular double rainbow over the mesa. This was certainly a good omen for the day that lay ahead.

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Our first stop along the road is referred to as the “Buffalo Bumper Sculpture,” which is pretty self-explanatory. Located in front of the Wells Fargo offices in Grand Junction, this larger than life chrome buffalo by sculptor John Kearney was the perfect starting point for a couple of automotive writers exploring Colorado.

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After a couple of quick snapshots, we hopped in the Explorer and headed towards our next destinations, the Colorado National Monument, followed by the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. These are two of the most beautiful drives in America, winding first through craggy, rock formations that look like they came out of a Road Runner cartoon, and then heading high into the forest 6,000 feet up along the largest flat-topped mountain.

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As the Explorer worked its way through twisty roads, and ever-increasing elevations, its 365hp, 3.5-liter V6 worked brilliantly, offering plenty of power, but also well insulated from the passenger compartment, running quietly even under stress. In fact, the entire passenger compartment was ridiculously quiet – devoid of any noticeable road or wind noise, and offered a smooth, yet controlled ride.

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Along the route we were greeted by a variety of wildlife who thought it would be a good idea to cross in front of our vehicle, and the Explorer’s very good brakes and overall stability kept us safe and sound even when we had to stop suddenly.

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Ford also packs in their Intelligent 4WD and Terrain Management Systems, which, like much more expensive SUVs from Range Rover, dynamically adjusts traction to each wheel as it encounters varied terrain. You can also select from dedicated modes for sand/snow/gravel, grass and mud/ruts. While we didn’t go off-road in our Explorer, it handled dirt and gravel roads, and slippery pavement with aplomb.

We continued our journey through a few small towns, stopping at museums, shops and a neighborhood restaurant along the way. A couple of my favorite spots were the Pioneer Town in Cedaredge, which while quite anachronistic in its presentation of pioneer times was packed with cool bits of Colorado history, and had some cool buildings and old-school grain silos which you could walk inside of. The Museum of the Mountain West also had some neat old buildings, but my favorite bit was the rusted out old Chevrolets. I can only guess that Ford put those there on purpose.

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We did a bit of highway driving during the day too, and the adaptive cruise control really came in handy, maintaining our speed and a safe distance from other vehicles, while giving my feet a much needed break. Something else I noticed was just how good the mileage was. We averaged 22 mpg for our entire journey, which included a variety of different types of roads, including steep hills and mountains – not too shabby for a 7-seater.

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The real highlight of the day was our stop at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. As we approached this lesser-known National Park, it just looked like a bunch of hills, but the gradual ear-pops and headache along the route let me know that we were definitely heading somewhere really high up. And what do you usually find at great heights? Great views, natch.

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When we reached the summit, we were greeted with awe-inspiring views of what is one of the narrowest canyons on the planet.

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Looking out upon the painterly rock formations from my vantage point, I had to just sit there on a rock for a few minutes to take it all in. The Explorer had taken me somewhere that I never knew I wanted to go, and now I want to go back. At night. Apparently, the Black Canyon offers some of the most spectacular views of the night sky in North America, and from the photos I’ve seen, it looks like it would be well worth the return trip.

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As we bid goodbye to these impressive rocks, we boarded our elegant and trusty metal steed, and continued our trek South. Along the way, we were greeted by a bear. Hi, bear.

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We also stopped by Ridgway, the town where John Wayne and company filmed the original True Grit, and in a handful of antique shops on the way towards our next stop in Ouray. One of my favorite finds was this vintage magazine ad, which I thought was fitting.

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I’ve been to Ouray before, and it’s one of my favorite spots in Colorado. This quaint mountainside town is home to beautiful and relaxing hot springs, and lots of neat little shops and restaurants.

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I had yet to find a memento of the trip that I could take home and display on my wall, but then I came across something truly special in one of Ouray’s antique shops.

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Yes, that’s an actual grille from a 1958 Ford Edsel. Another perfect find as part of a nearly perfect day.

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Our trek from Ouray to Durango was definitely slower than we had hoped, as there was major construction that had closed a pass along the stunning, yet treacherous Million Dollar Highway, so they could work on shoring up sections of loose rock. The sun was setting sooner than I had wanted, so we skipped a couple of spots I had hoped to hit in Silverton, including a tour of an old mine. Well, that’s the nature of adventure. Sometimes things change, and you just roll with the punches. And that just gives me an excuse to go back, right?

As darkness fell upon us, we pulled into our destination, the Purgatory Lodge and Ski Resort in Durango, mentally exhausted from our long day. But something struck me as soon as I got out of the Explorer. I wasn’t sore or physically fatigued as I usually am after a long road trip. Those comfy massage seats had done the trick.

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What can I say? Ford has created what I think just might be the ultimate road trip vehicle with the Explorer Platinum. It’s incredibly quiet, comfortable and luxuriously appointed. Plus, it gets unexpectedly good mileage for its size, and is equipped with every bell and whistle you can think of. Priced at $52,970 (with every feature I mentioned here and more), it’s definitely not an entry-level SUV, but it’s a tremendous value when compared to its so-called “luxury” competitors, some of which cost tens of thousands more for less.

I highly recommend the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum, and also highly recommend that you take it out on a long road trip right away.

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