Back in 1962 in the heat of the Mad Men era, rental car company Avis made some waves with its new slogan: “We Try Harder.” Its point was simple: because it was second fiddle to rental giant Hertz, Avis had to work harder and offer up more to its customers to take on the big boys.
What’s this messy metaphor have to do with the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum you clicked the link to read about? Easy—since its debut five years ago, the fifth-generation Explorer has been steadily leading the three-row crossover sales chart, beating out the likes of the Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse, and even Dodge Durango, which was our last three-row crossover Big Test winner. While cruising on the sales chart ahead of the pack, Ford hasn’t necessarily had to try as hard to put new butts in Explorer seats. Perhaps that might help to explain why we found the new-for-’16, luxury-level Explorer Platinum felt decidedly downscaled compared to some of its up-and-coming new rivals.
The 2016 Explorer Platinum essentially exists because Ford was finding that its Explorer buyers were loading up their Explorer Sports to the gills with options and wanted a vehicle that leaned more toward luxury than sport. Ford started with the Explorer Sport’s mechanicals, and through some luxury goodies at it such as aluminum and wood trim, a heated steering wheel made of wood and leather, quilted-leather stitching on the door panels, “Nirvana” leather seats, and a variety of other luxury and tech goodies. Ford calls it “the most upscale, high-quality interior we’ve ever offered on a Ford vehicle in North America.”
It’s not even close, but we’ll circle back to that in a few paragraphs.
Under its hood, the Explorer Platinum packs a powerful EcoBoost 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 that produces a V-8-like 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. The V-6 is paired with a standard six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The combo is good enough to get this almost 5,000-pound porker up to 60 mph in a respectable 6.4 seconds, while the quarter mile falls in 14.8 seconds at 93.1 mph. The 60-0 mph panic-stopping test takes 127 feet.
When it comes to corners, the Explorer Platinum gives up ground to some of its newer, lighter competitors such as the aforementioned Acadia and CX-9. Our Ford tester needed 27.1 seconds to round the figure eight while averaging 0.66 g, and it completed the skidpad averaging 0.79 g.
What do these numbers tell us? That the Explorer is going to be a great boulevard and highway cruiser and not quite so fun on rural back roads or tight inner-city streets.
Out on the streets, the above proves pretty true. The best part about the Explorer Platinum is its engine: it’s a monster. With little in the way of lag, the Explorer’s EcoBoost engine makes an otherwise humdrum people mover exciting once you dip into the throttle. The six-speed automatic, eager to eek every single mpg point it out of the boosted V-6, does opt for sixth gear wherever possible and is pretty reluctant to downshift. Thankfully the EcoBoost is torquey enough on its own to make up for the transmission’s hesitancy. You’ll pay for that performance at the pump, though, as the Explorer Platinum is EPA-rated at 16/22/18 mpg city/highway/combined, and we saw average fuel economy in the midteens during our testing.
As expected considering its weight and dated Taurus sedan-based underpinnings, steering feedback leaves a bit to be desired with not much in the way of heft or feel from the helm; More often than not, you’re left to guessing what the front tires are doing as you head down the road. Although it’s isolated steering leaves something to be desired, it does have the benefit of giving the Explorer Platinum a pretty cushy and well-controlled ride.
Ultimately, that might be the single biggest problem with the new Explorer Platinum and the Explorer as a whole; for every one thing it does well, someone else does it better. Want something roomier? There’s the Honda Pilot. Want something more fun to drive? Look at the Mazda CX-9. Want something more luxurious? Check out the GMC Acadia. The Ford Explorer line might be thoroughly competitive on paper, but its dominance has ultimately led the competition to simply try harder. With others overtaking the Explorer in comfort, packaging, luxury, and dynamics, it’s now finally time for Ford to show “we try harder” when the next-generation Explorer hits the streets in 2019.