Ford Explorer Platinum — Blue Oval luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Platinum is the new standard for Ford luxury signifying the top of the line — a vehicle loaded with all the creature comforts and safety features currently available. And the company's best-selling SUV of all time, the Explorer, now wears the badge for the first time in 2016.

Ford felt the need to jump into the luxury SUV segment that has been growing by astounding numbers over the past few years. We discovered both on a day-long drive in New Mexico and during a week's worth of driving on home turf that the 2016 Explorer Platinum rivals virtually anything BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Audi and others sell on the mid-to-full-size market. And that includes American products such as GMC Yukon Denali and Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit.

With a base starting price of around $53,000, the Explorer Platinum is marketed to customers who simply want it all. This new Explorer elevates the three-row SUV look and feel with a multitude of upgrades both inside and out including multi-adjustable front seats wrapped in Nirvana leather with micro-perforation, a 500-watt Sony audio system, the latest in driver-assist technologies including adaptive cruise control, and Ford's powerful 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin turbocharged V-6 engine.

MotorwayAmerica photo by Jim Meachen

The heart and soul of the Platinum trim is the big V-6 making 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Despite the Explorer's large size, the big engine can propel it from 0 to 60 in about 6 seconds. That translates into satisfying merging and passing performance that wasn't diminished with four adults and some cargo along for the ride on one 120-mile round trip. We also got to feel its urgency on some steep mountain grades in New Mexico. Luxury goes hand-in-hand with superior performance, and in this regard the Platinum edition delivers. The big engine also comes in the lesser Sport trim level.

There is a downside — the big V-6 is a thirsty engine rated at 16 mpg city, 22 highway and 18 combined with all-wheel drive, which is standard with the Platinum trim. The thing here is that we weren't able to duplicate the EPA numbers; we came up a couple of miles-per-gallon short in 400 miles of driving. There is a big plus here, however. The engine does not require expensive premium gas, which will save hundreds of dollars.

Other requirements for true luxury are an interior as quiet as a church on Monday morning. The Explorer Platinum delivers interior solitude on a par with the new Lexus and a smooth ride with excellent composure and excellent handling stability even over broken pavement and on gravel roads. Equally impressive are the front seats that comfortably accommodate even us wide bodies. Adding to the luxury ambience is a cabin adorned with scads of soft-touch surfaces; aluminum and real wood trim on the instrument panels and doors, and user-friendly controls that feature actual buttons and knobs for audio and climate controls.

While the MyFord Touch interface is standard on the Platinum model offering a high-resolution touchscreen in the center console, the latest SYNC 3 technology did not make it to the Explorer. Ford will add the all-new, impressive system to its entire fleet of vehicles over the next couple of years.

Standard on Platinum are such items as blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, a dual-panel sunroof, automatic parallel - and perpendicular parking system, inflatable seatbelts for second-row passengers, a front 180-degree camera (great for negotiating tight spots), lane-keeping assist (we tried it and it works amazingly well keeping the vehicle between the lines), and a stability control system that includes Ford's Curve Control, which can monitor speed carried into a corner and decelerate as necessary. The only options to tempt owners are a rear entertainment system and second-row captain's chairs with power-assist folding.

For those people who can't get over the Platinum price hurdle, the Explorer is offered in four other trim levels starting at base for $31,995 in two-wheel drive configuration and moving up to XLT ($34,345), Limited ($42,245), and Sport ($44,445). All-wheel drive can be purchased on any trim level for $2,000.

In addition to the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 there’s a new 2.3-liter I-4 turbo engine with 280 horses and 310 pound-feet torque, and a standard 3.5-liter V-6 with 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. Gas mileage with the non-turbocharged six is rated at 17 mpg city, 24 highway and 20 overall in front drive and 16/23/19 in AWD.

Our Platinum edition test vehicle came without options for a bottom line of $53,915 including destination charge.

Base price: $53,545; as driven, $53,915
Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6
Horsepower: 365 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 350 pound-feet @3,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 112.8 inches
Length: 198.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,901 pounds
Turning circle: 39.8 feet
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 21 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 81.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.6 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 22 highway, 16 city, 18 overall
0-60: 6.0 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit, GMC Yukon Denali, BMW X5

The Good
• Strong turbocharged V-6
• Loaded with features
• Quiet cabin at highway speeds
• Big engine uses regular gas

The Bad
• New SYNC 3 interface not available

The Ugly
• Gas mileage below average