CORONADO, Calif. -- We're streaking along Silver Strand Boulevard, pitched on the Coronado sand strip separating tranquil water in San Diego Bay from turbulent Pacific surf, while steering a plush new Platinum rendition of Ford's square-corner Explorer crossover utility vehicle.
The 2016 issues of Explorer feature fresh fore/aft styling and an enhanced cabin treatment, with powerful new engine choices and more safety gear aboard. All editions of Explorer '16 come together at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant and segment into five trim grades -- Base, XLT, Limited, Sport and top-line Platinum -- with three powertrain options and front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive traction.
Tricked out Explorer Platinum totes a dual-panel moonroof, signature lighting with LED headlamps plus silver-painted front/rear skid plates and 20-inch alloy wheels. The 7-seat passenger compartment contains multi-contour front seats clad in deluxe Nirvana leather with brushed aluminum and satin-finished ash wood trimwork, a wood-trimmed and leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, quilted door bolsters, the gauge cluster with a large 10-inch digital display, power-folding third-row seat, hands-free power liftgate, new 500-watt Sony Audio System, and standard electronic safety systems including active park assist with park-out assist and perpendicular park, lane-keeping system and forward-collision warning system with brake priming linked to the adaptive cruise control.
All trim versions of the 2016 Explorer employ a monocoque structure which unites chassis and body into one cohesive unit that remains extremely rigid when set in motion. A generous wheelbase length of 112.8 inches and broad wheel track of 67 inches create a long and broad front-wheel-drive platform which adds to the vehicle's stability when scooting through a set of mountain curves.
Explorer carries independent suspension components -- a strut-type front suspension with 32-mm stabilizer bar and a rear multi-link design with coil-over-shocks and 22-mm stabilizer bar -- to deliver incredibly smooth ride traits for passengers.
Explorer's 7-seat cabin is substantial in size with total volume of 150.3 cubic feet and 81.7 cubic feet of flat-floored stow space stretching from front-row seatbacks to the tail-side liftgate. Three rows of seats apply to all trims and legroom for riders is generous.
The spec sheet for Explorer lists three powertrains.
Explorer Base, XLT and Limited trims draw from Ford's 3.5-liter V6 engine with DOHC (dual overhead cams) and performance-enhancing i-VCT (independent variable camshaft timing) technology. The plant produces 290 hp with torque of 255 lb-ft. Shifter is a 6-speed electronic automatic with SelectShift manual controls.
An optional new engine for Explorer Base, XLT and Limited trims is a 2.3-liter 4-in-line EcoBoost plant that generates an estimated 270 hp plus 300 lb-ft of torque.
Explorer Sport and Platinum come exclusively with intelligent all-wheel-drive traction and Ford's selectable 4-mode Terrain Management System (TMS). Both trim versions draw from a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 and muster 365 hp with torque of 350 lb-ft. The plant links to a 6-speed electronic automatic SelectShift transaxle rigged with paddle shifters.
The TMS features four driver-selectable settings (Normal/Snow/Sand/Mud) that automatically tune various vehicle dynamic systems to the type of terrain being covered. A new 4WD gauge depicts engine power distributed to the front and rear wheels under all conditions.
Explorer Base edition provides 18-inch aluminum wheels, automatic LED low-beam headlights, a rearview camera and roof rails. Cabin equipment includes air-conditioning, cloth seat upholstery, 6-way controls for driver seat, a second-row bench split 60/40, third row bench split 50/50, tilting-telescoping steering wheel, Microsoft Sync system, Bluetooth connectivity and a 6-speaker audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3.
Explorer Limited scores 20-inch aluminum wheels, satin chrome with Rosewood film accent appliqués, perforated leather-trimmed seats, heated and cooled front seats, the 12-speaker Sony Audio System, front and rear 180-degree camera with washers, and the hands-free power liftgate.
Explorer Sport gets 20-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, dual exhaust tips, a trailer tow package, perforated leather-trimmed seats with red accent stitching and the Sony Audio System.
Ford sets MSRP figures for 2016 Explorer models upward from $30,700. The new Explorer Platinum lists for $53,500.