2016 Ford Explorer First Look
Exploring a Second Chance
The 2016 Ford Explorer marks a refresh for this current generation that debuted for model-year 2011. We'll skip the details of our first impression of the then-new Explorer by saying it could've been much, much better. Ford made a number of tweaks and improvements to the crossover since then (MyFord Touch infotainment and overall refinement), but the 2016 Explorer, bowing at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, gets more tech and major improvement in the powertrain department.
Our biggest beef with the pre-refresh Explorer? The 2.0-liter EcoBoost inline-four. While the turbocharged mill works well in other Ford models, it simply wasn't enough engine (240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque) for a crossover that tipped the scales at over 4500 pounds. For the 2016 that 2.0 EcoBoost disappears in favor of Ford's 2.3-liter EcoBoost that's already used in the 2015 Mustang. Ford says the twin-scroll turbocharged engine will make around 270 hp and 300 lb-ft for the 2016 Explorer (it's tuned to 310 hp 320 lb-ft in the Mustang), which should make a noticeable difference in performance. The last time we tested an Explorer with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost, it needed 9.2 seconds to run to 60 mph.
Take a look back at the Explorer's 25-year history in this feature story HERE.
The main objective for keeping a four-cylinder available to the Explorer is fuel economy. Ford isn't ready to provide estimates, but says it should return around the same numbers as the current EcoBoost engine that's EPA-rated at 20/28 mpg city/highway. Those numbers, by the way, are for the front-drive configuration, which was the only way you could buy the four-cylinder Explorer. Ford says not offering all-wheel drive with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost was a deal breaker for many customers, so now it will do so with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost. The stronger engine, which is still paired with a six-speed automatic, will also allow for towing of up to 3000 pounds (both front- and all-wheel drive models). Ford charged a $995 premium for the 2.0-liter EcoBoost (over the base model) and that should also be the case for the 2.3. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost accounted for just 5 percent of total sales, so we expect the 2.3 to fare better thanks to its added power, available AWD, and towing capability.
Speaking of the base model, the 3.5-liter V-6 carries over and is estimated to make the same power at 290 hp and 255 lb-ft. Same goes for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost turbocharged V-6, estimated to produce 365 hp and 350 lb-ft.
Now let's move on to tech, specifically to the MyFordTouch system. Apparently Ford listened to feedback, because it now has knobs and buttons instead of the capacitive, haptic-touch-style controls.
Other new tech bits include an available front and 180-degree wide rear-view camera, which now features washers to clean off gunk and mud. The parking assist system can now park the Explorer perpendicularly, while parking sensors are now available for the front. The hands-free, foot-activated power liftgate that debuted on the Escape is now available for the Explorer, while the USB ports have been upgraded to smart-charging units that charge many devices twice as fast.
Those things are on top of what was already an extensive list of available options for the Explorer, including adaptive cruise control, blindspot monitoring, cooled and heated front seats, automatic high beams, and second-row inflatable seatbelts. Ford says the front seats have been redesigned for comfort, while also allowing more knee room for the second-row passengers. The driver also gets more legroom thanks to a revised foot well and footrest. Other ergonomic changes include a smaller A-pillar for better visability and redesigned armrests that should accommodate shorter drivers better. Improved door seals and thicker front glass should help reduce wind and road noise.
Styling changes are relatively subtle. The front end received the bulk of the revisions, including headlights that are more horizontal and blocky than before. Those headlight units now house standard LED low-beam units (LED daytime running lamps are optional). The grille design varies by trim model and the hood has been revised. The side view is essentially the same, though the roof racks are now flush-mounted for a cleaner look and better aerodynamics. Speaking of which, Ford says the 2016 Explorer is 5 percent more aerodynamic thanks to active grille shutters and an Air Curtain system.
The 2016 Explorer will still be offered in base, XLT, or Limited versions. The Explorer Sport also carries over. New for 2016, however, is a new Platinum trim level that adds 20-inch rims, satin chrome exterior finishes, an all-digital instrument cluster, a 500-watt Sony sound system, and premium leather that used almost everywhere including the seats, door trim, and dashboard. The sole powertrain choice for the Explorer Sport and Platinum model is the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 with all-wheel drive.
The 2016 Explorer goes on sale in North America at some point next year. Ford says the base model will cost the same as it does now at $31,595 including the 895 destination fee. Full pricing should be released closer to launch.