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Hit the Road: Ford Explorer Road Trip

While the modern Ford Explorer design blends in pretty well with the rest of the streamlined midsize crossover SUV’s taking over the streets these days, a closer look shows some classic lines from when it first launched in 1990 are still there. Back then it was hailed as an oversized station wagon but proved to be incredibly popular. It’s popularity carries on regardless of the shape of the body and if anything, our road trip test proved three things: it’s very comfortable to ride in and drive, it has great towing capacity and spunk, and it’s expensive to feed.

The Ford Explorer Platinum trim package was introduced in 2016 and continues to be their top end option. Naturally, it comes with all the bells and whistles, like leather throughout with real woodgrain accents, heated & cooled driver and passenger seats, internal navigation, all-wheel drive, hands free rear hatch door, etc. There were even heated second row seats which seems hard to find in cars these days. Though, a lot of this is also available in the XLT, Limited and even as add on options for the Sport versions. Nevertheless, the Platinum was very comfortable though we noticed a few little quirks. First, as has been true of Explorers in the past, the front wheel well is still a touch awkward for the driver and it surprised us that the second row leg-room was less than that of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum we just tested (as noticed by how easy it was for our toddler to kick the front seat while in her car seat much to my annoyance as the driver on parts of the trip).Where the tighter second row cost paid off was the amount of room from there on back. The Explorer Platinum has powered folding third row seats which we were able to stow and that gave us way more room than the Highlander (relatively, considering the nearly 6 extra inches of overall length in the Explorer). While we weren’t totally camping, this extra room meant we didn’t have to store a bunch of stuff in the teardrop trailer we were towing, so setting up for the evening was incredibly easy. One bummer was not having a 12v plug way in the rear of the Explorer for our fridge—the cable had to be run up to the 2nd row center console.

If there was any doubt about self driving cars, it’s features like the adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and collision warning sensors that prove self driving cars are not far off from becoming an everyday reality. With the Ford’s cruise control, I was able to set a speed and as I approached a vehicle going slower than my set speed, the forward looking sensor adjusted my speed to match the vehicle ahead. The follow distance can be adjusted somewhat to personal comfort preference. The lane-keep feature was pretty annoying, so I disabled that for most of the trip and thankfully I never had to deal with collision warnings.

One of the most outstanding comfort factors was the premium Sony sound system. For passing time on the road, podcasts were clear and easy to understand and the music was vibrant and crisp. This is also thanks to how well the Explorer kept road noise out, but once that Sony system kicked in, it was easy to appreciate the extra effort in offering premium sound quality.

Power & Fuel
The 2017 Platinum Explorer comes with lots of power from its twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve direct fuel injection 3.5L V-6 aluminum block engine. This monster, called EcoBoost, puts out 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, which was plenty for our use of towing our teardrop trailer which probably didn’t weigh much more than 1,000 pounds. Essentially, the trailer was unnoticed by the Platinum Explorer considering the Basedrop from Colorado Teardrops was designed to be light enough to be towed by some cars. But that guaranteed, I had plenty of power and acceleration for getting around slower vehicles on the two lane roads of our trip whenever I needed it. That also made the Explorer expensive to feed over the 1,900 miles we covered. According to the Monroney information we were to expect an average of 18 mpg (16 city/22 hwy) which is probably about right considering we mostly got around 20 mpg with the trailer. So, the trailer was not quite totally unnoticed. If that’s more engine than you need (as it was for us), the 2016 Platinum Explorer came standard with a 2.3 Liter EcoBoost four cylinder engine though could be upgraded to the 3.5L.

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