2016 Ford Explorer Driving Impressions

The base V6 can accelerate from 0 to 60 in about 8.5 seconds, which is adequate but hardly neck-snapping; sometimes it feels like it limps up to speed. The 2.3-liter EcoBoost four costs $995 more, and in addition to getting two more miles per gallon, it’s gutsy, less peaky, and more responsive, and sharper in acceleration than the V6; it should be, with tremendous torque of 310 pound-feet. The turbo four just feels like a better fit with the driving feel of the Explorer.

The 2.3-liter engine is new, replacing the previous 2.0-liter, adding 40 horsepower and 40 pound-feet of torque, to now bring 380 hp and 310 lb-ft. It’s also used in the Mustang and Lincoln MKC. It has a throaty sound that can be heard and enjoyed in the cabin. With the 6-speed transmission in Sport mode, it pulls out of corners with confidence.

The beast among the engine options, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 with its 365 hp and 350 lb-ft, comes standard in Platinum and Sport models. It bursts from 0 to 60 in about 6.5 seconds; that still isn’t with the fast sport sedans, but it has a lot of weight to carry. The Sport also gets quicker steering, 20-inch wheels and tires, bigger brakes, a front strut tower brace, and stiffer stabilizer bar. Unfortunately, no paddle shifters for the six-speed automatic.

Remember Ford’s high-performance SHO models? The Explorer Sport is as close to an Explorer SHO as you can get.

Although paddle shifters aren’t available, one good thing about the six-speed automatic is that it will stay in the gear you tell it to, in manual mode and shifting with the lever on the center console. However the speed of the shifts is lax.

The changes in the electric power steering for 2016 vary according to models. In the base front-wheel drive it feels nimble and natural, almost like the smaller Ford Edge SUV. It carves into corners with zeal.

Explorers uses MacPherson struts with an isolated subframe in front, and independent multi-links in rear, with stabilizer bars at both ends. The changes in the suspension for 2016 also vary according to models. The damping is still firm, and the overall ride and handling with 4WD approaches the standards of a sport wagon; and that’s saying something, with a vehicle as tall as the Explorer. We can’t think of an SUV other than the Jeep Grand Cherokee that handles like this. Nothing from Chevy, Honda, Toyota or Nissan can match the Explorer’s road manners.

Because it is a crossover on a car chassis, the Explorer can’t match the Grand Cherokee on trails. Still, a Terrain Management system controls stability and enhances traction through it modes: Normal, Mud and Ruts, Sand, and Snow. So the Explorer meets the needs of most SUV drivers; it can get seven people to just about any remote ski resort or fishing cabin.

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