If you’ve been pulled over by the police lately, chances are pretty good the officer in question was driving a Ford Explorer Police Interceptor. The Explorer is favoured by law enforcement agencies throughout North America and is the most popular SUV ever sold in the US/Canada. According to Ford, over seven million Explorers have been purchased since its introduction, in 1990. Put another way, that translates into one every two minutes.
“The Explorer is one of the company’s icons,” says Ford’s communications specialist for utility vehicles, Matt Phillip. “It’s been a best seller for each generation since it was introduced. For SUV buyers, it’s a box-checker.” Interestingly, the number one reason people purchase this vehicle is because of its styling, according to Ford. People like the image it projects, adds Philip, “they aren’t looking for bragging rights or geeky features…..they like its SUV-ness.”
It’s also available in five different trim levels, with a myriad of drivetrain choices….one of which is used by the police and is also found in the top of the range Platinum model, which I drove as part of Ford’s “Platinum Adventure Tour”, a six-part road trip going from Vancouver to Albuquerque, New Mexico, via Calgary, Montana, and Colorado. I took part in the Vancouver to Kamloops stage.
Basically, the Platinum version of the Explorer is the full-zoot model, with virtually every modcon and comfort feature you can think of. For example, it comes with full leather interior, automatic parallel parking, heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, power folding rear seats, front and rear exterior cameras, GPS, and on and on.
There are three engine choices for the 2016 Explorer: a turbocharged four cylinder, a normally-aspirated V6, and a turbocharged V6. This latter engine is found in the Platinum/Interceptor, and develops 365 horsepower, with a six-speed automatic transmission only. The Platinum also features a 4WD system, hill start assist, hill descent control, and a traction control system. Definitely not a down and dirty bush-whacker, the Explorer will nonetheless get you through a sudden snowfall, moderately deep sand or mud, or mildly challenging off-road conditions. Think forestry access road with the occasional shallow stream fording.
But Ford’s plan is to get you through these various obstacles in comfort and style. For example, the front seats can be heated or chilled, and you can electrically adjust the floor pedals, adjust the steering wheel electronically, detect cars in the blind spot beside you, and detect oncoming traffic while creeping out of a blind parking spot. This latter function utilizes twin cameras front and back, each with 180-degree peripheral visibility….an excellent safety feature that helps to avoid hitting pedestrians and/or cyclists.
So, no complaints in with driveability, comfort, or safety. The Explorer Platinum is as pampering a vehicle as any Mercedes, Bentley, or BMW. It may lack the handling abilities of those manufacturers, but for most typical buyers, it doesn’t matter.
However, the GPS system, which can be either voice or manually activated, drove me mental. In a word, it didn’t work as advertised. Attempts to locate our hotel, for example, were fruitless, as the destination list wouldn’t bring it up until we were no further than 50 kilometres away. And even then, it sent us to the wrong hotel. An old-fashioned fold-out map would have accomplished this task in minutes, where the newfangled GPS not only drove us crazy, but seriously distracted us from the task at hand: driving the vehicle.
That said, other – younger – members of the group had no trouble and claimed that the voice-activation feature worked like a treat. To this I can only reply that those most likely to purchase this vehicle - aging boomers with disposable cash – will find Ford’s Sync system and GPS confusing and complicated.
One more thing. If I had my druthers, I’d get this vehicle with a V8 engine, even though one isn’t available. Considering its weight of 2220 kilograms, it needs all the bottom-end grunt it can get. The turbocharged V6, while good for comparataively reasonable fuel economy - 14.9 litres per 100 kilometres in the city, and 10.7 on the highway – simply runs out of steam when pressed. This was particularly noticeable driving through the mountains, with elevation changes and tight corners at every turn: when you need instant low-end torque, you just have to wait for it.
Price for the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum is $58,599 before destination and delivery charges and various other duties and levies.