Ford has relentlessly applied all of the technology at its disposal in a program of continuous refinement to the 2016 Explorer in a bid to keep competitive a vehicle whose platform roots can be traced back through the 2005 Freestyle to its origin in the 1998 Volvo S80 sedan.
The primary advance for 2016 is the replacement of the 2.0-L EcoBoost four-cylinder as the fuel-saving upgrade engine for base model, XLT, and Limited-grade Explorers, by a freshly upgraded version of the 2.3-L EcoBoost seen previously in the Mustang and Lincoln MKC. The base engine remains a 290-hp (216-kW), 255-lb·ft (346-N·m) naturally aspirated 3.5-L V6.
According to Chief Program Engineer Arie Groeneveld, the Explorer’s version of the new 2.3-L engine enjoys a variable oil pump that works only hard enough to produce the needed oil pressure, saving wasted effort and the corresponding fuel. It has a higher compression ratio, an active wastegate on the turbocharger, and polished valve buckets for reduced friction.
This engine will be rated at something more than 270 hp (201 kW) and 300 lb·ft (408 N·m), though official numbers were not yet available. Critically, this added power in comparison to the previous 2.0-L base engine means that Ford can offer all-wheel drive with the four-cylinder engine for the first time, and it can certify the Explorer with a 3000-lb (1360-kg) towing rating with its base engine.
This will be critical to sales, as many SUV buyers want the ability to drive in inclement weather, do light off-roading, or periodically tow, noted Groeneveld. Previously, 65% of Explorers were equipped with all-wheel drive, but that number will likely climb now that it is available with the most efficient engine, he said.
Despite the increases in displacement, power, and capability, the 2016 Explorer should match the EPA fuel economy ratings of the 2.0-L 2015, which topped out at 28 mpg EPA highway, he added.
In keeping with the theme of upgrading the model line, in addition to an improved optional engine for the popular trim levels, Ford is pushing the top of the Explorer’s line upward, with the creation of a Platinum edition that is packed with still more technology and comforts.
For the outgoing model, 90% of shoppers who bought the Sport trim level loaded it with all the options. “That’s a strong signal customers are ready for Platinum,” pointed out Matt Zuehlk, Explorer Brand Manager.
The Explorer’s cabin’s Lear seats are swaddled in Nirvana leather, the softest ever fitted to a Ford brand product, according to Groeneveld. Occupants will be bathed in the sound from a Ford-first Sony 500-watt audio system with Live Acoustics and Clear Phase technology. Live Acoustics is said to recreate the sound of a concert venue, while Clear Phase eliminates sound dispersion in the vehicle.
And Ford’s first use of a 10-in instrument cluster display flanked by analog gauges greets drivers when the slip behind the wheel.
They will also enjoy the benefit of 180-degree cameras front and rear for easy parking, and those are equipped with industry-first lens washers. Customers in Snowbelt areas and rural drivers will appreciate not having to constantly wipe lenses clear, Groeneveld promised.
Another contributor to the Explorer’s efficiency is the installation of active grille shutters for reduced aero drag at highway speeds. The 2016 wears new sheet metal everywhere except the roof and doors, with crisp lines lending a contemporary flair.
The strong horizontal theme in the front end emphasizes width and minimizes the front overhang, which is increased slightly to accommodate the grille shutters. The headlights have standard LED low beams and LED running lights and are housed in sleek rectangular reflectors that simultaneously resemble quad-lamp sealed beam headlights.
Integration of so many new components demanded a lot of time, which represented the engineering team’s biggest challenge when developing the 2016 Explorer, Groeneveld reported. “To get the attribute level we were looking for takes a lot of time in the vehicle,” he said.