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Ford Explorer: The Ultimate Buyer's Guide

Illustration for article titled Ford Explorer: The Ultimate Buyers Guide

The Ford Explorer is the best selling SUV in its class and older models stand up well to dinosaur attacks. What do you need to know before you buy a Ford Explorer? Don’t worry, we’ll tell you everything right here in the Ultimate Buyer’s Guide.


Ford has sold a bazillion Ford Explorers since the first one launched in 1990, and for good reason. Since its inception, the Explorer has offered lots of space, many luxury features, good ride comfort, decent off-road capability, and a commanding seating position all for a very reasonable price.

The new Explorer is different, though. It’s not really an SUV. It’s based on the same platform as the Ford Taurus, and really doesn’t have any off-road capability to speak of beyond what anything with AWD and a raised ride height can handle. But Ford thinks that consumers won’t know the difference between a true SUV and a big crossover, and for the most part, they’ve been right.


Sales have remained strong, and consumers have been eating up the interior space, fuel economy, and car-like ride quality. But it just doesn’t have the personality associated with the old boxy, V8 equipped, body-on-frame Explorer of yore, and that’s a real shame for enthusiasts but good news for everyone else (And if you’re an enthusiast, buy a Raptor).

What It’s Like To Drive The Ford Explorer

The Ford Explorer is perfectly fine as a large crossover SUV, offering a lot of space and a design that looks curiously like the new Range Rover on the outside. It is not the new Range Rover, but it is whatever you want it to be.

Spec an entry-level model with the V6 and you’ve got a decently equipped and comfortable way to move people and Sam’s Club purchases. Move up to the Sport model and you’ve got something capable of going far faster than any Explorer should be able to.

In our experience, the Explorer feels solid and well-planted with just enough power in the higher trims to keep up with just about anyone – there’s a reason why they’re so popular with the cops.


The SYNC interface has gotten better in recent iterations, although it’s still not our favorite system. It works and the newest version is a lot more intuitive than in the past.

The biggest gripe we has is with visibility, which is below average for this class on account of the tall beltline and smaller greenhouse. It makes the Explorer look sleeker, but it doesn’t do the driver any favors.


Ultimately, we were able to take six full-sized human adults (including in-laws) on a family vacation in this thing and no one wanted to kill anyone else or complained too much about being cramped.

For a vehicle this size that’s pretty good.

What’s New About The 2016 Ford Explorer

Illustration for article titled Ford Explorer: The Ultimate Buyers Guide

The fifth generation Ford Explorer has been picking up kids from elementary school since 2011. When that 2011 model launched, it caused quite a stir among die-hards, as it was hugely different from its fourth generation predecessor.

Gone was the V8 option, gone was the body-on frame construction, gone was rear-wheel drive, and gone was the tall and boxy classic Explorer shape. The new, rounder, front-wheel drive based, unibody Explorer launched with a more efficient, more powerful V6. And in 2012, the Explorer received its first ever inline-four. The following year, Ford debuted its Ford Explorer Sport which comes with “sport-tuned” suspension and a powerful 3.5-liter turbocharged V6.


The most recent upgrade brought new exterior styling, a revised interior, and a new 2.3-liter turbo four replaced the 2.0-liter turbo from last year. There’s also a new Platinum trim level for 2016, and the turbo four can now be paired with all-wheel drive, unlike the 2015 model.

Powertrain Breakdown

Newtons second law of motion states that the relationship between force, mass and acceleration is: force equals mass times acceleration. So when you have a mass like the Ford Explorer’s (over 2000 kilograms), you’ll need quite a bit of force if you want it to accelerate any faster than a snail.


It’s good news, then, that Ford’s engine options for the goliath SUV all put out over 280 horsepower.

Like much of Ford’s lineup, the Explorer offers plenty of turbocharged EcoBoost goodness. The 2.3-liter I4, the same one found in the Mustang, cranks out 280 horsepower and, perhaps more impressive, a whopping 310 ft-lbs of torque at a low 3,000 rpm.


The 3.5-liter EcoBoost has even more impressive numbers with its 365 horsepower and 350 ft-lbs of torque. The base 3.5-liter is no slouch either, pumping out 290 horses.

It’s good that all engine options offer over 250 horses, because 4,500 pounds is a lot of weight to get moving.


2016 Ford Explorer Engine Options

EngineMax Horsepower (hp)Max Torque (lb-ft)
2.3-liter EcoBoost I4

280 @ 5600 rpm

310 @ 3000 rpm
3.5-liter V6290 @ 6500 rpm255 @ 4000 rpm
3.5-liter EcoBoost V6

365 @ 5500 rpm

350 @ 3500 rpm

Fuel Economy Breakdown

The 2.3-liter EcoBoost is the story for 2016, scoring up to 28 MPG highway, an impressive number for a vehicle of this size, though that is down 1 MPG from last year’s 2.0-liter I4.


The V6s are unimpressive on the EPA emission rolls, barely scraping by with 20 MPG combined if you get the two-wheel drive naturally aspirated version.

2016 Ford Explorer Fuel Economy Ratings (City/Highway/Combined)

2.3L Turbo I4
3.5L V6
3.5L Turbo V6
Fuel Economy- Auto
19/28/22 [2wd]
18/26/21 [4wd]
17/24/20 [2wd]
16/23/19 [4wd]
16/22/18 [4wd]

Trim Level Breakdown

Illustration for article titled Ford Explorer: The Ultimate Buyers Guide

The 2016 Ford Explorer comes in five trims: Base, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum. All come with electric power steering, 13.85 inch vented disc brakes up front, 13.5 inch vented discs in the rear, front MacPherson strut front suspension with isolated cradle and independent multi-link rear suspension.

  • Base: Starts at $31,050. Notable standard features: 3.5-liter V6, 6-speed automatic transmission, hill start assist, paddle shifters, automatic headlamps, 18” aluminum wheels, power locks, power windows, cloth seats, power driver seat, front and side airbags, rearview camera, 4.2” cluster screen, six-speaker audio system, and 4.2” touchscreen for SYNC in-car communication system. Notable options: 2.3-liter turbo I4 ($995); all-wheel drive ($2,000); Class II Trailer tow package for awd 2.3L ($395); Class III Trailer Tow Package for awd 3.5L ($570).
  • XLT: Starts at $33,400. Notable standard features over Base: heated mirrors with LED indicators, 18” unique wheels, power driver and passenger seat, leather wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, satellite radio, push-botton start, reverse sensing system, keyless entry keypad, perimeter alarm. Notable options: 2.3-liter turbo I4 ($995); all-wheel drive ($2,000); Class II Trailer tow package for awd 2.3L ($395); Class III Trailer Tow Package for awd 3.5L ($570); 201A Group: SYNC with MyFord Touch, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, 9-speaker premium audio system, remote Start, Dual-zone climate control, 10-way power driver seat ($1,600); 202A Group: heated leather trimmed seats, SYNC with MyFord Touch, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, 9-speaker premium audio system, remote start, Dual-zone climate control, 10-way power driver seat, front park aid ($3,225); dual panel moonroof ($1,595); hands free power liftgate ($550).
  • Limited: Starts at $41,300. Notable standard features over XLT: 202A Group, unique exterior trim, 20” wheels, heated steering wheel, power steering wheel, perforated heated and cooled leather seats, 12-speaker Sony audio system, hands free liftgate, voice activated navigation system. Notable options: 2.3-liter turbo I4 ($995); all-wheel drive ($2,000); Class II Trailer tow package for awd 2.3L ($395); Class III Trailer Tow Package for awd 3.5L ($570); 301A group: Active Park Assist, side park sensors, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, auto-dimming driver’s mirror, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beam control ($2,000); Adaptive Cruise Control ($1,150).
  • Sport: Starts at $43,500. Notable standard features over XLT: 202A package, all-wheel drive, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, different axle ratio, Terrain Management System, Sport tuned suspension, Class III trailer tow package, unique exterior trim, unique 20” wheels, perforated leather seats with red accent stitching, power-folding third row bench, 12-speaker Sony audio system. 401A Group: Voice-activated navigation system, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, auto dimming driver’s mirror, hands-free power liftgate, power adjustable pedals, power heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, 180 degree front camera ($4,300); Adaptive Cruise Control ($1,150).
  • Platinum: Starts at $52,970. Notable standard features over Sport: 401A group, dual-panel moonroof, automatic high beam control, LED fog lamps, unique exterior trim, unique 20” wheels, adaptive cruise control with collision warming and brake support, Sony premium audio system, Platinum branded floor mats, leather-wrapped instrument panel, Nirvana Leather seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, active park assist, lane-keeping system, rain sensing wipers. No notable options available.

Which One We’d Buy

To us, the base model with four-wheel drive and four-cylinder EcoBoost makes a lot of sense. It offers the best fuel economy, you get tons of torque from that 2.3-liter turbo, and it only costs you about $34,990 with destination, or $2,995 over the base 3.5-liter with front-wheel drive. We’d splurge a bit for the trailer tow package for an extra $395, bringing us to $35,385. [Build Your Own]


Important Facts At A Glance:

MSRP: $31,050-$52,970

Max Advertised Towing Capability: 5,000 pounds [V6 models]

MPG: 19 city/ 28 hwy / 22 combined [2.3L 2wd]

Engines: 2.3L turbo I4, 3.5L Turbo V6, 3.5L V6

Curb Weight: ~4,460-4,890 pounds IIHS Rating: Not a Top Safety Pick

Transmissions: 6-speed Automatic

Drivetrain Layout: Front engine, FWD/4WD

Photo credit: Ford


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Tom McParland

Whatever you do, don’t buy the 2.0 EcoBoost. In order to have any modicum of passing ability you have to floor it and that will totally negate the MPG advantage over the 3.5 V6. Actually, instead of getting a new 3.5 Limited try to find a CPO Sport.