The Explorer is offered in base, XLT, Limited and Platinum models, but no matter the model, it comes with three well-designed rows of seating and room for up to seven (the second row comes with two bucket seats for adults). While the third row is kid-sized, it's easier to fold than those on just about any other model, thanks to the simple, single-button power-folding system. Parents will also note that LATCH fasteners for child seats are included in the second-row outboard positions. Both the second and third rows flip forward, giving a cavernous 81 cubic-feet of cargo space.
The base engine is a 3.5L V6 that produces 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, with EPA ratings of 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. The optional 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder makes a healthy 270 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, and fuel economy is best in class at 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
The 4-wheel-drive system in the Explorer is available with both engines, and it is designed with the urban driving done by most Explorer owners in mind. The system includes a Terrain Management system that cleverly recalibrates the system for snow, sand or mud when needed. With 4-wheel drive, there's also Hill Descent Control, to help maintain composure on steep, slippery slopes.
Standard equipment on the Explorer is more extensive than what's found in most mainstream-brand vehicles. Cruise control, a media hub system, four 12-volt powerpoints, capless fuel-filling and the MyKey control/monitoring feature are all standard on the base model, while optional or standard goodies on the upper XLT or Limited trims include dual-zone climate control; remote start; power-folding, heated side-view mirrors; reverse sensing; ambient lighting, adjustable pedals, a rearview camera system, push-button start and a 110-volt AC outlet. The top-of-the-line Platinum trim includes quilted leather seating, brush aluminum accents, and ash wood inlays.
MyFord Touch combines a host of vehicle, information and entertainment functions in an interface that appears a bit like that of iPads or other tablet computers. The system works together with Ford's Sync interface to interact seamlessly -- and with voice commands -- with media players, smartphones and music on USB sticks.
All Explorers include both Roll Stability Control and Curve Control sophisticated stability control systems. Safety Canopy side-curtain airbags also cover all three rows and an SOS Post-Crash System helps alert authorities if the airbags deploy. Safety-related tech features on the Explorer include adaptive cruise control with a collision warning system that includes brake support as well as a Blind Spot Information System with cross-traffic alert.
For 2016, Ford has increased the optional EcoBoost four-cylinder engine from 2.0 liters to 2.3 liters. The result is a gain of 30 horsepower and 30 pound-feet of torque -- to 270 hp and 300 lb-ft, respectively over 2015. Fuel economy remains unchanged, with best-in-class 28 mpg returned on the highway. More importantly, Explorers fitted with that engine can now be optioned with four-wheel drive and a tow package, which were previously unavailable with the EcoBoost. Aesthetically, the Explorer has freshened exterior styling and a slightly revised interior. Finally, a new Platinum trim adds several luxury features, including quilted leather seating, brush aluminum accents and ash wood inlays.