Popular Ford Explorer gets past obstacles in style

The sport-utility vehicle has been a hit with police officers and consumers for more than two decades

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      If you’ve been pulled over recently, chances are pretty good the officer in question was driving a Ford Police Interceptor Utility vehicle. This version of the Explorer is favoured by law-enforcement agencies throughout North America and is the most popular SUV ever sold in the U.S. and Canada. According to Ford, over seven million have been purchased since the Explorer’s introduction in 1990, which 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 bestseller 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 its styling, according to Ford. People like the image it projects. Adds Phillip, “They aren’t looking for bragging rights or geeky features—they like its SUV-ness.”

      It’s available in five trim levels, with myriad drive-train choices—one of which is used by 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 from Vancouver to Albuquerque, New Mexico, via Calgary, Montana, and Colorado. I participated in the Vancouver-to-Kamloops stage.

      Basically, the Platinum version of the Explorer is the full-zoot model, with virtually every mod con and comfort feature you can think of. For example, it comes with a full leather interior, automatic parallel parking, a 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 V-6, and a turbocharged V-6. The 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 bushwhacker, 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 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 cooled, and you can electronically adjust the floor pedals, power-adjust the steering wheel, detect cars in the blind spot beside you, and detect oncoming traffic while creeping out of a blind parking spot. That function utilizes twin cameras front and back, each with 180-degree peripheral visibility—an excellent safety feature that helps you avoid hitting pedestrians and cyclists.

      So, no complaints with drivability, comfort, or safety. The Platinum Explorer is as pampering a vehicle as any Mercedes, Bentley, or BMW. It may lack the handling abilities of those manufacturers, but for typical buyers, that doesn’t matter. However, the GPS system, which can be either manually or voice-activated, drove me to distraction. In short, 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. Even then, it sent us to the wrong hotel. A foldout map would have accomplished this task in minutes, where the newfangled GPS not only was a constant irritant, it 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 a treat. To this, I can only say that those most likely to purchase the vehicle—aging boomers with disposable cash—will likely 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 V-8 engine. Considering its weight of 2,218 kilograms, it needs all the bottom-end grunt it can get. The 3.5-litre, turbocharged V-6, while good for comparatively reasonable fuel economy—14.9 litres per 100 kilometres in the city, 10.7 on the highway—simply runs out of steam when pressed. This was particularly noticeable through the marvellous Duffy Lake to Lillooet run on Highway 99.

      The 2016 Ford Explorer in Platinum trim level costs $58,599 before destination and delivery charges and various other duties and levies.