Ford Kicks Up Explorer’s Trim Level

“Platinum takes it up a notch,” says Matt Zuehlk, Explorer brand manager.

Steve Finlay, Senior Editor

September 11, 2015

3 Min Read
rsquo16 Ford Explorer Platinum model at big trout carving in Kamloops BC
’16 Ford Explorer Platinum model at big trout carving in Kamloops, B.C.

CALGARY, Alberta  – If you’re going to make a 25-day, 2,738-mile (4,406-km) road trip along assorted terrain through two countries, you might as well do it in style.

So the ’16 Ford Explorer’s new top-of-the-line Platinum model seems right for such a journey that starts in Vancouver, B.C., and ends, after a non-contiguous leg or two, in Albuquerque, NM. Ford did it for a road-warrior media preview showing off the new trim line.

Different auto journalists and lifestyle bloggers drive different legs to check out the new interior-centric trim line with offerings that include stitched leather, aluminum and ash-wood appliques, a “smart” 4-wheel-drive system and a 500-watt Sony sound system with pure audio dynamics. 

“Platinum takes it up a notch,” says Matt Zuehlk, Explorer brand manager. “We’re going to do what the competition does, only better.”

Ford introducing a new Explorer top-trim line (a position the Sport model had held) is not an if-you-build-it-they-will-come  bet. They’re already here.

“There’s a market for upscale SUVs, as 90% of Explorer Sport buyers purchase the most expensive package available,” Zuehlk says. “That’s a strong signal customers are ready for Platinum.”

He adds, “Bringing Explorer Platinum to market is a natural extension of the lineup, giving our customers even more of what they want.”

The Explorer’s Sport trim level is priced around $48,000. The Platinum edition starts at $52,600.

It goes up against the likes of the GMC Acadia and Lexus RX, a couple of midsize SUVs that lay on the luxury. So does the King Ranch version of the Ford F-150. Ford product planners figure if a fullsize pickup truck offers all the fixings, so should the venerable Explorer.

The popular SUV was introduced 25 years ago. Ford has sold more than 7 million of them during that quarter-century run.

“It defined what an SUV is,” Zuehlk says. Four years ago, the vehicle went from body-on-frame to a unibody platform for a smoother ride. “In 2011, it became a modern 21st-century SUV,” says vehicle engineering manager Jonathan Crocker.

He points out assorted features of the Platinum version. Those include push-button fold-flush third-row seats. Chrysler pioneered the manually operated stow-and-go seat disappearing act. “But ours is power-operated,” Crocker says, drawing the distinction. “Why is no one else doing this?”  

The vehicle comes with inflatable rear-seat safety belts, an industry first. Also on board is an “intelligent” Terrain Management system. It continuously monitors wheel speed, throttle position and steering-wheel angle to figure out vehicle conditions and driver intent, and distribute rear- and front-wheel torque accordingly.

“It uses an enormous amount of information to make quick decisions,” Crocker says during a Kamloops, B.C.-to-Calgary stretch of the “Explorer Platinum Adventure Tour” that heads for the Canadian Rockies.

Most of the trip is on the Trans-Canadian Hwy. It’s paved now. Up until 1962, parts of it weren’t, including a section in British Columbia that was so daunting in the winter, motorists stayed clear of it altogether. Instead, they opted to have their vehicles loaded on train cars for that stretch of the trip.

The modern Explorer with all its SUV technology could have tackled that rugged section of road during the Canadian winter. But fact is, most Explorer buyers aren’t interested in such extreme driving.

“Our customers are not rock climbers,” Zuehlk says. “They are adventurers, which is the point of this trip. So keep it simple and sophisticated.”

For those interested in vehicular creature comforts, the Platinum edition offers Nirvana leather that wraps around the instrument panels, console armrests, door bolsters and upper door trim.

The instrument cluster features a 10-in. digital display accompanying analog displays – a first for a Ford-brand vehicle. And for the first time in a Ford production vehicle, a brushed-aluminum Ford Blue Oval is front and center on the steering wheel.

There’s one option: second-row captain seats rather than standard bench seating.

The engine is a 3.5L twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 making 365 hp at 5,500 rpm.

Base, XLT and Limited models are equipped with a standard 3.5L V-6 and an optional 2.3L 4-cyl.

But, says Zuehlk, “Platinum is really about the interior.”   

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