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2016 Ford Explorer Sport

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Topics:  Ford Explorer

2016 Ford Explorer Sport

Bill Crittenden
3 June 2016

2016 Ford Explorer Sport 2016 Ford Explorer Sport 2016 Ford Explorer Sport 2016 Ford Explorer Sport 2016 Ford Explorer Sport 2016 Ford Explorer Sport 2016 Ford Explorer Sport

Today's test drive was 85 miles of expressway and highway driving with a 2016 Ford Explorer Sport. It's a three-row SUV with 365 horsepower and cost about $43,000.

Its D4 chassis is a crossover-specific platform based on the D3 underneath the Ford Taurus I drove the day before. Whereas the Taurus is an old-school big American sedan, the Explorer Sport has a more modern style inside and out.

Something thoroughly modern for the heavy vehicle is the 24 miles per gallon it got over the course of the trip (the Taurus got about 30 on the same trip). The EcoBoost engine had plenty of power to move this beast, but it's here that I have to mention that it has a major flaw.

At highway speeds the middle of the hood flexes in the wind. It wobbles a bit in the middle, and it made me think that perhaps the hood latch had popped, so I had to make an emergency stop on the side of a busy expressway to check it.

That sounds pretty damning, and on most cars it would be. But the Explorer does everything else so damn well, it's hard to look at the hood and not say, "eh, nobody's perfect." I even found myself justifying it a little when I got home, telling my wife "you're short enough, you probably wouldn't even notice it."

The Sport is about $12,000 more than the base model, and in black it's an imposing sight. More so because a lot of police departments around my part of the country have adopted black Explorers as police vehicles, but this was painted in a metallic black, with an almost all black interior, black grille, and two tone wheels (guess what? they had black paint on parts of them).

The dashboard has a polished black background on the center stack, much like my C-Max and much better than the silver paint on the Taurus. It has the large touchscreen display with the same easy to use color-coded functions as other high end Ford models. The instrument cluster was bright and simple, with a lot of extra functions in the two full-color display screens to either side of the speedometer.

The leather seats were supportive and comfortable regardless of how rough the road got in construction zones. Just as in the Taurus the day before, I felt as though 85 miles was just a warmup. The rear seats had ample headroom even for my oddly proportioned 6'2" frame. In the back seat, surrounded by black everything and behind dark tinted windows, it was dark back there, even on a bright summer day.

It's so loaded and powerful that I couldn't really believe it cost only $43,000. Of course the reduced fuel economy of driving a full-size SUV is going to cost more, but the 24 miles per gallon on the expressway was far better than expected. You probably wouldn't want to drive this in downtown Chicago, though, but out at the borderline between the suburbs and the country, it works just fine. It's also less expensive and more efficient than a comparable Ford F-150 Crew Cab, so if you're hauling kids and not the unspeakable byproducts of farming, the Explorer is the better choice.

It hits just the right spot between the "soccer mom" minivan and a full size pickup truck: it's tough, powerful, looks intimidating in dark colors, and has police car pedigree, but it's less costly and more efficient than a full body-on-frame truck with a brick-shaped body.

And yet, my non-farmer coworker preferred the more expensive F-150 he drove that day.

There comes a point where you leave the realm of paying more for functionality and enter the realm of paying more for exclusivity, image, and novelty. For me, the Explorer seems to be that point. I can't imagine anything more it could need functionally either in size, options, or power. Well, maybe a sunroof...but that's beside the point. Anything else is just because it makes you feel cool owning it.

Can this really be a luxury vehicle? Block off that logo, and it's easy to mistake it for a vehicle from a "premium" brand.

Which is funny because the Ford logo looks more like a luxury brand logo than the actual "luxury brand" logos of Lexus, Acura, or Infiniti. It's an elegant script over a deep blue background. It sure looks high end, provided you didn't already associate it on some level with hillbillies flying confederate flags from the back of their loud trucks or bad memories of Aspires and Tempos.

I suppose the only thing that one would expect from a luxury SUV that sets them apart from a "common" Ford is that people expect that luxury vehicles don't have wobbly hoods. C'mon, Ford, who let this be acceptable?

The Explorer Sport is at the very borderline of luxury trucks, just on the "big family car" side of it. Fix the hood and it just might be on the other side of that line.

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