So, I was having dinner in the local cantina, chewing the fat with the guy on the barstool next to me.
“Why do you always write about cars that cost so much?” he asked. “Nobody buys those.”
In the next breath he says with great pride: “Hey, guess what I just bought? A new Ford Explorer.”
“Oh,” said I. “And how much was it?”
“Fifty-thousand-dollars! Can you believe it?” said he.
Yes, I can believe it — and so can Ford Motor Co., which has expanded its Explorer lineup this year with a Platinum trim level. It upgrades the mainstream family-class Explorer with a long list of luxury-class amenities for the exterior and interior.
“There’s a market for more upscale SUVs, as 90 percent of Explorer Sport buyers purchase the most expensive package available. That’s a strong signal customers are ready for Platinum,” says Matt Zuehlk, Ford Explorer brand manager.
The Platinum Explorer has multicontour front seats wrapped in Nirvana leather with micro-perforation. There is more leather inside with quilted stitching, as well as real aluminum and real ash wood trim on the door panels and instrument panel. The wood and leather-wrapped heated steering wheel has stitching that matches the stitching used elsewhere in the interior. And the steering wheel is centered with a brushed, aluminum Ford oval — a first for a production Ford. Even the A-pillars are fabric-wrapped.
The 10-inch digital display in the instrument cluster is another first for a Ford-brand vehicle. The new 500-watt Sony audio system has technology to recreate sound dynamics for more realistic sound.
“This is the most upscale, high-quality interior we’ve ever offered on a Ford vehicle in North America,” said Mike Arbaugh, Ford Explorer chief designer.
Standard advanced technologies include an enhanced active park-assist system, lane-keeping assist and rain-sensing wipers.
On the outside special lighting surrounds the LED headlamps for a continuous glow. Other standard elements include a dual-panel moonroof, silver-painted front and rear skid plates and 20-inch with a machined face and dark-painted pockets.
The integrated exhaust is designed to reduce the appearance of soot collecting at the rear of the vehicle. Inside the chrome bezel of the exhaust engineers designed a shield that catches the soot so it doesn’t collect around the outlets.
Platinum Explorer pricing starts at almost $54,000. The tester’s price sticker was $55,155. Options included Ruby Red paint ($395) and second-row bucket seats ($695) with a console ($150).
The powertrain is Ford’s best: a twin-turbocharged, 365-horseower, 3.5-liter V-6 with six-speed automatic transmission. The power is forceful and unhesitating, though fuel economy is light at 16 mpg city, 22 highway and 18 combined on 87 octane. I averaged 15 to 19 mpg, and that factors the added weight of four-wheel drive. Also, the 18.6-gallon tank is a little light and restricts a wider cruising range.
The tester’s engine (or electronics) also had a tendency to be unsteady on a cold start. Even with a light, but steady foot on the accelerator, the power flow was slightly loopy, but it would settle out after a few minutes. It was almost like starting out with a manual transmission in second gear.
Ride quality is OK for a mainstream SUV, but the suspension was busy when adjusting to road conditions, and there was some tire and road noise transmitted to the cabin — more than is expected for a near-luxury price. Braking is quite capable and smooth from the 13.8-inch vented front discs and 13.5-inch vented rear discs.
This size of vehicle is ideal for families. It has a pair of third-row seats, which power fold quite nicely to create flat cargo space. The seatbacks can be folded to create a deep well for luggage or grocery-corraling space. Fold both rows of back seats and there is about 6.5 feet of board-carrying length, 4 feet of width and a 32-inch tall opening.
I like the exterior styling, but it impacts sightlines. The fast angle of the windshield pillar creates a cabin-forward architecture with a large dashboard and some wide blind spots at the base of the side mirrors and windshield pillars. It is almost claustrophobic, but I got accustomed to the enclosed space over the week of testing.
The front-seat area is broad and spacious with plenty of storage areas and charging ports. Headroom is tall at 41.4 inches. Instrumentation is colorful and an easy read.
Space in the back seat is generous, too. The doors open wide, and there are handy assist grips. Occupants have 40.6 inches of headroom and a generous 39.5 inches of legroom, which are ideal dimensions for adults or growing teenagers. Amenities include fan/temperature/vent controls with two USB ports and a 110-volt plug.
So, it costs $55,000 for a Ford Explorer? That’s about $20,000 less than a true luxury-class SUV, and it will be far less expensive to maintain and own in the long term.
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage