I read about it all the time in press kits: Ford doing extreme weather testing on their cars. And for a moment, I think: surely, this has got to be an exaggeration. No carmaker would go through the lengths of freezing cars in minus 40 Celsius. In a freezer. That is, until I found myself at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport trying to pick up the 2016 Explorer Sport in minus 17 Celsius.
To be fair, locals say the winter weather this year is mild, compared to the Artic Vortex they had last year. But for the born-and-raised tropical climate boy such as me, minus 17 feels like a slow, agonizing death. Don’t get me wrong, I love the cold but I draw the line when I’m running across an open parking lot in a thin shirt looking for a Ruby Red Metallic Explorer Sport. Thankfully, I didn’t have to run far this time.
The Explorer is the world’s best-selling mid-sized SUV and has been America’s best-selling SUV for 25 straight years. Seven million Explorers have been sold and is used in the US by everyone from law enforcement to your motor journalist-slash-tourist. I thought finding a particular Explorer in a parking lot would be a challenge, but that’s not the case here. Sure, the color played a part (most Explorers here are shades of gray), but it’s more down to the ‘Sport’ moniker attached to the Explorer name.
I still didn’t see much of it running around, but the Explorer has been restyled this year. It deviates from the cousin-of-Range Rover look to something a bit more standard. Ford says the design is meant to give it a more rugged appearance and in some regard it has, but the end result is something a bit more mainstream. Still, I admit the larger lamps (now with both LED DRLs and headlights) do sit better with the boxy frame compared to the squinting eyes of the old. Other changes include the closed-out roof rails and revised spoiler. At the back, the lamps have been given a new lighting treatment too. And as a ‘Sport’, this model removes all those chrome embellishments. Ford says one in five Explorer customers also owns another luxury vehicle, but I’d personally take this no-chrome look any day.
Within striking distance of the remote, I figured out the Remote Starter and fired up the twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 engine. This gives the Explorer Sport some time to warm up, but more importantly for me, turn on the heater. For the unforgiving winter climate of Michigan, stepping into a warm, heated cabin is truly a godsend. That along with the heated seats and steering wheel literally gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Settling in, not much has changed with the cabin pre- and post-facelift. It’s still the same cozy, car-like interior I’ve already crown accustomed to. The same combination of soft plastics and matte aluminum trim pieces are supplemented by Sport exclusive features such as the black leather with red stitching and additional carbon gray accents around. In fact, Ford outlines the changes to the 2016 Explorer to just one line: swapping the touch-sense buttons on the center console to physical one. And if you’re wearing gloves or shivering from the cold, this is a remarkably welcome change. The seats, as always, are generally comfortable for all occupants, except for the big boned. The US-spec unit does get the added convenience of lay-flat outboard second row seats.
After finding the most comfortable seating position—a cinch thanks to the power adjustable steering wheel, pedals, and seats—and inputting the destination on the frustrating laggy navigation system, it’s time to set off on the 285-mile drive to Illinois. With 370 horsepower and 475 Nm of torque, the Explorer Sport sounds like a recipe for speeding tickets and license revocation. But that’s not so much the case. The overall feel is one of refinement with copious amounts of power at every engine speed. Gingerly depressing the accelerator allows it to merge onto roads with utmost confidence. It feels quite at home on wide, open roads where its girth never feels like a hindrance.
In tighter confines, the Explorer Sport comes equipped with both a 180-degree front facing camera and rear parking camera allow it to ease into and out of a parking space. The washers may seem like a frivolous feature, but it comes in handy whenever the cameras get blocked by snow or mud. Call me spoiled, but I miss the Active Park Assist feature which is found in the Explorer 3.5 V6 I previously tested. It’s an available option for sure, but seriously, if you can equip it on a P 1.2-million Focus, why not on an P 2.8-million Explorer Sport?
Reaching the pothole-ridden I-94 that links Michigan to Illinois, it feels stable and satisfying to drive at speed. Long distance driving is a strength of the Explorer, especially it now comes with thicker stabilizer bars (32-millimeters front, 22-millimeters rear). It also has adaptive cruise control that allows it to follow a preset distance to the car in front and maintain that gap. When the car in front gets too near, it automatically slows down for you. Cruising at a comfortable, yet brisk 120 km/h pace, it quells wind, road, and tire noise excellently. The Explorer Sport does receive unique tuning to the steering and suspension, and yet, it’s not as sporty as suggested. However, I find that it glides through ruts and road tracks with the same poise and comfort as the non-Sport models. Unlike the regular Explorer though, the Explorer Sport does have a devilishly fun side each time I punch the accelerator.
The worst drivers on these parts are those in Chevrolet Impalas. Whether or not they’re from out-of-town or what not, they always hog the left lane for no apparent reason. Normally, people just let them be or as one irate Jeep driver did, tailgate and flash his headlights constantly at them. For me in the Explorer Sport? Just gun the gas. The smooth nature of the V6 is replaced by something with animal-like ferocity. Coupled with a quick downshift from the automatic (and an expletive or two), the Explorer Sport can rocket past anything. And there’s a bit of Muscle Car in its snarly exhaust too. Paddle shifters are now standard, but I never found it necessary to use them. Ford says that the mixed fuel economy figure is 6.36 km/L, a figure I replicated exactly over a course of a thousand two hundred kilometers. An indicator on the dashboard also keeps track of torque which is shifted quickly and automatically through all four wheels all the time.
In the weeks that followed, this Explorer Sport was subjected to a wide array of temperatures and through varied conditions like rain, flurries, and a downright snow storm. There were days I actually had to shovel it out and opened the frozen doors. Plus, it carried four 28-inch hard case luggage all the time without any problems. Through any and all of these circumstances, everything works. The power mirrors unfolded fine, the tailgate sprung open, and the third row seats folded without a hitch. When Ford says they subject their cars to work on extreme environments, I believe them now. After all, a drive on Michigan roads is a fine example of that.
2016 Ford Explorer Sport V6 EcoBoost
|Ownership||2016 Ford Explorer Sport 3.5L V6 EcoBoost AWD|
|Year Introduced||2012 (Refreshed: 2016)|
|Vehicle Classification||Mid-sized Crossover|
|Body Type||5-door Crossover|
|Seating||8 (Philippine-spec); 7 (US-spec)|
|Engine / Drive||F/AWD|
|Under the Hood|
|Aspiration||Twin Turbo, Direct Injection|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||V6|
|BHP @ rpm||370 @ 5,000|
|Nm @ rpm||475 @ 3,000|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Gasoline / 91~|
|Cruise Control||Yes, Adaptive|
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||2,218|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, MacPherson Strut, Sport Tuned|
|Rear Suspension||Independent, Muti-link, Sport Tuned|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc|
|Rear Brakes||Solid Disc|
|Tires||Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2 255/50 R 20 H (f & r)|
|Airbags||7 + 2 x 2nd row seatbelt airbags|
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes|
|Traction / Stability Control||Yes|
|Parking Sensors||Yes, Front and Rear, with Front and Rear Camera|
|Fog Lamps||Yes, Front|
|Steering Wheel Adjustment||Tilt/Telescopic, Electric|
|Steering Wheel Material||Leather|
|Folding Rear Seat||Yes, 60/40, Electric|
|Power Door Locks||Yes|
|Power Mirrors||Yes, Heated, with Fold|
|Climate Control||Front Dual Zone, Rear Manual|
|No. of Speakers||12|
|Steering Wheel Controls||Yes|