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2016 Ford Explorer
The 2016 Ford Explorer gets upgrades to help it retain its popular status.

Prices: $31,050-$52,970

The Ford Explorer is one of Ford's top-selling vehicles, and Ford intends to keep it that way with exterior and interior changes.

The Explorer is sold with front- or all-wheel drive (AWD) and comes in a variety of trim levels. List prices range from $31,050-$52,970, which is the price of the new top-line Explorer Platinum AWD model I drove.

The appearance of the new Explorer appears to be inspired by the prestigious Range Rover, with such things as a new grille with a satin/chrome finish, redesigned hood, new headlights and new fender and fog lights.

Other items include a new tailgate, new tail lights and new exhaust tips. There are five new wheel designs. The Uptown interior for the Platinum version includes Nirvana leather with perforated and quilted seats.

Standard Nirvana equipment includes a sunroof, heated and cooled supportive driver and front-passenger seats, second-row heated seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, premium audio system, power tilt/telescopic wheel and a clever power split third-row seat.

Functional items include adaptive cruise control, active park assist, front 180-degree camera, rearview camera, lane-keeping system and reverse sensing system.

Safety items include airbags and a safety canopy.

A new 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 280 horsepower is essentially from the Ford Mustang. The rear-drive Explorer with this engine delivers an estimated 28 miles per gallon on the highway.That highway figure is a major Ford bragging point. City fuel economy is estimated at 19 miles per gallon, which really isn't bad for a big SUV that weighs approximately 4,800 pounds.

Other engines are a 3.5-liter 290 horsepower V-6 and a turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 that kicks out 365 horsepower and gives the Explorer Platinum AWD model fast acceleration.

However,my test Platinum is rather gas-thirsty, providing an estimated 16 miles per gallon city, 22 highway.

Engines work with a smooth, responsive six-speed automatic transmission with easily used paddle shifters.  

It takes extra effort to enter the tall Explorer, but occupants have good visibility once aboard. First and second-row seat areas provide plenty of room, but the folding split third-row seat is too tight to comfortably accommodate practically anyone but kids. But it folds completely forward and sits flat to provide an extra-large cargo area.

The hatch flips up high so you don't bump your head and has a wide opening. But cargo space with the third seat in its normal position is only adequate for such things as a  week's worth of family groceries and such.The cabin has conveniently located cupholders and plenty of storage areas.

My test Explorer handled much like a big, quiet sedan. The steering had the right amount of power assist and didn't make me wish it was faster or slower. Handling for such a big, high fella was pretty good. On- and off-ramps caused little body lean when taken at twice the posted speeds.

The ride was fairly supple, but I could still feel as if I was in a truck. The brake pedal had a nice linear action.

The 2016 Explorer has enough improvements to continue its winning ways.