Fresh Exterior Styling and an Updated Interior For the 2016 Ford Explorer

What will change?

It’s looking increasingly likely that the Explorer will be reengineered for the 2016 model year, which means the current architecture will remain but there will be new styling, a rejuvenated interior, new safety and connectivity features and new powertrains. Although the current look of the midsize SUV has been with us now since the 2011 model year it’s still stylish and fresh, so it is hard to imagine Ford doing anything too radical with a design that has proved so popular with the vehicle-buying public. The optional new sport-inspired appearance package for the 2015 XLT hints at the Explorer continuing to distance itself even further from its truck heritage for 2016, but few other changes from 2014 give the game away for more serious revisions for 2016. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost and 3.5-Liter engines also remain for 2015, which means the expected upgrade to a more powerful EcoBoost unit will probably come with 2016.

Why wait for the 2016?

For a refreshed new look and further advances in fuel-economy technologies. You only have to look at Ford’s recent history of developing its EcoBoost engines to know that each new model strives to be even more efficient and powerful than its predecessor. Even though the current Explorer that is more economical than it has ever been, you can be pretty sure that the 2016 model will see more improvement in that direction. The 2015 variant is still generally considered to be a good looking vehicle, but it is something of a victim of its own success in that there are now a lot of them around, as the current generation has been with us now since 2011. Therefore, if you want something that will turn a few heads, it might be worth waiting for 2016.

Why buy a 2015 model?

Because you know what you want and you know that this is a vehicle with a track-record of selling in big numbers, with around 175,000 being sold in 2013, which was a 14 percent increase over 2012. When any vehicle is getting towards the end of its cycle, the inevitable little mechanical and electrical issues that only appear when any new model gets into the hands of the car-buying public have usually been ironed out. There’s no doubt that today’s vehicles are usually pretty good right out of the box, but if you’re the sort of person isn’t prepared to put up with a few potential teething problems, you might want to get a 2015 model now and wait a couple of years before upgrading.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

Styling

As there hasn’t yet been a concept shown by Ford that we can pin down to being the inspiration for a sixth generation of the Explorer, the current trend for improved aerodynamics and therefore improved efficiency, looks like a given for 2016. The next model will remain a large three-row SUV, although the chassis, styling and driving characteristics will continue to take it in an ever-more car-like direction. The one-upmanship that is currently going on between manufacturers to make vehicles safer, more connected and more autonomous will more than likely continue to be a feature of the 2016 model year Explorer. Past experience also tells us that family-orientated vehicles like the sizeable Ford will continue to get increasingly luxurious and upscale interiors, with clever use of movable rear seating allowing for a more flexible interior environment.

Mechanical

With engine development being so expensive and units being shared across so many different models these days, we shouldn’t expect anything too radical for the 2016 Explorer. Popular consensus suggests that the current 2.0-Liter EcoBoost will be replaced with a more powerful 2.3-Liter version, but the 3.5-Liter Ti-VCT V-6 may well remain in place. Having said that; the 290 horsepower and the 255 pound feet of torque that the current V-6 delivers will probably be improved upon with some clever tuning revisions. There’s also the possibility that the 2.7-Liter EcoBoost that was specifically produced for the F-150 could also make an appearance, as it seems wasteful to use such an outstanding engine in just one vehicle. Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive will remain on the V-6 variant, while the EcoBoost-equipped model will probably remain as 2wd only despite an increase in available power. There’s no word yet about alternative fuel options on the horizon for the 2016 Explorer, but a hybrid option wouldn’t come as too much of a surprise as an addition to the range. Although that would likely come several months after the gasoline-only versions are released, and possibly even as late as the following model year.

Fuel Economy

It now seems almost unthinkable that a new version of a vehicle will offer anything less than an improvement in fuel economy over its predecessor, and we should expect nothing less from a 2016 Explorer. The 2015 3.5-Liter V-6 is currently rated at 17/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined in front-wheel drive and 17/23/19 mpg with all-wheel drive, while the 2.0-Liter I-4 gives you 20/28/23 mpg in its front-wheel drive only form. A reasonable improvement on these figures can be expected, although the 25 percent improvement the 2015 base model offers over its predecessor is unlikely to be matched.

Features

Ford has led the way for several years now in introducing hi-tech features straight into its mass-market models, rather than going down the traditional route of putting them in high-end models first and filtering down over time. The Explorer is already a luxurious and well-equipped SUV, and it is to be expected that additional safety technology like the latest adaptive cruise control, lane watch and collision alert systems will be major features in the new package. Leather will remain throughout the range, although the quality of the materials is likely to improve.

Prices

Pricing for the 2016 Ford Explorer will probably follow the current trend of giving us more vehicle for not too much more money. There’s likely to be a small increase in the current starting MSRP of $31,495, but it should be modest and will continue to make the Explorer look like good value for money. At the moment, the Explorer is slightly more expensive than the Toyota Highlander but a little less expensive than other rivals like the Chevrolet Traverse.

QUICK HIT

With the recent announcements from Ford about the 2015 Edge, it seems that globalization of its models is becoming something of a theme. With both the Edge and Explorer appealing to a similar audience, it would be nice to see the 2016 version of the larger Explorer get something to differentiate it from the Edge. The excellent technological features announced for the Edge should be a given for inclusion in the 2016 Explorer, such as: rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear sensing systems, a hands-free foot-triggered tailgate, lane keeping assist, collision warning with brake support and side-parking sensors. With diesel versions of the Edge now becoming available to appeal to overseas markets, it might be nice to get a really economical hybrid option for the U.S. to take on competitors like Lexus.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]