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The 2016 Ford Explorer includes such refinements as a new grille and redrawn headlamps.

Ford

The Explorer is as familiar to the SUV segment as the iPod to mobile music devices. One of the original SUVs, seven million have been sold, or one every two minutes since the 1991 launch. It's the No. 1 selling SUV in the United States for 25 years running.

For the 2016 re-model, Ford tightens the handling, girds the suspension, beefs up the tech, gives the front end a new look and, in the lower trims, provides an optional 2.3-litre EcoBoost and all-wheel drive as alternative to the inadequate 2.0 four-cylinder/front-wheel drive package.

Being introduced in showrooms next month is the Platinum series, the upper Explorer trim, as the brand dives into the luxury segment. For $58,399 in Canada – a favourable exchange rate, in today's dollars – the vehicle includes Nirvana leather front seats, brushed aluminum and ash wood on the panels, leather-wrapped heated steering and more.

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The pièce de résistance, Sony's 500-watt, 12-speaker infotainment system exclusive to Platinum, brings forth voices and instruments with clear, crisp detail via a subwoofer, door woofers and chrome tweeters. Adapted from a home system for which engineers measured the audio fingerprint of concert halls around the world, it enables passengers to switch between "Clear Phase" and "Live Acoustics" modes. You might want to return to the garage to listen to music in the car, the acoustics are that good. We tested two Explorers, a Limited equipped with the 2.3-litre four-cylinder, and Sport with the returning 3.5-litre twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 which is also installed in the Platinum.

How does the Platinum drive? Don't know, as it remained stationary at a media test, resplendent with white exterior and tan seats against the background of the Rancho Bernardo Inn's golf course.

The Explorer's quiet cabin is made a touch quieter in the re-model, and presumably the Platinum blocks noise from wind, traffic and the engine at least as effectively as the other trims in order to maximize the Sony system. If it drives as tightly as the stiff-tortioned Sport, be prepared to feel Canada's winter-ravaged roads.

In the twisting hills of the Poway area northeast of San Diego, the 2.3-litre on the Limited trim felt not so much powerful as smooth. It produces 280 horsepower at 5,500 rpm - 17 per cent greater than the 2.0 litre on premium fuel. The Explorer seems bigger than it actually is – seating seven, versus some rivals' eight – due to the space between front-seat passengers and windshield but Ford research indicates what matters most to the consumer is style. Refinements include:

  • A masculine grille that conjures a Rolex watch, not to mention a Land Rover;
  • A subtle hockey-stick badge on the door panel, replicated on the right side of the dashboard;
  • Redrawn headlamps with standard LED low-beam units and motorcycle-inspired cooling fins;
  • A flush-mounted roof rack for a sportier look and better aerodynamics.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

You'll like this SUV if ... You're staying true to the brand in the lower models, and looking to step into luxury in the Platinum model.

TECH SPECS

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  • Base price: $35,899
  • Engine: 3.5-litre V-6 and optional 2.3-litre EcoBoost
  • Transmissions: Six-speed automatic
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.1 litres/100 km highway, 13.1 litres/100 km city
  • Drive: Front-wheel and all-wheel drive
  • Alternatives: Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot, Buick Enclave, Mercedes GL-Class

RATINGS

  • Looks: All new from the A-pillar forward for a sleeker, more powerful looking appeal than the 2015 version, including enhanced grille, new fog lamps and LED low beams, plus a flush-mounted roof rack.
  • Interior: Ford redesigned the front seats to improve ergonomics, changed the arm rests and boosted the driver’s visibility. Thicker front glass makes an already quiet cabin quieter. Two smart chargers at back of console allow kids to recharge the tablet.
  • Performance: The 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder, available as a $1,000 option in Canada, provides a torquey feel, 17 per cent power boost over the 2.0-litre with all-wheel drive, towing capacity of 1,360 kilograms and improved fuel economy. Air curtains over the tires and grille shutters close at highway speeds to reduce drag.
  • Technology: Cameras at the front and rear supply 180-degree vision for exiting parking structures and driveways, and a washer blasts grime from the lens. A grocery-bag-burdened driver can open the tailgate with a wave of the foot. Park assist includes perpendicular, park-out and partly automatic parallel functions.
  • Cargo: There is more leg room for front-row passengers and ample space in the second row, too. The third row adds passengers six and seven if they are children. The third row folds down with the touch of a button.

The Verdict

8.0 (out of 10)

To stay on top of the class, Ford updated an SUV that had been most recently refreshed in 2011.

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