CHICAGO | Sales of the Ford Explorer have increased every year since it was first built at the Chicago Assembly Plant five years ago, even though competitors have rolled out new models and it has not been updated.
Now the best-selling, mid-sized SUV — an iconic Ford brand that is celebrating its 25th anniversary — is being refreshed.
"We’re number one now and we’re refreshing at the top, so it’s great to be in a position of strength," said Matt Zuehlk, brand manager for the Ford Explorer. "It should keep us number one for a long time."
About 5,000 local workers make the Explorer, as well as the Taurus, Police Interceptor sport-utility vehicles and sedans, and the Lincoln MKS. The Dearborn, Mich.-based company says it's been selling the popular sport utility vehicles as fast as it can build them.
The Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch will soon switch over to the 2016 Explorer, which will hit dealerships in June, where it will retail for between $30,000 and $53,000. Ford will sell a base model, an XLT, a sport, a limited and — for the first time — a platinum model with luxury features like leather seats and a premium stereo system.
"We’ve got a new look, a new powertrain, and a new series," Zuehlk said. "Explorer is the number one seller today because of how it looks. Our number one purchase reason is styling. So there’s a little 'if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.'"
Every piece of sheet metal on the front, including fender, hood and headlamps, have been enhanced with a new design for the 2016 model. The rear lift gate and the rest of the back of the vehicle also got an overhaul. The sport utility vehicle’s sides have largely kept their distinctive look.
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"People love the Explorer’s profile," Zuehlk said. "So you don’t want to mess too much with that formula."
The new model features LED headlights and fog lights, as well as air curtains that will improve the Explorer’s aerodynamic efficiency by 5 percent that should allow it to maintain its best-in-class fuel economy even as it switches to a bigger engine with more horsepower.
The sport-utility vehicle currently gets 28 miles per gallon on the highway.
A new 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine — similar to what’s in the Mustang — will provide 270 horsepower and 300 pound feet of torque.
In response to consumer demand, Ford also will make a luxury version of the Explorer with soft, supple Lincoln-grade leather, a specially designed 500-watt audio system and quilted bolsters in the seats. Ford already offers platinum versions of other vehicles, such as the Expedition.
"It takes Explorer to a place it’s never been," he said. "When you see the interior, you’re going to be pretty shocked when you open the door, what you’re going to find. We know it’s going to be successful because we sell a lot of our sport product, which tops out around $48,000 and have heard from our customers they would like a little more luxury."