Aside from adding the Platinum trim and a new engine, Ford didn't change the Explorer significantly, even though it classifies the 2016 version as a new generation. The front and rear have an updated look, with large fog lights added to the lower fascia, four grilles to signify the various trim levels, a more aerodynamic spoiler and new taillights.
A 180-degree camera with washer is now standard on the rear and available on the front, and added sensors support self parking in parallel and perpendicular spaces when equipped with that option. Inside, second-row passengers gain 1.5 inches of knee room and have access to two fast-charging USB ports on some trims.
The Explorer maintains the boxy-yet-modern appearance that it adopted for the 2011 model year, when Ford transformed it from a traditional body-on-frame SUV to unibody construction for a more carlike ride and improved fuel economy. Since that redesign, customers have rated exterior styling as their top reason for buying it, Zuehlk said.
"Customers buy that styling because it communicates adventure," he said. "It adds that SUV-ness."
The Explorer was once king of the SUVs, with U.S. sales topping 400,000 annually from 1998 through 2002, before high gasoline prices and the recession combined to end its reign. In 2009, Ford sold just 52,190 Explorers.
But it's had new life as a rugged crossover, with sales climbing to 209,994 last year, including police vehicles. They've risen 20 percent in 2015 through April, nearly double the 11 percent increase for light trucks overall.