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2016 Ford Explorer Limited review notes

A soft and smooth three-row hauler



There’s a lot to like about this Explorer, starting with the refreshed look. I don’t know if Ford purposely ripped off Range Rover for the front end, but I like what it did. It’s a little less round, a little more aggressive and expensive-looking. The back end is about the same, which is still a little “meh,” ut the overall shape is good. I don’t like the blacked out C-pillar (D-pillar? The back one) though.

Inside, it’s more upscale than I expected with unfinished woodgrain and some chrome accents to go along with all of that rubbery plastic. I hate when automakers put that on the steering wheel, just make it leather, or fake leather, or Alcantara please.

It took me a few tries to get the seat and pedal setup right, but it’s all adjustable, including the wheel, so keep trying until you get it. Part of the problem for me was that the throttle pedal is so light to push. The weight of your foot pushes it to the floor, and that’s something American cars didn’t used to do. Because of that, I had to scoot the seat back until my heel rested just at the bottom of the gas pedal.

2016 Ford Explorer Platinum first drive

Kitchen sink crossover


What is it?

It’s a Range Rover with a Ford badge ... which you’d think would be a Lincoln, but over in Dearborn, Michigan, the trademark for Blue Oval luxury is now Platinum.

If you’re not familiar with the basic vehicle, go read our 2016 Ford Explorer first drive; it’s essentially a substantial midcycle refresh of one of Ford’s best-selling models, intended to improve everything without messing with the successful base formula. There’s money at the top of the market, though, and with a base price starting at $53,000, the Explorer Platinum aims for customers who simply “want everything” in a simple, prepackaged model; according to Ford, there are quite a few of those buyers ripe for the picking. 

Platinum is also meant to peel customers away from imports that may not have as much

Your left foot wants to push the clutch at 6,000, but you have to stop it. Don’t lift, don’t shift.

2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang first drive


What is it?

“Don’t lift.” That’s been the mantra of race-car drivers, basically since the beginning of race-car driving. The physics being, if you lift midcorner when your mind tells you to, the weight comes off the back end, possibly sending it around in an uncorrectable and uncontrollable skid. With the 2016 Shelby GT350, we’re going to add “don’t shift” to that saying. The 5.2-liter flat-plane crank V8 doesn’t redline at 6,750 rpm like some old muscle cars, and doesn’t redline at 7,250 rpm like some new muscle cars. It only cuts out at an astounding 8,250 rpm. When the active exhaust is wailing, and your mind screams “shift now!” remember, you have about three more seconds of pull before your hand needs to drop off the Alcantara wheel and toward the stubby shifter with the red lettering.

The new GT350, like the first GT350, is the track Mustang to end all track Mustangs. Its V8 is the most powerful naturally aspirated engine the Blue Oval has ever produced, and the chassis is the most track-capable it’s ever produced. Good thing it put them together. Output on the raucous hunk of aluminum is rated at 526 hp at 7,500 rpm and 429 lb-ft of torque at 4,750. A six-speed Tremec manual is the only option for shifting. Power is sent rearward through a Torsen limited-slip differential.

Shotgun laps in the Ford Mustang GT350R make us want more


The new dual-overhead cam 5.2-liter flat-plane crank V8 in the Ford Mustang GT350 and GT350 R offers a higher rev range, more power and a better throttle response. But really, it’s all about that bass. Well, the exhaust, but you get where I’m going.

Ford invited journalists out to hilly Grattan Raceway in Belding, Mich., to get a taste of the new Shelby-inspired ponycar from the passenger seat. The company wasn’t quite ready for us to drive it.

Right off the bat, you notice the GT350R sounds nothing like any other Mustang. I know because I own one. The R revs loudly on startup, winds up quick and crackles like a race car, which it almost is. The sound in the cabin is somewhere between a Mercedes AMG V8 and a NASCAR engine. If you haven’t heard it in person yet, check out the video below, preferably on a surround sound system.

The new Focus ST features sportier and more aggressive styling than the previous generation, with a lower, wider stance; new dynamically sculpted hood; slimmer headlamps and rectangular fog lamps.

2015 Ford Focus ST review notes

Still the hot-hatch king?


ROAD TEST EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: When the latest Ford Focus ST came back to the U.S. in 2013, it had a tough group of competitors to fight with, including the MazdaSpeed3, Hyundai Veloster Turbo and, of course, the reigning champion of the hot hatches, the VW Golf GTI. Two years later, it’s looking down from the mountaintop, while a new group of hatches gear up for battle.

That’s not to say the ST bests those cohorts in all areas, but overall, there’s no hotter hatch, in my mind, than the current turbo Focus.

It starts with the steering and chassis setup. The 2015 ST gets new front springs and sportier shocks all around. It’s a little bouncier than I’d like on the expressway, but the Goodyear Eagle F1s have no problem gripping around corners, even over imperfect pavement. It’s supremely balanced for a front driver, exhibiting neither understeer nor oversteer during hard-ish cornering on public roads.

First drive

2016 Ford Explorer


What is it?

It’s the refreshed 2016 Ford Explorer, and, although not all new, it is another positive step in the right direction.

The 2016 Explorer has all new sheetmetal from the A-pillar forward. The rear has a freshened treatment as well. "Athletic" is the term Ford used at the informal introduction, and it fits -- this is a good-looking SUV.

The 2016 Explorer is available in 2- or 4-wheel drive in the Base, XLT and Limited models, and as a 4WD only in Sport and the all-new Platinum trim level.

The standard engine on the Base, XLT and Limited models is a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6; available on only the Sport and Platinum models is a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6.

Another new engine choice is the 2.3-liter I4 EcoBoost. It’s available on the Base, XLT and Limited models. The 2.0L EcoBoost, which was only available in FWD models, is gone from the lineup.  There is a good chance that its los

The available EcoBoost in-line four-cylinder engines combine three different technologies – turbocharging, direct injection and twin independent variable cam timing – to enhance both performance and efficiency.

High priced and high functioning

2015 Ford Fusion Titanium AWD review notes


ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: Dang, you see a lot of these in the Metro Detroit area. At first I thought it was all Ford employees driving around, and I’m sure that’s part of it, but it turns out that Ford moved nearly 307,000 Fusions in the United States last year. Granted, that’s about 125K fewer than the number of Camrys sold, but still -- not bad, Ford! Looks like there’s still room in the market for a good, solid midsized sedan. And the Fusion is a very good, very solid midsized sedan.

The big impression I got from the last Fusion I drove was that it was a mature car -- a grown-up car. It was quiet, solid, sensible and not totally boring, if not exactly a blast to throw around. Raucous it is not. But it is comfortable and its design seems to be holding up well.

This particular Fusion is an expensive one. It’s not quite double what a base car costs ($22,835, less any applicable incentives) but it’s basically as loaded a Fusion as you’re going to configure. It has the more powerful engine, but AWD is a significant contributor ($2,000) to that sticker as well. Outfitting a Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited in a vaguely similar fashion only gets you to $34,079. That may explain why Subaru isn’t having any trouble moving cars lately.

The all-new Mustang features a significant amount of innovative technologies providing drivers with enhanced information, control and connectivity when they want it.

2015 Ford Mustang GT Premium Coupe review notes


ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: Chalk it up to being the first car I’ve driven since the last bit of ice vanished from Detroit-area roads (or what’s left of them), but this 2015 Ford Mustang GT spoke to me in a way that previous ’15 models failed to -- really enjoyed driving around in it, really enjoyed how the six-speed played smoothly with the V8. The looks are growing on me, too; it’s not a radical departure from the previous generation, but I like the little things -- like how the fastback lines flow into the dramatically raked tail end.

All-around increased refinement levels and that independent rear suspension make me wonder, though: What, exactly, is the Mustang? It’s not really a sports car, not really a grand tourer, not really a full-blown muscle car. A pony car, maybe, but what does that even mean?

I don’t think being a little tough to define is necessarily a problem here. When you’ve got a legendary name and 50-plus years of history to go on, simply being a Mustang is probably enough. It helps that the car is certainly capable of speaking for itself under the right circumstances -- and no, I’m not talking about the morning commute or an afternoon at the track.

The new Edge is only a few inches bigger on the outside, but with new sculpted seats, tighter door panels and other interior massaging, it arrives with 7 more cubic feet of space behind the second row.

2015 Ford Edge Sport first drive


What is it?

The 2015 Ford Edge is a two-faced crossover. A double-bladed axe if you will. Have…to…resist…saying double-edged sword. On the one hand, it offers lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, parallel and perpendicular parking help for the non-interested driver. On the other hand, the 315-hp, 350-lb-ft, 2.7-liter EcoBoost-equipped all-wheel drive Edge Sport is a straight-up blast to drive. Ford brought us out to the winding roads outside of Scottsdale, Ariz. to get behind the wheel of the now-in-its-second-generation mid-sized crossover.

That mid-sized moniker is important, to Ford at least. The company sold about 100,000 Edge CUVs last year, which puts it ahead of competitors from Hyundai, Kia and Toyota. Still the Edge was still roundly trounced by Ford’s more popular Escape and Explorer.

For 2015, the Edge adds Enhanced Active Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Warning, a 180-degree front camera system with a washer, Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keeping Assist, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, two 2-amp USB chargers and a few other bits.

2015 Ford Transit 150 LR Wagon

2015 Ford Transit XLT 150 LR Wagon

movie location-hunter review


Winter is the correct time to visit Southern California, so I picked up a big, gray low-roof Ford Transit XLT 150 van with the 310-horse EcoBoost V6 at LAX and hit the highways. My plan was to visit some of my favorite Los Angeles-area wrecking yards to shoot a few interesting vehicles for the Junkyard Treasures series, then photograph the van at a location used for shooting a key scene in a great 1978 car movie.

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