I was already heading up to Montana when Ford asked if I’d like to be part of the Platinum Adventure Tour campaign that the company is using to roll out the 2016 Ford Explorer’s new Platinum edition. The leg I’d be driving would be Big Sky, Montana to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a modest 200 miles or so, but through some of the most beautiful parts of the United States: Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park.
I of course said “I’m IN!” and a few weeks later there we were at a ski lodge in beautiful Big Sky, with no snow on the ground. Heck, it was t-shirt weather! Turned out that there were 20 or so of us drivers and a dozen or so of the Platinum edition Explorers available to drive, so I doubled up with Sujeet Patel of Guys Gab.com and we were given a cooler full of snacks and car keys! Here’s Sujeet checking out the dashboard configuration of the car:
Note particularly the armrest on the driver’s door. I don’t know that I’ve ever been in such a wide car — the armrest was weirdly wide and the window felt far away. Not in a bad way at all, it just reinforces how narrow most cars are from the driver’s perspective.
Our first stop on the journey was just outside Big Sky before we made it to the Yellowstone National Park west entrance gate. We pulled into Ousel Falls along the Gallatin River and while the waterfall itself was pretty, I actually found the river itself quite gorgeous:
We got back in the car after about a 1.5 mile hike through the woods and were ready to get to Yellowstone National Park!
This was one of the times we noticed one of the other cars on the #ExploreMore tour, paying their entrance fee just a car or two ahead of us. Of course they had the white car, while we had a black 2016 Ford Explorer. The color in most demand? The red one, which turns out to be the most picturesque color. Still, the Explorer is still pretty sharp in white:
Having had some time to drive the Explorer, we were both impressed with the big engine and powerful performance of its 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine. For an SUV, it has surprising performance and when Sujeet forgot that we weren’t on a race track (just kidding, Team Ford! We would never have driven the vehicle even a tiny bit unsafely!) the vehicle was quite capable of pushing us back in the chairs as we — safely, of course — zoomed past slower vehicles on the road.
We started by going up the narrow Firehole Canyon to reach Firehole Falls:
What I couldn’t capture was the sound. There’s something very soothing about the sound of a rushing waterfall and coupled with the gorgeous scenery it was a great place to start our adventure in Yellowstone.
Even better, because it wasn’t one of the spots immediately off the main road but required a few mile drive up a windy road, it wasn’t quite as busy as some of our subsequent stops. It’s the Catch-22 of national parks: because they’re so beautiful and easy access, they’re popular. But because they’re popular they can be quite busy. Which makes them not quite as beautiful and relaxing. Our second stop was Midway Geyser Basin and, well, it took us a few minutes to find a parking spot.
But it was worth it. Classic Yellowstone mineral pool:
A few miles further on we just had to stop to take a picture of the Explorer with the rather picturesque Old Faithful signage:
See that stick to the right? That’s a road marker for when there’s a lot of snow, and there were a lot of those 5-foot stakes in the ground as we drove around. The conclusion? Yellowstone gets a lot of snow at times, undoubtedly a reason why it’s so lush and green.
The photo also gives you a chance to see some of the styling of this luxury SUV. With a price tag of over $50,000, it’s definitely in the luxury class and with three rows of seating (the third row stays down to give lots of storage space, but can be ready to go with the push of a button. That’s correct, no wrestling or hassles pulling up the seat manually, like I have to do in my Toyota Highlander) it has lots of room for even a growing family.
There’s plenty of luxury in the car too, but what most impressed me was the massaging seats, as you can see highlighted in this dashboard photo:
Worth mentioning, though only barely visible in the above photo, is the 500-watt premium Sony audio system. Cars are already good audio environments with their enclosed space and the ability for designers to know exactly where the driver’s head will be (as compared to a home audio system where people are all over the place) but the Sony was notable for its clarity and volume. Part of what made this so striking is that the 2016 Explorer also has a lot more acoustic dampening than previous year models, and the interior was noticeably quiet even at higher speeds or on rougher roads. Quite different from the “classic SUV” experience.
Back on the road, we pulled into the Yellowstone Visitor Education Center just to see scores of happy tourists walking away from Old Faithful. Walking away? Yeah, turns out that the world’s most famous geyser goes off about every 90 minutes and we’d missed it by five minutes or so. No worries, it was lunch time and we decided to eat at the cafeteria, which felt very 50’s era with its triangular trays and formica counters.
Lunch was pulled pork sandwiches, chips, a pickle and a soda, and it was rather surprisingly good. Definitely fueled us up for the rest of our Platinum Adventure.
We burned some time walking around and exploring the store, visitor center and finally 90 minutes had passed and, along with hundreds of others, we ooh’d and aahh’d as Old Faithful showed its stuff:
Quite impressive and we couldn’t have had better weather for our exploration!
Back in the car, we promptly hit a small traffic jam, as you can see:
Finally past the buffalo, we headed south to Craig Pass and the Continental Divide, then came down the road to entertainingly named West Thumb. I looked, but I couldn’t find Tom anywhere. Go figure!
We parked and explored the West Thumb Geyser Basin, however, and it was fascinating, also offering a lovely vantage point to enjoy the westernmost edge of Yellowstone Lake. I felt a very Pacific Northwest vibe to the shoreline too. What do you think?
It’s the various mineral springs that are the most picturesque feature of West Thumb, however, as you can see in these pictures:
I like the contrast of water colors between the spring and the Lake behind it.
Or the emerald green of Abyss Spring:
It is rather amazing how there are these deep, deep pools just a few steps off the wooden walkway that winds through the region. Made me quite curious about the construction process, particularly when we were walking across a yellow or red mineral runoff field.
My turn to drive and I started to experiment with the lane keeping system that tracks lane markers and offers steering wheel feedback when you’re drifting out of your lane. At certain speeds it’ll actually help you steer back into the lane. And if you’re really hitting the lane marker a lot, it’ll suggest you have a rest and grab a cup of coffee. Really!
We couldn’t find any coffee at that moment, mid-way between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, but we had our snack cooler, so we were set and the road continued to stretch in front of us!
There’s less to see at Grand Teton, no hot springs, no geysers, but the scenery itself is breathtaking, and the slightest haze from (most likely) lingering smoke from the huge fires further West in Washington and California, made for some amazing landscapes:
You can see Elk Island perched neatly in the middle of Jackson Lake in the middle foreground.
With such a beautiful backdrop, I had to take another photo of the 2016 Explorer, of course:
A few miles further on we made it into Moose, Wyoming, just north of Jackson Hole, intending to take a shortcut to our final destination, Snake River Lodge, just to find that the road was closed due to “excessive bear activity”. Really. So we had to take the long way home after all (with apologies to Supertramp, of course).
Finally, having logged just over 200 miles, the keys were ceremonially returned to the Ford team and the Explorer whisked away, ready for the next leg of the Platinum Adventure Tour.
Having a full day to try all the different features and capabilities of the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum edition, driving fast on the straight roads — as safe, of course! — and hugging the curves as we wound through various hills and mountains, I was very impressed. I had a Ford Explorer for a couple of years over a decade ago and I remember it as reliable but hardly luxurious in any sense. Just a “tow car”. The company has clearly put a lot of effort into going beyond that as the vehicle buying market has evolved to where $50-$60k luxury SUVs are no longer an oxymoron.
Lots of neat features, more than I could squeeze into this triptych, including a dual-panel sunroof, enhanced active perpendicular park assist that lets the car back into tight spots unassisted, and the weird but interesting inflating safety belts for children that enlarge on demand to help keep kids from popping out of their seat belts in an emergency situation.
And finally, I checked our gas mileage. We’d driving enthusiastically at altitude (average altitude for our day was about 7100-feet) without worrying about fuel efficiency and we realized 24.3mpg which was a testament to the value of EcoBoost. With a more judicious driving style, I expect you could add 1-2 mpg to that figure, which is quite competitive to my Toyota Highlander Hybrid with its average of 26-27mpg.
I really enjoyed being part of the Platinum Adventure Tour and found the new 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum a great addition to the tremendously successful Explorer line. If you’re looking for a car that’s going to be comfortable for you and your 2-4 kids plus gear but still want to buy American and be surrounded by luxury, this is definitely one to check out!
And a bonus: Want to plan your own Yellowstone vacation? Check out this Yellowstone Guide for planning tips and more.
Disclosure: Ford paid for my trip. They loaned me a car. They even stocked up the snack cooler in the back of the car so we didn’t go without food or drink while on the road. Nicely done, Ford. Thanks!