With the average new-car transaction now registering in the mid 30s, it is not surprising that car loan durations are approaching the life expectancy of a Cheshire cat living on sushi-grade tuna.
I was reminded of this while spending a recent week in a Ford Explorer. It's true, of course, that this handsome and useful six- or seven-passenger crossover starts at a relatively affordable $31,660 in its base, front-drive form. But the top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive Platinum model I drove was a different story. It started at $53,235 and finished up at $55,420.
That sounds like a salty Ford, and it is. But if you have the stamina to read its entire standard equipment list, which is roughly the length of War and Peace, you'll begin to understand the price tag. Indeed, the list of safety gear and hedonism just goes on and on.
The Explorer's body is attractive design and, of course, suitably SUV macho. In the case of the Platinum tester, a set of machined, 20-inch alloy wheels provided nifty aesthetic punctuation.
The sumptuous interior was beautifully realized. Padded, saddle-stitched surfaces predominated, and quilted accents on the door panels and seats caught the eye. In the case of the seats, the quilting coexisted with perforated and smooth leather panels.
The only interior element I could have done without was the word Platinum written in rather large letters on the front seat backs.
Driving the Explorer Platinum proved engaging business. The vehicle was solid and quiet for openers. It also combined competent handling with a nice ride. And no one would accuse it of stoplight sloth. While the lesser Explorer models are fitted with lesser engines — a normally aspirated V-6 or a turbocharged four — the Platinum has the biggest horse in Ford's stable of EcoBoost engines, a torque-rich, 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 that develops 365 horsepower.
This engine makes for a really sporty scoot out of the chute. It's fun to jump on it. And those guts also mean a quantum leap for towing capacity. While the base, front-drive Explorer can tow 2,000 pounds, this guy raises the ante to 5,000.
Is there a flip side to all this truth and beauty? Isn't there always? In the case of this EcoBoost engine, it lives up to the "Boost" part of its name, but falls a little short of the "Eco" component. I mean, EPA mileage ratings of 16 city and 22 highway ain't exactly Priusville addresses.
From a driving standpoint, the only minus grade I gave was for the way the third-row headrests encroached on rear visibility. (It's also true those seats can be folded down when not in use.)
Riding in a Platinum also entails some enjoyable fringes. For the driver, there are those heated and cooled front seats and the heated steering wheel. There's also the comfortable seat, the intuitive instrument and control placement, safety electronics like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, a rear camera and a 180-degree front one, and a terrain-management system and voice-activated navigation. For the second row occupants, there are the heated seats. For the third row denizens there is the unexpected legroom and easy access.
Third-row ingress and egress is afforded by pushing a button on the rear door jambs, which folds down the backs of the second-row seats and then flips the seat assemblies forward against the back of the front seats. Once in that third row, you find enough legroom for someone who is 6-foot-2.
Also nifty are those power third-row seats. The "fold" button folds the seat back forward. "Stow" places the whole seat assembly in the rear storage well to provide a flat floor.