Range Rover vs. Explorer Platinum

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

I “get” supercars. Six-figure, 600-horsepower cyborgs made from unobtanium and loaded with every weapon in the auto arsenal: Torque-vectoring all-wheel drive systems, Brembo brakes, dual-clutch transmissions. These sports cars can do aught-to-60 in the blink of an eye, push 200 mph and turn your neck into a noodle with apex-hugging g-loads.

But I’ve never understood $100,000 SUVs — until now. They are the light-truck equivalent of supercars. Call them “super utes.”

I’ve been driving one for the last week. Priced at a stratospheric $106,325, the Range Rover HSE Turbo-diesel-V6 (Td6) stuffs everything mankind — or at least Land Rover, the legendary British military vehicle maker — knows about SUVs into one, swaggering, 115-inch wheelbase package. Air suspension, longitudinal four-wheel-drive, two-speed transfer box, aluminum chassis, aluminum skin, hill-descent control, hill-start assist...

(Catch breath)

... self-parking, 360-degree park assist, auto windshield-wipers, auto high-beams, heated steering wheel, heated front windshield, Meridian stereo, individual backseat video, Grass/Gravel/Snow/Mud/Sand modes — or just put the big robot on AUTO and it’ll detect the bloody terrain itself.

There’s nothing else like it on the planet. Except, um, a $54,760 Ford Explorer Platinum which comes loaded with nearly the same Swiss Army’s knife of features but with half the sticker shock.


Heated front and rear seats? Check. All-terrain modes? Check. Self-park, leather interior, moon roof, stereo, massage seats, wood-inlaid heated steering wheel? All check. In upgrading the Explorer for 2016, Ford obviously had the Range Rover HSE in its sights right to down to the same clam-shell hood and egg-crate grille.

But this is no Rolex knock-off. The Explorer brings remarkable luxury to mainstream utes while only sacrificing hard-core performance values that customers never use. It’s like a gorgeous, $55,000 200-mph supercar that understeers at the limit through Mid-Ohio Raceway’s Turn One.

With its leaner face, the Platinum bears an uncanny resemblance to the HSE. Paint them both dark blue like my testers, and the Explorer could do an excellent Rover impersonation.

The stroll around the exterior of these rolling condos flatters both, even as differences emerge. With its longitudinal engine, the Range Rover HSE sports a hood the length of a cricket pitch, pushing the cabin rearward and giving it a hearse-like look. The transverse-engine Explorer, by contrast, looks more compact and is punctuated with its familiar, flying-buttress C-pillar.

The interiors could have been on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Range Rover cut down a forest for more wood paneling than your average executive’s corner office. It’s so pretty I wanted to throw a tablecloth across it and order a meal with Mrs. Payne. Vase of flowers, garcon?

Rover’s perforated leather seats are more comfortable than the Ford’s cowhide, but no more capable (multi-way, massaging, heated front and rear). Two-tone interior. Stitched dashboards. Consoles? Brits and Americans understand the best infotainment access is via touchscreen and knobs — not rotary dials and mouse pads (ahem, looking at you, BMW and Lexus). Like a tour of a celebrity’s flat overlooking Central Park, Rover’s details separate it from Explorer’s mere executive digs. There are secret compartments under the armrest to hide important things that jewel thieves might miss. Beautifully trimmed, dual glove-boxes show up Explorer’s more pedestrian, hard-plastic model.

Turn on the Rover and a rotary shifter rises out of the console like a doomsday button. READY TO NUKE THE LANDSCAPE it seems to say.

And this is where the Range Rover puts on its super-ute cape. With its sophisticated four-wheel drive, this thing can climb Rushmore.

The Englishman rides noticeably higher in the saddle than the Detroiter because it’s built to conquer nature. Flip our testers like turtles and they are dramatically different: Rover’s underbelly is covered with rock-resistant armor. Enable the air suspension, and super ute will rise another two inches to leap tall boulders in a single bound. To crawl across a rocky landscape, Rover’s Reactive Grounding Response allows air springs to inflate independently to adapt over hostile terrain.

But with all that leather and wood inside — not to mention chrome-crusted body panels — would you ever want to go there? My duck-hunting pals laugh at the idea of Rovers in the Outback. Super utes are so beautifully tailored that the only field they’ll ever see is a soccer field.

And for such duty, the Explorer is more than capable. Indeed, the Ford makes soccer moms drool.

Get past the front thrones, and Platinum has rear details Rover can’t touch. Only the Ford comes with three-row seating — the third easily accessible with Ford’s two-step, middle-seat fold. And with the touch of a button, row three can perform more tricks than a Westminster dog show champ: fold, stow, go. The Rover sports a pickup-like drop-gate for tailgate parties. Clever. But only Explorer offers a kick-open option so you can raise the hatch when your arms are full of game — er, groceries.

The HSE’s diesel engine is a beast with 254 horses and 443 pound-feet of torque that could pull Michael Moore out of quicksand. But unlike supercars, engines don’t define super utes. Ford’s twin-turbo, 3.5-liter six, for example — the same workhorse found in the Taurus SHO and F-150 — boasts a very competitive 365 horses and 350 pound-feet of torque.

Where the Land Rover diesel excels is in fuel economy, pushing the 5,485-pound ute around for 25 mpg. The Ford turbo will manage just 18 mpg (I got 171/2 with my size 15 lead foot).

Once America gets through its collective freak-out over diesels, folks will remember they are the best way to move heavy vehicles. And with diesel prices in line with $2 gas these days, the fuel savings will earn back the engine’s $1,500 premium.

Speaking of premiums, the Rover doesn’t have to go all the way to Moab to prove its expensive, all-aluminum chassis engineering. Over dirt roads, Explorer’s bones are noticeably more brittle than the $106,000 Rover. Platinum may have similar sand and snow options, but super ute glides over rough terrain like it was born to it. Thanks to extensive cabin-quieting, Explorer’s rattle disappears on asphalt.

Stay away from Rolex knock-offs. But if a super ute is too rich for your blood, a half-price Platinum will do just fine, thank you very much.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at hpayne@detroitnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2016 Range Rover HSE Td6

Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV

$72,445 base ($106,325 as tested)

3.0-liter, turbocharged diesel V-6

254 horsepower, 443 pound-feet of torque

8-speed automatic

0-60 mph, 7.3 seconds (Car & Driver); top speed, 130 mph

5,485 pounds

EPA 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway/25 combined

Range Rover Report card

Highs: King of the Outback; elegant interior

Lows: Who goes to the Outback in a $100K SUV?; third-row seat, please


2016 Ford Explorer Platinum

Front-engine, four-wheel drive, seven-passenger SUV

$52,970 base ($54,760 as tested)

3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6

365 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque

6-speed automatic

0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (Car & Driver); 123 mph (governed)

4,939 pounds

EPA 16 mpg city / 22 mpg highway / 18 combined (manual as tested)

Ford Report card

Highs: Bang for the buck; three-row flexibility

Lows: Plastic interior trim; tinny chassis over bumps


Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★ Fair ★★ Poor ★


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