2020 Ford Explorer First LookJanuary 16, 2019
We’ve seen many flavors of Ford Explorers over the years. It’s been a trucky, body-on-frame SUV and a stretched car-based crossover. It has roots that trace back to Volvo and Mazda, and it has also shown flashes of pure Ford DNA.
The common thread—no matter how it was engineered, what it looked like, or how it was critically received—has been its status as an American sweetheart. Ford has sold 7.7 million Explorers since that first one rolled off the line in 1990, and there are still 3.6 million of them on the road today.
The Explorer helped define the SUV segment and is one of the automaker’s best-known nameplates. It’s the centerpiece of a utility lineup that has grown around it. Above it is the Expedition, a massive body-on-frame SUV. Below it is a growing list of smaller crossovers, including, in descending size: the Edge, Escape, and EcoSport.
The centerpiece was in desperate need of its own redo. For 2020 the three-row family utility vehicle gets the complete overhaul while adding a hybrid and an ST performance model when it goes on sale in June.
The sixth-generation Explorer moves from a front-drive car platform to Ford’s long-awaited and all-new rear-drive architecture—the same one being used for the similarly sized Lincoln Aviator, both of which are assembled in Chicago. All-wheel drive is available from the base model up.
The clean sheet of paper makes many things possible. In addition to overall improvement gained by starting from scratch, the vehicle takes on a leaner and meaner look with a wider stance. The short overhang performs double duty: better for off-roading and more cabin room for on-roading.
Rear-drive handling comes standard, as does Ford’s 2.3-liter turbocharged I-4 generating 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Pricing has not been announced, but the base model will only increase $400 over the outgoing model, executives promise, which would put it at $33,860.
The top-end Platinum trim gets the 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6, good for 365 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque.
The 2020 model is 200 pounds lighter, which should also help with fuel economy, and there is now a hybrid option—the first new hybrid for the Ford brand in about six years—and the introduction of the ST model to add a little adrenaline. These augment the base, XLT, Limited, and high-end Platinum trims. More detail on the ST and Limited Hybrid is coming from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week.
There are promises of class-leading interior space—the wheelbase grew about 6 inches—and we anxiously await full specs. But having climbed inside, we can tell you that the old problem of feeling squished against the center console while needing longer arms to reach the door has been resolved with thinner doors and a redesigned center console. Humans can now sit comfortably in a cabin that stayed the same width.
Once inside you can’t miss the new customizable 12.3-inch digital cluster that changes the graphics with each of the six drive modes—seven if you have all-wheel drive and the advanced terrain management system, which adds a snow/sand mode. Nor can you miss the standard 8.0-inch touchscreen or optional 10.1-inch capacitive screen with the updated Sync 3 infotainment interface. Explorer loyalists will be surprised to see the new rotary gearshift and addition of an electronic parking brake.
No third row is easy to access, but the Explorer enhances the experience with a wider step to get in and a single button to push to make the second row fold and slide forward to crawl to the back. Power third-row seats also fold flat. All three rows have adjustable climate control, and all rear seats have child seat anchor points. Up front is a heated and cooled eight-way adjustable seat with massage settings. The steering wheel is also heated.
Acoustic glass and active noise cancellation help occupants converse, and there’s a dual-pane sunroof on top trims for those who want to look up and tune out.
The cargo area has a lip to keep items from rolling out and dividers to chop up the space. The carpeted cargo cover is reversible. Flip to the rubber side when stashing muddy gear.
Towing capacity with the V-6 increases to 5,600 pounds from a maximum of 5,000 in the 2018 model. With the I-4 and towing package it can still tow up to 5,300 pounds, which is quite a hike from 3,000 pounds with the similar current model.