2020 Ford Explorer Preview

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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz Senior Editor
January 9, 2019

Buying tip

Stay tuned: An eco-friendly Ford Explorer Hybrid and a sporty Explorer ST are on the way.

The 2020 Ford Explorer leapfrogs its dated predecessor with new underpinnings, stronger engines, and way more tech. We’re intrigued.

The 2020 Ford Explorer has a new lease on life with its powerful turbocharged and hybrid engines, wide array of standard active safety features, and new underpinnings. Ford ditches the outgoing model’s dated front-wheel-drive platform in favor of a new rear-drive crossover SUV architecture shared with the Lincoln Aviator.

The new Explorer may look like an evolution of its predecessor, but the two have little in common. Its long roof makes the vehicle appear to sit lower, though its interior is more spacious than before. Ford did not release detailed interior space specifications but said that third-row seats are standard and power-folding versions are optional. The Explorer boasts 87.8 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume with a flat cargo floor, which compares favorably to rivals such as the Subaru Ascent (about 86 cubes) and Honda Pilot (about 84 cubes). A power liftgate is standard on all trim levels.

A three-seat bench is standard in the second row, but individual captain’s chairs with a low center console are optional. Every seat in the second and third rows features LATCH attachment points for child seats.

Review continues below

The optional heated, cooled, and five-mode massaging front seats are likely worth calling “shotgun” over, however.

The Explorer’s dashboard features an optional 10.1-inch vertical touchscreen for infotainment that looks like a tablet resting on a small shelf more than an integrated display like in many of its competitors. The standard screen measures 8.0 inches in size and is mounted horizontally. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is also on the options list. The Explorer comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility as well as a Wi-Fi antenna that can connect to 10 devices at once. A 980-watt B&O audio system is optional and the Explorer features four USB ports including Type C outlets, a 110-volt household-style outlet, and three 12-volt sockets.

When it goes on sale this summer, the 2020 Explorer will be available in XLT, Limited, Limited Hybrid, ST, and Platinum trim levels.

Most Explorers will likely leave the automaker’s Chicago assembly plant with a 2.3-liter twin-turbo-4 underhood that the automaker estimates will be rated at 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. A 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 estimated at 365 hp and 380 pound-feet of torque is optional.

The Explorer Limited Hybrid makes use of a 3.3-liter V-6 paired to a lithium-ion battery tucked under the rear seat and an electric motor. All in, the system is good for 318 horsepower and Ford says it's targeting a 500-mile range. Ford hasn't released fuel economy estimates yet, but that puts the Explorer hybrid at a surprisingly modest 26 mpg by our math (factoring in its 19.4-gallon fuel tank). 

The Explorer ST uses 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 rated at 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque (on 93-octane gas) that roots power to all four wheels via a 10-speed automatic. Special calibrations triggered by the drive-mode controller's Sport setting tighten steering heft, retune the transmission and throttle, and pipe a synthetic engine note into the cabin. Underneath, the Explorer ST is fitted with tauter suspension than the standard model. It also has its own styling outside with more gloss black accents instead of chrome.

With an available trailering package, the Explorer will be rated to tow up to 5,600 pounds, a 600-pound bump over the outgoing model thanks in part to the new rear-drive platform.

Power goes to either the rear wheels or, optionally, all four via a 10-speed automatic transmission controlled by a dial on the center console. Ford has said that the new Explorer is more off-road capable than its predecessor thanks to seven modes for trails, deep sand or snow, and slippery conditions. Don’t look for the Explorer to be an off-road champ, however. The optional 21-inch alloy wheels speak to this crossover SUV’s intentions.

2020 Ford Explorer safety and pricing

One of the biggest leaps over the outgoing model is the Explorer’s standard and optional active safety tech, which is now largely on par with competitors. Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection wasn’t available on last year’s Explorer, but it’s standard for 2020. The new Explorer also comes with blind-spot monitors and active lane control. On the options list is an advanced adaptive cruise control system that uses cameras to read road signs and can adjust the vehicle’s speed according to the posted limit.

Explorer Platinums will also be able to park themselves and extract themselves from parallel parking spots at the touch of a button with no driver intervention on the brake pedal or steering wheel.

Ford said that the 2020 Explorer will cost about $400 more than its predecessor to start, which likely puts its base price at a hair less than $34,000.

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