Ford's completely reimagined Explorer is a 2020 SUV of the Year contender
- Fun to drive
- Great hybrid
- Fast ST trim
- Awful interior quality
- Awfully expensive
- Awful brakes on the ST
Over the past 30 years, the Ford Explorer has grown with us. It started out as a plucky little off-roader in the ’90s, morphed into a big, V-8-powered SUV in the early ’00s, and spent the past eight years as a large front-drive-based three-row family SUV and, well, a cop car.
The redesigned 2020 Ford Explorer, then, is less a return to form and more of the latest evolution of Ford’s venerable SUV as it grows, changes, and molds itself to America’s needs.
The Explorer’s popularity with Americans is a testament to all the boxes it seemingly ticks. Like the version immediately preceding it, the 2020 model seats up to seven. Embracing global emissions and fuel economy realities, the base engine is now a 300-hp turbocharged four-cylinder, and an available no-compromises 318-horsepower hybrid can tow up to 5,600 pounds (2,540 kg) and achieving 29 mpg (8.1 L/100 km) on the highway. Realizing that those who pilot Explorers might actually enjoy driving, Ford switched the platform to rear-drive based and introduced a new 400-hp Explorer ST capable of zipping from 0 to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds.
Point being, Ford seems dead set on ensuring there’s an Explorer for everybody.
“I love the way it drives; it’s sporty even in XLT trim,” features editor Scott Evans said. “The turbo-four is torquey and really gets things moving. It even handles better than some of the sportier brands here.”
The sporty Explorer ST also had its fans. “It has some nice zip and sharper steering and throttle response, and the powertrain provides engine sounds that’ll make you smile,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle said, though all 11 judges complained about the Explorer ST’s brakes, which function more as an on/off switch than a brake pedal in the traditional sense.
Remember the first Explorer from the ’90s? Check it out in our Ford Explorer photo-history feature here.
The Explorer Hybrid is compelling, too. In addition to its performance benefits, the powertrain handoff between gas and electricity is seamless, and when both engine and motor work together, the Explorer is quick and feels powerful. All three Explorers, even our rear-drive four-cylinder model, proved quite capable on our off-road course.
Problems? Well, there are two big ones: lackluster interior quality across the board and a pricing structure that seems to defy value.
Although the Explorer brings lots to the table in terms of packaging, with adult-friendly second rows and a decent preteen-sized third row, we’re flummoxed by the lack of quality in the Explorer’s cabin. “Dear god, all this ugly plastic,” executive editor Mark Rechtin said. “Why does Ford treat its customers this way?”
The material choice and quality in these new Explorers is a massive step backward for the brand. All three Explorers feel built to a price far below their actual stickers, with cheap, mismatched plastics and, on the XLT and Limited models, exposed wires just above the phone shelf and beneath the infotainment screen; you can’t help but brush them when you pick up your phone.
The Explorer’s pricing structure is even more disappointing, considering the proletarian interior quality. None of our Explorer testers are what we’d call cheap. The least expensive was the Explorer XLT at $43,415 USD as tested, a price where Honda, Kia, or Volkswagen will sell you a near-loaded Pilot, Telluride, or Atlas, all of which beat the Explorer in interior space for passengers and likely on build quality. Our Explorer Hybrid Limited and ST stickered for $58,570 USD and $59,520 USD, respectively, and although a hybrid and a sport model are certainly unique selling propositions, neither had the inherent quality to demand such a sky-high sticker.
Our advice? To Ford: Step up your quality game or lower your prices. To consumers whose boxes are understandably otherwise ticked by the Explorer: Don’t pay sticker. As for us, well, as MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina said, “Is this really what we’ve been waiting for, Ford?”
|2020 Ford Explorer XLT||2020 Ford Explorer Limited (Hybrid)||2020 Ford Explorer ST|
|Base Price/As Tested||$37,770/$43,415||$55,570/$58,570||$55,835/$59,520|
|Power (SAE net)||300 hp @ 5,500 rpm||285 hp @ 6,500 rpm + 44 hp @ 3,500 rpm (elec); 318 hp comb||400 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Torque (SAE net)||310 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm||260 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm + 221 lb-ft @ 500 rpm (elec); 322 lb-ft comb||415 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm|
|Accel, 0-60 mph||6.8 sec||7.7 sec||5.3 sec|
|Quarter Mile||15.3 sec @ 89.6 mph||15.7 sec @ 92.0 mph||13.9 sec @ 99.9 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||121 ft||125 ft||114 ft|
|Lateral Acceleration||0.81 g (avg)||0.77 g (avg)||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||27.7 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)||28.0 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)||26.4 sec @ 0.72 g (avg)|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb||21/28/24 mpg||23/26/25 mpg||18/24/20 mpg|