Sixth-gen Explorer expands into performance on two fronts
Ford is expanding its 2020 Explorer lineup at both ends, with the introduction of a performance ST model at one extreme and the addition of a hybrid at the other—two distinct expressions of performance for those who want higher doses of adrenaline or fuel efficiency.
The new models, built in Chicago, augment a lineup that still includes a base Explorer that will start at $33,860 USD, an XLT, Limited, the new ST and Limited Hybrid, and the range-topping Platinum. The 2020 Explorer rides on a new rear-wheel-drive platform and goes on sale in June.
Explorer ST makes its debut
The ST replaces Sport but ups the ante, with help from the Ford Performance team. Under the hood, a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 is tweaked to produce 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. The same engine gets 365 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque in the Platinum trim. A sport package adds 21-inch wheels and tires, sport-oriented tuning of the electric brake boost, larger brake rotors, improved pad compound, and red calipers that are also upsized (though their basic two-piston-front, one-piston-rear sliding design is retained).
The performance-tuned 10-speed automatic transmission will deliver quicker shift points in Sport mode, and other changes include enhanced engine sound and more responsive throttle and steering.
The goal is to appeal to previous Explorer Sport buyers and attract new customers who want more play with their family hauler.
“It will be the fastest SUV under $60,000 USD,” Scott Slimak, Explorer vehicle engineering manager, said.
It is a genuine performance vehicle, developed with the Ford Performance team, Slimak said. The ST is recognizable with its black mesh grille, high-gloss body, dual quad exhaust tips, flat-bottom steering wheel, and ST badging. It has upgraded brakes and unique dampers, shocks, and springs as part of the specially tuned suspension with an aluminum shock tower. Some upgrades are packaged into the ST Street package and ST Track package, both of which include the 21-inch wheels and red brake calipers.
This is the first new hybrid for the Ford brand in six years—but certainly not the last as the automaker plans to electrify virtually everything in the lineup going forward.
In the Explorer Limited Hybrid the 3.3-liter V-6 hybrid produces 318 hp and 336 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a 10-speed modular hybrid transmission that shares 90 percent of its parts with the non-hybrid transmissions. We strongly suspect the engine is equipped to run in Atkinson-cycle mode, but officials were not yet ready to divulge that information or the power and torque specs for the electric motor. Speaking of which, it’s packaged between the engine and the transmission’s torque converter so that it can drive in electric-only mode for short distances—as when sneaking back into the neighborhood after curfew.
The liquid-cooled battery pack resides under the floor beneath the front seat and second-row footwell on the passenger side. Its capacity is just 1.5 kW-hr, which it can deliver at a max rate of 35 kW (47 hp). Electric-only propulsion is not the point of the system. The point is delivering no-compromise fuel efficiency, a range of up to 500 miles (805 km), and improving acceleration performance.
Even though it is a hybrid, the crossover can tow 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg), which is 1,500 pounds (680 kg) more than the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is rated to tow.
No mileage figures are available yet. For comparison, the AWD-only Highlander Hybrid gets 29–30/27–28 mpg (8.1-7.8/8.7-8.4 L/100 km) city/highway.