2020 Ford Explorer
by John Davis
MotorWeek kicks off its 39th season by highlighting a vehicle that best symbolizes the current American SUV lifestyle, the Ford Explorer. No other vehicle better illustrates the transformation of Sport Utility Vehicles from backwoods explorers to family cars more than Explorer, the best-selling ute of all time. The previous generation Explorer fully embraced that role with a front-wheel drive based unibody architecture replacing its traditional rear-wheel drive, truck-style body-on-frame chassis.
Now another big change. The all-new 6th generation Explorer returns to its rear-wheel drive based roots; but also debuts a new CD6 unibody modular architecture that will underpin many new future Ford and Lincoln products, including, if rumors are true, the next Mustang.
Unlike some competitors, there is no “one engine fits all” strategy with the new Explorer. Buyers can choose from the same base 2.3-liter EcoBoost I4 as before, but now upgraded to 300-horsepower. It’s joined by a new 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 that’s available in 365 and 400-horsepower versions, the latter being Explorer’s most powerful engine yet.
Plus, there is a first-ever Hybrid Explorer. It pairs a naturally-aspirated 3.3-liter V6 with a single small electric motor mounted between the engine and the 10-speed automatic transmission. Don’t expect huge gains in fuel economy, as it’s more about helping the engine do more with less; and pushing potential range to 500-miles between fill ups. Output is a combined 318-horsepower. All other engines get the 10-speed automatic as well; and towing capacity is up 600-lbs. over last year to 5,600-lbs.
The optional all-wheel drive system is Ford’s Intelligent 4WD; and those interested in off-pavement excursions will find up to seven drive modes with the Terrain Management System.
Despite being physically bigger, with the new chassis adding over 6-inches to wheelbase; Ford has maintained mostly the same look. The roofline does slope a little more, and overhangs are noticeably shorter; but otherwise there’s no major departure in appearance.
Seating for seven is standard, though in upper trim levels that number falls to six with second row Captain’s Chairs. Specs say all three rows are roomier, and indeed it felt that way to us. The second row being particularly comfortable, while the third row is still a little tight for full-size adults.
Ford did their best to pack Explorer full of technology, including an available 10-inch vertically-oriented tablet that’s the largest screen in a Ford to date. Both it, and the many manual controls that remain, are surprisingly user-friendly and placed in areas that are not distracting to use while driving.
Automatic Emergency Braking is standard and is part of Ford’s Co-Pilot360. Blind spot monitoring and active driving aids can be added as well.
Cargo space, under a standard power liftgate, starts at a great 18.2 cubic-ft. behind the third row, with a max of 87.8 with all seats folded. With all hybrid hardware packaged under the rear seats, those numbers are exactly the same in the Explorer Hybrid.
But here is the most important news for most current Explorer families; the new Explorer remains a very comfortable, predictable, solid vehicle to drive on pavement, while maintaining lots of grip and prowess for light to moderate off-roading as well. It goes without saying that a new Explorer equipped with Intelligent 4WD should manage most snow covered roads with ease.
For our complete road test of the 2020 Ford Explorer, be sure to catch MotorWeek episode #3901 that begins airing September 6, 2019. For a listing of the public television stations that broadcast MotorWeek, go to motorweek.org and click the “About The Show” tab at the top. MotorWeek is also seen Tuesday evenings and throughout the week on the MotorTrend cable network.
The only real question about the success of the 2020 Ford Explorer is how big that success will be. With a legion of faithful fans, and with the new design either matching or beating the features and specs of its main rivals, we think this new Explorer can only expand its domain. So, Explorer nation, your new ride has arrived.