Considering the growing importance of SUVs and for Ford, in particular, the role that the Explorer plays, it’s no surprise that the automaker will be offering more versions of the big utility vehicle than ever for 2020, including a first-ever hybrid and an all-new performance variant, the Explorer ST.
Ford gave the world a first look at the fourth-generation Explorer at a splashy event in downtown Detroit last week. It saved the two new versions for a Monday debut during the North American International Auto Show. The entire Explorer line-up is set to roll out of Ford’s big Chicago Assembly Plant a few months from now.
“This new generation of Explorer recognizes that every family – and every driver – is unique,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s executive vice president of product development and purchasing. “With an all-new ST and an all-new hybrid, there truly is an Explorer for every adventure.”
The Explorer Hybrid marks the first time the automaker has offered a gas-electric version of one of its SUVs since pulling the smaller Escape Hybrid off the market several years ago. How strong a demand there is for the higher-mileage model remains to be seen but Ford sees it as crucial to meeting the ever-stricter U.S. mileage mandate set to phase in between now and 2025.
(Ford backs SUV push with new 2020 Explorer. Click Here for the story.)
The automaker hasn’t released specific city, highway and combined mpg numbers yet but suggests the Explorer Hybrid will deliver “more than 500 miles” of range in rear-wheel-drive configuration. Expect less for the all-wheel-drive version.
The drivetrain pairs a 3.3-liter gas engine running in the more efficient Atkinson cycle with a single electric motor. The package delivers a combined 318 horsepower and 336 pound-feet of torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission.
The system relies on a liquid-cooled 1.5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery that will permit a modest mile or two of all-electric driving, according to Ford engineers.
What’s more significant, they say, is that the Explorer Hybrid will avoid the loss of any passenger and cargo space – a problem that plagued the old Escape Hybrid and other HEV models – by mounting the battery under the load floor. Officials declined to say whether there’s enough room to expand that pack in the future to bring out a plug-in hybrid, perhaps even an all-electric version, but a PHEV does appear possible.
Meanwhile, the Hybrid is “a fully capable off-road vehicle that makes no compromises,” said Lee Newcombe, Explorer’s marketing manager, noting it can also tow up to 5,000 pounds.
At the other end of the spectrum is the 2020 Explorer ST – which is set to become the second Ford ute to get that performance designation following the launch of the Edge ST last autumn.
“SUV buyers no longer have to give up their driving thrills,” suggested Scott Slimak, the Explorer vehicle engineering manager, at a recent media backgrounder on the 2020 Ford SUV. “This is a genuine Ford performance vehicle.”
The decision to introduce a high-performance version of the Explorer should come as no surprise for several reasons. First, Ford is abandoning virtually all of its passenger car line-up but for the sporty Mustang. And many of the automaker’s competitors are rolling out performance versions of their own utes.
(Click Here for more about the new Explorer.)
Ford is billing the Explorer ST as the fastest three-row SUV you can buy for under $60,000, though it hasn’t released hard performance numbers yet beyond claiming a 143 mph top speed.
What we do know is that it will be powered by a twin-turbo version of the 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6 making 400 hp and 41 lb-ft of torque and paired with a performance-tuned version of Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive is standard for the Explorer ST.
The ST badge means it will get more than just a big engine, of course. There’s a sport-tuned suspension and upgraded brakes, as well as a performance exhaust system that should deliver plenty of rumble and grunt. Like other versions of the Explorer, there’ll be a terrain management control. Here, however, you’ll not only be able to adjust vehicle settings for situations like snow or mud but also for serious on-road performance driving. In Sport Mode there’ll be quicker shifts and tighter steering and that performance exhaust will kick in.
There are some exterior tweaks that both improve aero and give a bit more of a sporty look to the Ford Explorer ST, including quad exhaust tips. Inside, meanwhile, the performance model will get a flat-bottom steering wheel.
Upgrade include an ST Street Pack and an ST Track Pack, both coming with 21-inch aluminum wheels that barely conceal bright red brake calipers.
“We designed it to be an ST from the beginning,” said Ed Krenz, Ford Performance chief functional engineer. “There’s no mistaking its ST DNA. It has a performance feel with sustained performance capability, and wears an unmistakably ST appearance. More than anything, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to drive.”
All versions of the 2020 Ford Explorer share an all-new, rear-drive-oriented platform. The SUV boasts a completely new design – slightly tweaked for each model. The Explorer also delivers a number of new tech features, including an upgrade 10.1-inch vertically oriented touchscreen and a number of advanced driver assistance systems.
(To see more about the new Ford Edge ST, Click Here.)
Ford hasn’t revealed pricing for the Explorer Hybrid and ST models but notes that a base 2020 Explorer starts at $33,000, a modest $400 bump up from the outgoing model.