Since starting life as something of an experiment by Ford Motor Co’s product planners more three decades ago, the Explorer has become one of the company’s major sources of revenue.
The Explorer might not have a following as large as the F-150 but the fan base is large enough and diverse enough to extend the line to satisfy an even broader range of customers with the sixth-generation Explorer that is beginning to reach dealers across the U.S. now.
The 2020 Explorer is larger, roomier, more power powerful and equipped with more technology than its predecessors. It’s also engineered to be more rugged and both the hybrid and XLT – the expected volume leader – versions of the 2020 Explorer that I drove easily mastered the short off-road course, which included steep downhill and uphill grades as well as a sweeping curve with a steep bank that I doubt very much previous generations of the Explorer could have handled.
The conditions were controlled but the overall performance on the off-road course underscored the continuing evolution of the Explorer as faces off against rivals such as the Toyota Highlander and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
(Ford investing $1B, adding 500 jobs to expand SUV production. Click Here for the story.)
In the past, despite its popularity the Explorer never had much of reputation as an off-road vehicle. The competition in the midsize SUV space has intensified in recent years with carmakers putting more capability into their SUVs just in case an owner wants to use it on a rugged trail.
I suspect that many owners have reservations about taking an expensive vehicle over rugged terrain but occasionally circumstances call for rough riding so the new generation of Explorers have more ground clearance, 8.3 inches versus 7.4 inches for the outgoing model, to give the driver the capability. Since the test drive was in Oregon there was plenty of water and 2020 Explorer showed it could easily wade through 18 inches of water.
The 2020 Explorer is also very good at towing and Ford has made a point of making towing aids available for all the different models.
The off-road piece of the road test also confirmed what I had suspected during the long on-road drives. The overall ride and handling of XLT, Hybrid and Platinum versions of the 2020 Explorer is quite solid. The steering is responsive, and brakes provide ample stopping power and the suspension and chassis layout manage various kinds of pavement without difficulty.
The Explorer doesn’t sway or roll and is actually comfortable to drive since the cabin is quiet – acoustic glass is available on the XLT, Hybrid, Platinum and ST models – and the seats are supportive even on longer drives.
The 2020 Explorer also comes equipped with the Ford Co-Pilot360 suite of driver assistance features, including automatic emergency braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Information System, Lane-Keeping System, automatic high-beam for the LED headlamps and reverse backup camera, are standard, starting with the base model. Rain-sensing wind-shield wipers are also available.
Each 2020 Explorer comes equipped with a 10-speed transmission and four-wheel-drive is available on the Base, XLT and Hybrid versions and standard on the ST and Platinum.
The 2.3-liter I-4 that produces 300 horsepower and 318-foot pounds of torque powers the Base XLT, while the Hybrid has both a lithium-ion battery and 3.3-liter that produces 318 horsepower and 322-foot pounds of torque and 500 miles of range on a single tank of gas. The Platinum Explorer is equipped with the 3-Liter Eco-Boost capable of producing 365 horsepower and 380-foot pounds of torque.
(Click Here for a look at the new Lincoln Aviator.)
All Ford Explorers are equipped with SYNC, which has had its share of problems over the years and Ford disclosed during the test runs that was updating the software the new vehicles will receive further SYNC updates via Wi-Fi throughout the vehicle’s life.
The new Explorer is also handsome with bold lines along the side of the vehicle. The overhangs, in the front and rear of the vehicle have been shortened improving the proportions from the previous generation a thought, thanks to the 2020 Explorers basic rear-wheel-drive proportions. In the past, the Explorer started life as a front-wheel-drive vehicle.
Moreover, the styling on the new Explorer looks fresh. At the same time, while it looks very different from the first-generation Explorer used in the movie “Jurassic Park”, there is still a sense of continuity with traditional Ford designs for the Explorer, which, over the years, have enjoyed an enduring popularity.
But it the wheel-base is four-inches longer than on the 2019 Explorer, making it easier to squeeze in the third row of seats.
In addition, to differentiate the five different models within the Explorer line-up for 2020, each will have their own distinctive grille with different materials, textures and color that set them apart from the other members of the family and to counter the thought that every sport utility vehicle from Ford in this class is the same. The differentiation on 2020 Explorer extends to the wheels, which are more stylized than on previous generations.
With its broad line-up, Ford has extended the pricing ladder to cover a wide range of pocketbooks. The Base model, if you can find one, starts at $32,765 before the destination charges is added or about $400 more than the current model, while the MSRP on the XLT is $36,675 without the destination charge, which is some than the comparable 2019 model.
The Hybrid, the Platinum and the ST version, however, move the Explorer into an entirely different class that into territory once reserved Land Rover or an SUV from Mercedes-Benz. The MSRP on the Explorers Limited Hybrid is $48,130, while the MSRP on the Platinum version is 58,250 and MSRP on the ST is only slightly less at $54,740.
(Ford unveiled its new Explorer Police Interceptor model. Click Here for the story.)
There is a lot to like about the new Explorer and I was impressed with the vehicle’s roominess and rock-solid stability and the quality of the ride it delivered. It is one very, versatile and capable vehicle.