2019 Detroit Auto Show – First Look: 2020 Ford Explorer ST and Hybrid
Ford Gives SUV First-Ever Performance Model and Efficiency Special
We’ve already had a look at the 2020 Ford Explorer in its conventionally powered grades, and we like where the nameplate is going so far. With an all-new, rear-wheel-drive platform with available all-wheel drive, a new lineup of turbocharged powertrains, and revised styling inside and out, the Explorer promises to continue the SUV’s bestseller trend.
But for the first time in the SUV’s history, Ford will give it a dedicated performance variant as well as a hybrid powerplant, bookending the Explorer with both efficiency and exciting performance.
Do Your BeSTThe second Ford Performance–designed SUV, the Explorer ST promises to be very exciting indeed. The company calls it the most powerful and fun-to-drive Ford SUV ever, and we have no reason to doubt that claim.
It makes use of the same 3.0L twin-turbocharged V-6 found in the flagship Explorer Platinum, but in the ST, the mill is tuned to produce an impressive 400 hp and 415 lb-ft (up 35 in both metrics from the Platinum). Fit with the same 10-speed automatic transmission as is found in other Explorer models (as well as the outrageous F-150 Raptor), expect swift shifts from the Explorer ST, giving it impressive reflexes and some exuberance that’s long been missing from the family SUV.
Furthermore, the Explorer ST will be available with two different optional packages: ST Street Pack and ST Track Pack. Both will include 21-inch wheels, red-painted brake calipers, vented rotors, and larger brake pads for improved performance, although the brake package for the ST Track Pack will be a bit more aggressive than the ST Street Pack. Standard all-wheel drive will improve the ST’s nimbleness and stability around corners, although we hope for a Focus RS–inspired drift mode for the system.
The ST promises to be very versatile as well, with a standard Class III towing package, cargo management system, and Active Park Assist 2.0 that is able to parallel- and perpendicular-park the SUV at the touch of a button. Unlike previous systems, 2.0 is even able to manipulate the brakes and gearshift, easing concerns for the driver.
The ST is set apart from other Explorers visually thanks to a black finish for the mesh grille insert, tailgate applique, roof rails, and “EXPLORER” script on the front hood. Unique wheels and body styling also help distinguish the ST from its more sedate brethren. Inside, the sporty Explorer gets a standard 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, micro-perforated leather sport seats with City Silver accent stitching, and plenty of ST logo embroidery and badges throughout.
A sport mode, engaged through the Explorer’s drive mode dial, results in tighter steering, sharper throttle mapping, and a more aggressive shift strategy from the 10-speed. Unfortunately, it also amps up the volume of the “enhanced engine note” played from the cabin speakers. Phony exhaust sound aside, it should still be a fun drive.
It’s Easy to Be GreenOnly one 2020 Explorer powertrain will be naturally aspirated, and it’s the 3.3L V-6–powered Hybrid. Based on the well-equipped Limited trim level, the Explorer Hybrid produces a combined 318 hp from the gas engine and liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery. Ford is rightly proud of the battery’s placement under the second-row seats, leaving cargo and passenger space uncompromised. The company claims such packaging sacrifices are a thing of the past, good news to anyone who’s ever tried to cram luggage in the trunk of a Fusion Hybrid.
The Hybrid’s 10-speed automatic transmission is optimized for efficiency, giving the Explorer Hybrid an estimated highway range of more than 500 miles. Extrapolated from the SUV’s 19.3-gallon tank, that means a highway fuel economy rating of at least 26 mpg—we think both the freeway range and fuel economy rating are conservative, and we won’t be surprised to see the SUV hit 30 mpg.
Available in rear- or all-wheel drive, the Explorer Hybrid will come standard with Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane centering, automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and more. Also standard on the Hybrid are micro-perforated leather seats with contrast stitching, heated seats for the second row, and a 14-speaker B&O audio system.
Like the rest of the 2020 Explorer range, we expect to see both the Hybrid and ST in dealer showrooms around the middle of the year. Pricing is a question mark for both, but don’t expect to get much change from $50,000 whether you go hybrid or sporty.