2019 Detroit Auto Show – First Look: 2020 Ford Explorer
Standard Turbo Power, Dynamic Rear-Drive Platform Headline New Family SUV
Take a quick glance at the all-new 2020 Ford Explorer and you’d be forgiven if you thought it was a mild refresh of the old family SUV. Its styling features the same pillar treatment, mildly chiseled body surfacing, and arrow-shaped taillights of the 2019 Explorer, itself a vehicle whose bones date back to the 2011 model.
But looks can be deceiving, as the 2020 Explorer is completely redesigned from stem to stern, not the least of which under its familiar skin.
Its most obvious exterior styling changes are found up front, where an all-new fascia can be found. Restyled to emphasize a modern, aerodynamic look, the Explorer’s front grille and headlights appear to be “frenched” together in a single body opening. Beneath the headlamps are blade-like foglights, floating within air curtain–generating front bumper vents. Down low, the black plastic front bumper gets a silver skidplate, imparting at least a little ruggedness for the new SUV. We must admit, we don’t love the new front fascia as much as the outgoing model’s, but at the very least, it’s more distinctive and Ford-specific than the old Explorer’s Range Rover–aping front styling.
Around the sides, the Explorer soldiers on with blacked-out A, B, and D-pillars, with a cantilevered C-pillar visually holding up the roof structure. Ford has also smoothed out the body-side surfacing, giving the 2020 Explorer a much more cohesive, graceful design than the trying-too-hard-to-be-rugged crossover it replaces. Squint and you’ll also notice revised window openings, with a beltline that rises toward the rear and a slightly more upright rear backlight to give the Explorer a more windswept look.
The rear quarter styling, like the rest of the SUV, is merely revised rather than revolutionary, but that’s not a bad thing. Modernized LED taillights, more restrained use of chrome, and slick exhaust outlets show that Ford is paying attention to modern trends and giving the family SUV some grace to go along with its space. It’s in the rear quarter, however, that we start to realize that things might be different under the skin of the 2020 Explorer, as a clearly shorter front overhang, longer dash-to-axle ratio, and extended rear overhang betray that the new SUV is returning to its rear-drive roots.
Platform MagicRiding on Ford’s all-new modular platform, the Explorer is abandoning the dowdy front-drive proportions and vanilla driving experience of its predecessor, which rode on the same platform as the Taurus fullsize sedan. While it doesn’t return to the body-on-frame ruggedness of Explorers from 2010 and before, the new rear-drive architecture is a step in the right direction in terms of performance and styling. Predictably for a modern redesign, the 2020 Explorer has also lost some weight: 4,345 pounds to start compared to 4,458 for its predecessor.
Also new to the Explorer are its powertrain offerings. Gone is the standard, naturally aspirated 3.5L V-6, replaced in the base Explorer, XLT, and Limited by a 2.3L EcoBoost I-4. Closely related to the mill found in the Ranger midsize pickup, the Explorer’s I-4 produces a stout 300 hp and 310 lb-ft. It’s also tuned to run on regular fuel, and the base engine is capable of towing up to 5,300 pounds if equipped with a towing package.
The standard engine for the top-dog Explorer Platinum is Ford’s all-new 3.0L twin-turbocharged V-6, found in such models as the mechanically similar Lincoln Aviator midsize SUV. In the Ford, expect 365 hp and 380 lb-ft, holding the line on horsepower but upping torque 30 lb-ft compared to the 2019 Explorer’s 3.5L EcoBoost V-6. Max towing capacity moves to 5,600 pounds, up 600 compared to the outgoing 3.5L EcoBoost. Ford claims those numbers are new personal records for Explorer, but the V-8 models sold between 1995 and 2010 were able to tow more.
Both engines are equipped with a 10-speed automatic transmission, and the Platinum’s V-6 comes standard with “intelligent four-wheel drive with front axle disconnect.” The I-4–equipped Explorers come standard with rear-wheel drive, though the same all-wheel-drive system is available. A low-range transfer case is not available, and we don’t foresee one coming to the Explorer any time soon.
Still a question mark, powertrain-wise, is what will be found under the hood of the forthcoming Explorer Limited Hybrid and Explorer ST. We think it’s fair to assume those two propulsion choices will closely mirror what’s found in the recently revealed Police Interceptor Utility. The hybrid police vehicle will come with a 3.3L V-6 mated to a lithium-ion battery and electric motors, while the fastest cop car will come with a likely more powerful version of the 3.0L V-6, possibly boasting up to 400 hp and 400 lb-ft.
Living SpaceFord says the new 2020 Explorer has the most roomy interior the nameplate has ever boasted, with 152.7 cubic feet of passenger space split between seven seats. There’s also 18.2 cubic feet of luggage space behind those seats, a slight decrease compared to 2019. With the third-row seat stowed, there’s 47.9 cubes, an increase of 4 over 2019, and with all seats folded, there’s 87.8 cubic feet of space, up 6.1.
That roomy new interior has been completely redesigned with thoughtful touches and modern features that Ford thinks customers won’t realize they needed until they get used to living with them. Among those is a unique tablet holder at the rearmost part of the optional second-row center console. This tablet holder allows the two third-row occupants to share entertainment together. Another useful feature is a one-hand E-Z entry second-row seat, which Ford says can be operated by a small child for easier carpool loading and unloading. This single-step process also yields a larger entry to the third row.
The Explorer’s tech suite has also been comprehensively updated to include an available, all-digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 10.1-inch vertically oriented touchscreen. Somewhat confusingly, this center touchscreen isn’t integrated into the dash, instead standing out above the center stack’s hard buttons for the climate controls. Ever ridden in an Uber or Lyft in which the driver is using an iPad to navigate? That’s about what it looks like in the 2020 Explorer. We’ll give the new SUV a pass because, A: the vertical touchscreen is optional, and B: it looks to actually be pretty functional, with a full-screen map view and pinch-to-zoom and swiping capability.
Elsewhere in the interior, expect Ford-grade ergonomics and materials choices. That means pleasant soft-touch plastics and relatively simple secondary controls, but no French-stitched leather upholstery on the dashboard or hand-laid wood trim. Come into the Explorer expecting a nice family car and you won’t be disappointed.
Ford will make Co-Pilot 360 standard on the Explorer, giving the popular SUV standard automatic emergency braking, front collision detection, blind-spot monitoring with a trailer setting, a lane-centering system, automatic headlamps, and a rearview camera. These types of advanced safety features are becoming more and more commonplace, with Ford leading the charge in putting them in the kinds of commodity cars people drive every day.
Ford says to expect the 2020 Explorer in showrooms this summer. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but expect it to creep up a bit from the current Explorer’s $33,460. A sub-$35k 2020 Explorer would be competitive in the large family SUV segment, given its newfound suite of active safety features, expanded interior room, and tech-friendly interior. Add in a dynamic, rear-drive–biased platform and energetic turbo powertrains and you have a recipe that’s in no danger of ruining the Explorer’s bestseller status.