The 2020 Ford Explorer returns to its roots, sort of. This sixth generation of the truck-based, body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive SUV that debuted in 1990 as a 1991 model is once again RWD for 2020. Along the way, it went from truck-based to car-based unibody construction and from RWD to front-wheel drive. Oh, the humanity. Although Ford has brought back RWD, returning the engine layout from transverse to longitudinal, Explorer remains a car-based SUV. That’s fine with us. Yes, some of the capability is lost with unibody, but the ride is vastly better.
Ford is calling this a ground-up redesign, and indeed it is. You don’t notice it so much in the exterior design, but underneath the skin, just about everything is different. Explorer offers three powertrain choices, including a hybrid setup, a 4-cylinder mill and a V6, all mated to an all-new 10-speed automatic transmission with up to seven drive modes. Capable of towing up to 600 lb more than the previous model, when appropriately equipped, the 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 also makes this the most powerful Explorer ever.
Six grades (standard, XLT, Limited, Limited Hybrid, ST and Platinum) comprise the Explorer family. Every Explorer comes with the standard suite of safety/driver-assist technologies called Ford Co-Pilot360. Also standard on all trim levels are a power rear lift gate, 8-in touchscreen with Sync 3, FordPass Connect Wi-Fi capability for up to 10 devices, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Ford reconfigured the interior space, allotting more usable room for passengers. The third row is still tight, as is cargo space behind the third-row seat, but otherwise, the cabin is welcoming. There is an available power-fold adjustment for the third row and an easy-entry second row that allows easier entry and exit to the third row. Both rows of rear seats fold flat with the cargo area, providing a space wide enough to accommodate 4-ft building materials.
The better handling that RWD brings helps ensure Explorer delivers a top-notch driving experience. Blend that with more towing capacity, an impressive suite of safety/driver-assist features, connectivity technology and comfy cabin and you have a three-row SUV suitable for family outings as well as some serious work. Midsize CUV/SUV is a crowded segment with big-name rivals like the well-established Chevrolet Traverse and relative newcomer the Kia Telluride. We think the redesigned Explorer is up to the task.
Explorer is completely redesigned for 2020. See the 2020 Ford Explorer models for sale near you
What We Like
- Two efficient gas-engine choices
- Ford Co-Pilot360 is standard on all grades
- Easy-to-use infotainment system
- Sporty ST performance model
What We Don’t
- For-kids-only third-row seat
- Cheesy materials dominate the interior
No matter the powertrain, a 10-speed automatic transmission sends power to the wheels. Standard in the Limited and lower trims is a 300-hp 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that generates 310 lb-ft of torque. RWD models get a government-estimated 21 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg in combined driving. Opting for AWD scrubs a mere 1 mpg off each measure to 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway/23 mpg combined.
In place of the 2.3L in the AWD ST and Platinum grades is the 3.0-liter turbocharged V6. In the ST, it develops 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. In the Platinum, output drops to 365 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is an estimated 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway/20 mpg combined.
The Limited Hybrid uses a 3.3-liter gas engine and a single electric motor situated between the engine and transmission to generate go. Together the engine and motor develop 318 hp and 322 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy numbers for RWD are 27 mpg city/29 mpg highway/28 mpg combined. Opting for AWD drops those numbers to 23 mpg city/26 mpg highway/25 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The 2020 Ford Explorer comes in six grades: standard Explorer, XLT, Limited, Limited Hybrid, ST and Platinum. Standard on the ST and Platinum, AWD is a $2,000 option on the standard Explorer, XLT and Limited. It’s a $2,195 option on the Limited Hybrid. All prices include the $1,245 factory delivery charge.
The standard Explorer ($34,010) comes standard with 18-in painted aluminum wheels, auto on-off LED headlights, LED taillights, power lift gate, tri-zone automatic climate control, configurable daytime running lights, capless fuel filler, tilt-and-telescopic steering column, Ford MyKey, power door locks, power heated outboard mirrors, power windows, remote keyless entry with remote start, cloth seating, 40/20/40 split-folding second-row seat, 50/50 split-folding third-row seat, eight air bags, Bluetooth connectivity, FordPass Connect, six-speaker audio system with three USB ports, satellite radio capability, FordPass Connect with 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Ford Co-pilot360 with pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, rearview camera and automatic high beams.
The XLT ($37,920) additions or upgrades include second-row captain’s chairs with power fold, upgraded cloth seating, LED signature lighting, roof-rack side rails, acoustic-laminate window glass, 8-in touchscreen and Keyless Entry Keypad.
The Limited ($49,375) adds 20-in polished aluminum wheels, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, ambient cabin lighting, universal garage-door opener, leather seating, second-row armrest with cupholders, heated second-row seats, power-fold third-row seat, dual chrome exhaust tips, hands-free power lift gate, LED fog lamps, power-folding outboard mirrors with integrated turn-signal indicators, rain-sensing wipers, a Bang & Olufsen audio system and Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist Plus that helps the driver steer the car.
The Limited Hybrid ($53,525) contains all the features of the Limited but substitutes the hybrid system for the 2.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder.
The ST ($55,985) adds the V6 turbo, AWD, hill-descent control, sport-tuned suspension, Terrain Management System, Active Park Assist 2.0, unique sport steering wheel, unique interior accents and quad chrome exhaust tips,
The Platinum ($59,495) adds run-flat tires, illuminated front scuff plates, twin-panel moonroof, perforated-leather seating with accent stitching, reverse brake assist and various Platinum-unique exterior accents.
Many standard features on upper grades are options on lower trim levels. The Premium Technology Package available on the ST and Platinum comes with Multicontour Seats, a 10.1-in LCD touchscreen and a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen surround-sound audio system.
Every Explorer comes with eight air bags and the typical safety systems like stability control, traction control and antilock brakes. No matter the grade, the Ford Co-Pilot360 is standard. Limited and higher grades also get the Co-Pilot360 Assist Plus.
In crash tests performed by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Explorer received the highest score of Good in all but the small-overlap front crash test, in which it received the second-highest score of Acceptable. The government has yet to crash test the 2020 Explorer.
Behind the Wheel
RWD brings a totally different dynamic to driving the Explorer. It offers better balance and more control. No question that the turbo V6 is the most enthusiastic of the available powertrains, but even the 2.3-liter turbo four-banger manages to deliver acceptable power to the wheels. This is the same turbo four found in Mustang.
A common complaint regarding the new Explorer is the overwhelming amount of plastic found in its cabin. Although comfortable enough, much of the hardware doesn’t seem appropriate for a $50,000 vehicle. All of the controls, however, are logically arranged and there are hard controls for the audio volume and tuning.
Other Cars to Consider
We think the XLT grade hits the sweet spot in the Explorer lineup. Priced under $40,000, it’s still loaded with technology and features. The Limited does take you into what many might consider luxury territory, but the more than $11,000 it takes to get there is a bit much for us. Find a Ford Explorer for sale