2020 Ford Explorer Review

2020 Ford Explorer - Explore more with Ford's all-new 3-row SUV

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The all-new 2020 Ford Explorer was created with road-tripping in mind. It has more interior volume, the ability to tow and the capability to do some mild off-roading.
We spent two days driving around Washington and Oregon, testing all the trims and pushing it through various exercises, and all in all, Ford has done an excellent job with this newest version of the Explorer.

One of the biggest changes I noticed as a petite driver is the lower belt line and more adjustable height for the driver's seat. This created a more enjoyable driving experience for me as well as gave me better visibility out all windows.

Ford also put a lot of effort into the seats themselves, and they were very comfortable for long stints in both the driver and front passenger seat.

This is also the first time Ford has included a hybrid in the Explorer lineup, and the brilliance of this specific model is it was designed and engineered alongside the gasoline model, which means that even though there's a battery pack and some extra machinery for the transmission, the hybrid doesn't lose any interior volume or exterior capability.

While Ford hadn't announced fuel economy numbers at the time of writing this review, execs did confirm it would be the most fuel-efficient Explorer ever. That's saying something considering the base I-4 engine is estimated to deliver 24 mpg in combined driving with a 28-mpg highway rating.

For 2020, Explorer will have four powertrain options:

* The 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo I-4 will deliver 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. It will be standard in the base, XLT, Limited trims.
* The 3.0-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 will deliver 365 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. It will be standard in the Platinum.
* A specially tuned 3.0-liter EcoBoost will only be available in the sporty ST trim, and it will deliver 400 horsepower and 414 pound-feet of torque.
* The hybrid will be equipped with a 3.3-liter naturally aspirated engine and paired with an electric motor. It will have a combined output of 318 horsepower. And though EPA fuel economy numbers haven't been released, Ford estimates at least 500 miles between fill ups.

In many ways, my favorite engine was the base 2.3-liter because it didn't feel underpowered. And that was a complete surprise. I did some quick starts, fast accelerations and up-hill jogs and didn't feel this engine struggle. And that was a surprise for a 4-cylinder hauling around 4,345-pound vehicle.

Both iterations of the 3.0-liter engine were also well-done. The Platinum model had extra zip when you punched the accelerator, and the ST provided extra fun with the sport mode in the area of stiffer steering, increased throttle response and throaty exhaust note.

The powertrain in the hybrid is also really nice. You do notice the extra weight (the hybrid model weighs nearly 5,000 pounds), and the engine is certainly a bit louder, but the electric to gasoline transitions are smooth, and acceleration is decent.
Frankly, I don't think you could go wrong with any of the powertrain options, and it's all down to preference.

The Explorer is a rear-wheel drive vehicle at its base with four-wheel drive available ($2,000) on all trims. The ST and Platinum have 4WD standard.

Another great thing Ford has done with the new Explorer is add a ton of standard safety technology by including Co-Pilot360 on every trim. This will include features like automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Available safety features include adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera, reverse brake assist and evasive steer assist.

There are two additional features worth calling out more specifically: the speed sign reader and Park Assist 2.0.

While we've seen the speed sign reader previously in vehicles that read speed limit signs and pop the limit into the behind-the-wheel gauges, Explorer ties this feature into the adaptive cruise control system and will change your cruising speed as the speed limit changes.

Lest you think this precludes you from going a tad more than the speed limit, Ford has built a tolerance level into this feature up to 10 mph over the posted speed limit. So, if you are ok traveling 9 mph over the posted speed limit and you have your cruise set at 69 in a 60 mph zone, if the speed limit jumps to 70, your cruise control will automatically go up to 70 mph.

Ford owners may be familiar with an earlier iteration of Park Assist, which helps drivers find an appropriate parallel parking space and then controls the steering (while the driver controls the braking) into the space. The new Park Assist 2.0 takes over the braking as well, and all the driver has to do is push and hold the feature button for it to execute a perfect parallel park job.

This feature also assists you in exiting a parking space when you use your blinker to indicate which side you'd like to pull out of.

The design of the Explorer is mostly conservative inside and out, with the one polarizing feature being the available 10.1-inch touch screen display. It's the first thing you notice when entering the vehicle. To me, it looks like someone decided to superglue a table to the center stack at the last minute to compete with automakers who've been adding larger infotainment systems.

I've heard some people really like this, but I haven't talked to any of those people myself.

Thankfully, this is an option. And I'd choose the 8-inch display every day, all day long. It is worth noting, the 10.1-inch screen is included with the Premium Technology Package ($995), so if you really want the multi-contour seats with a massaging function, you'll have to get the screen as well.

There will be a base Explorer, but it will hit dealers slightly later than the rest of the lineup, so pricing and trim inclusions haven't been posted. Currently the lineup starts with the volume-selling XLT trim and tops off with the posh Platinum.

Pricing and features are as follows:

* XLT ($37,770): This trim comes standard with the 2.3-liter I-4 EcoBoost engine and includes features such as the 8-inch touch screen, power liftgate, Co-Pilot360, cloth seating surfaces, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Sync 3 and second-row captain's chairs. One note here: Though the price to add bench seats is listed as $495, when I tried to add them in the online configurator, it made me also add the 202A package group, which increased the price by $4,635.
* Limited ($49,225): This trim adds feature such as Co-Pilot Assist+, B&O Sound system with 12 speakers, 360-degree camera, power fold third-row seats and navigation.
* Limited Hybrid ($53,375): This trim adds the 3.3-liter hybrid engine, but is otherwise similarly equipped to its gasoline counterpart.
* ST ($55,835): This trim adds the specially tuned 3.0-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine as well as a sport-tuned suspension, standard AWD, quad chrome exhaust tips, black mesh inserts, black liftgate applique, gloss black mirror caps and an ST interior.
* Platinum ($59,345): This top-tier trim has the regularly tuned 3.0-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine and adds things such as the tri-diamond pattern perforated leather seating surfaces, twin-panel moonroof and 12-3 inch digital gauge cluster.
Explorer is currently hitting dealers now.

The Bottom Line:  I really liked the all-new Explorer, but I must issue a caveat: At the time of writing this, I have driven neither the new Kia Telluride nor the Hyundai Palisade - both of which will compete in this space and have been getting rave reviews.

We were able to test pretty much every Explorer trim and didn't find too much of a difference between materials used in the XLT vs. the Platinum - which is great for the XLT, but perhaps not so great for the Platinum.

For my money, I'd likely opt for the XLT and add in the leather seating surfaces with the heated front seats. But because of the plethora of standard safety features, I'm not sure I'd need to add much else - especially not that 10.1-inch screen.

Editor's Note: Driving impressions in this "First Look" review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Ford Motor Co. covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.



Jill Ciminillo

Jill has been writing about cars for more than 15 years, representing the female point of view amongst her predominantly male colleagues. And since something like 80 percent of all car-buying decisions are either made by or influenced by women, that's nothing to sneeze at. Formerly the online automotive editor for the Chicago Sun-Times and the print auto editor for Pioneer Press Newspapers, this 5th percentile (aka petite) female tells it like it is from the fun to the functional. Jill recently served as the first female president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and currently sits on its Board of Directors as President Emeritus. In her 9-to-5 job, Jill is the automotive editor for Sinclair Broadcast Group.