New 2020 Ford Explorer SUV
Ford Explorer SUV
Although it may look like the outgoing model, Ford’s all-new 2020 Explorer is a significantly better vehicle in every way.
2020 Ford Explorer Pricing
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#13 in Best Midsize SUVs for 2020
While the Ford Explorer isn’t as significant to the automaker’s bottom line as the almighty F-150 pickup truck, it’s an important player nonetheless. Look around; Explorers are everywhere. Consider this: The Ford Explorer is the most popular SUV ever sold in the U.S., with all-time sales rapidly approaching the 8 million. And sales of this perennially popular three-row midsize SUV undoubtedly will be helped by the all-new 2020 Ford Explorer, which is arriving at dealerships right now.
Like the outgoing model, the 2020 Ford Explorer is a unibody design featuring a chassis made of sheet-metal stampings welded together to form the main structure of the vehicle. Whereas the old model was based on the front-drive unibody chassis of the Taurus sedan, the 2020 Ford Explorer’s new chassis has rear-wheel-drive (RWD) architecture with a longitudinal engine and transmission. As such, this new 2020 Explorer represents a return to this model’s rear-drive roots, but without the truck-like body-on-frame construction.
RELATED: Best Midsize SUVs for 2020
Here’s how the new Ford Explorer compares to its closest competition:
2020 Ford Explorer vs. Chevrolet Traverse
The 2020 Ford Explorer is smaller than the Chevy Traverse, which is one of the largest vehicles in the segment. Compared to the Traverse, the Explorer’s wheelbase is nearly 2 inches shorter and the Ford is 5.5 inches shorter overall. That translates primarily into reduced cargo space: With all seats in place, the Explorer’s cargo capacity is nearly 5 cubic feet less than the Chevy’s. With the third row folded, or with all seats folded, the Traverse has about 10 cubic feet more cargo space than the Ford. Additionally, Chevy provides seatbelt for three (small) passengers in the third row, meaning the Traverse can seat up to eight passengers, or seven with 2nd-row captain’s chairs. The Explorer third row seats just two, so maximum passenger count is seven with the 2nd-row bench or six with captain’s chairs.
All versions of the Traverse are powered by a 3.6-liter V6, while the Explorer’s mainstay engine is a 2.3-liter turbo four. The Chevy’s V6 makes 310 horsepower versus 300 for the Ford 2.3L, but the Traverse’s 266 lb-ft of torque trails the Explorer’s 310 lb-ft. The Traverse does not offer more powerful engine options to compare with the Explorer’s 365-hp or 410-hp turbo V6s. The maximum trailer-tow rating for the Traverse V6 is 5,000 pounds. The non-hybrid Explorer tows up to 5,300 pounds with the 2.3-liter or 5,600 with the turbo V6.
The starting price of the base 2-wheel-drive Chevrolet Traverse is $31,125, which is some $2,000 less than the entry-level Explorer. The top-spec Traverse is the High Country AWD, priced at $54,395—that’s about $5K less than the Explorer Platinum.
2020 Ford Explorer vs. Honda Pilot
Compared to the Honda Pilot, the 2020 Explorer rides on a 9.1-inch longer wheelbase but is only 2.3 inches longer overall, and the vehicles are nearly identical in width and height. Cargo volume and 3rd-row-seat space are also very close. Honda rates the Pilot’s 3rd-row seat for three passengers, which means that most versions of the Pilot are 8-passenger vehicles, while the top-trim levels equipped with captain’s chairs can seat seven. The Explorer’s third row accommodates two, and all Explorer trims save the base model have captain’s chairs, so the Explorer seats six or, at best, seven.
All versions of the Honda Pilot use a 3.5-liter V6 making 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, paired with either a 6-speed or a 9-speed automatic. Both those output figures are below those of the Explorer’s smaller standard engine, a 2.3-liter turbo four that musters 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. The Pilot’s maximum tow rating with all-wheel drive is 5,000 pounds, while front-drive models can tow 3,500 pounds. The Explorer with its 2.3-liter can tow 5,300 pounds, and 5,600 with its available V6, with either rear- or all-wheel drive.
The base, 2-wheel-drive Honda Pilot LX is $31,450 (plus $1,045 destination), while the Explorer’s starting price is about $1,000 higher. The Pilot Elite is the fanciest trim level at Honda and is priced at $48,020, about $10,000 less than the Explorer Platinum.
2020 Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander
Like the Explorer, the Toyota Highlander has been redesigned for 2020, and not all of the new specs are available. But the Highlander isn’t quite as extensively changed, so there are several comparisons that can be drawn. The new Highlander is slightly larger than before, but it still is smaller than the Explorer. The Toyota’s wheelbase is 9.3 inches shorter than the Explorer’s, and the vehicle is about 4 inches shorter in length. Here again, the difference can be seen primarily in the cargo hold, where the Explorer has a 2-cubic-foot advantage with all seats upright, a 7-cubic-foot advantage behind the second row, and approximately 10 cubic feet more space with all seats folded. Whereas the Explorer seats six in a 2-2-2 configuration (with the base model offering 2-3-2 seating for seven), the Highlander’s 3-passenger third row allows seating for seven with captain’s chairs or eight with a 2nd-row bench.
All versions of the Highlander (except for the Hybrid) are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 with 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. Despite the Toyota’s larger engine, its output is less than the Ford 2.3-liter turbo four’s 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft, and the Explorer further offers more powerful turbo V6 options. The V6 Highlander’s maximum tow rating is 5,000 pounds, versus 5,300 for the Explorer 4-cylinder and 5,600 for the Explorer V6.
Toyota, like Ford, offers a hybrid powertrain, and is one of the only other models in the segment to do so. Unlike the Explorer, however, the Highlander Hybrid uses a 4-cylinder gasoline engine rather than a V6, and total output is 240 horsepower compared to the Explorer Hybrid’s 318 horsepower. While EPA fuel-economy ratings are still to come for the new Highlander Hybrid, City/Highway/Combined mpg numbers for the Explorer have come in at 27/29/28 for the rear-drive version and 23/26/25 in all-wheel-drive form. We expect the Highlander hybrid to return significantly better mileage than the Explorer at the expense of some performance. Toyota is estimating 34 mpg combined, which is outstanding for this class. Another hybrid difference is that Ford offers the Explorer Hybrid in a single trim level but Toyota offers the Highlander Hybrid in multiple trim levels.
Pricing for the 2020 Toyota Highlander has not been released yet, but using 2019 prices as a rough guide, the Highlander starts about $2K less than the Explorer, and the Highlander tops out just shy of $50,000, nearly $10K below the top-spec Explorer.
2020 Ford Explorer vs. Kia Telluride
Impressive new offerings, both. The Kia Telluride, a front-drive-based unibody SUV, has just one engine, a proven 3.8-liter V6 with 291 horsepower. The Telluride’s a couple inches shorter than the Explorer, with a wheelbase five inches shorter than the Ford. From the inside, the Kia feels very roomy, thanks to its boxy shape and an upright windshield that’s not unlike that of the Ford Flex. Max tow rating of the Kia Telluride is 5,000 pounds.
2020 Ford Explorer vs. Jeep Grand Cherokee
Like the new Explorer, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a unibody SUV with a longitudinal powertrain. But the Jeep is 9 inches shorter overall than the Ford, with a wheelbase that’s down by about 5 inches. The Jeep seats a max of five in two rows; the new Explorer accommodates seven in its three rows. Both of these SUVs have diverse powertrains, the Grand Cherokee’s ranging from a 3.6-liter V6 and a diesel V6 to a 6.4-liter pushrod V8 and a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 in the super sporty Trackhawk. Besides the base turbo 2.3-liter 4-cylinder, the new Explorer is available with a twin-turbo 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 (365 or 400 horsepower) and a hybrid powertrain featuring a 3.3-liter V6 and an electric motor.
You'll Like This Car If...
- Completely redesigned for 2020
- Impressive new rear-drive platform with available all-wheel drive
- First-ever Explorer Hybrid and high-performance ST models
- Available with turbocharged 4-cylinder, two turbo V6s, and V6 Hybrid powertrains
- Seats up to seven passengers
You May Not Like This Car If...
- Can be costly with prices ranging from $32,765 to more than $60,000
- Seats seven maximum
- Third row can be tight, even for just two passengers
What's New for 2020
- All-new for 2020
- New hybrid model with a range of up to 500-miles
- New ST performance version delivers 400 horsepower
Just how does the turbo 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine feel in this new longitudinal rear-biased application? In a word: fine. The new Explorer XLT felt amply powered, able to merge onto freeways with ease and sustain highway speeds without breaking a sweat. All the while, the 10-speed automatic upshifted with a metronomic regularity. Gears 8, 9 and 10, incidentally, are all overdrive ratios, so they rarely came into play anywhere but on the highway.
What’s more, the view out the new Explorer’s windshield was excellent, aided by what felt to us like a lower cowl, and the automatic start/stop system functioned so smoothly that I felt no need to shut it off (which I typically do in most other vehicles with this fuel-saving technology).
On some twisty roads north of the Columbia Gorge, in Washington State, the new Explorer acquitted itself well. Yes, this Ford SUV weighs nearly 4,500 ponds, but it felt composed in the corners, where body roll (or lean) never got excessive. Although the all-wheel-drive (AWD) system of the new Explorer SLT disconnects the front axle on the highway for improved fuel economy (and can send as much as 50 percent of the power to the front wheels in slippery conditions), the new Explorer didn’t reveal its rear power bias when accelerating out of corners. All we felt was good acceleration and excellent overall composure.
Driving the 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid
We tested the new 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid on a short off-road course and on public roads while towing a 4,500-pound boat on trailer. Our takeaway: The new Explorer Hybrid – our tester a luxurious leather-clad Limited model, employing a 3.3-liter V6 and an electric motor integrated into the front of the 10-speed gearbox – drives much like a standard Explorer.
As with a regular Explorer, you just get in the new Explorer Hybrid and drive. Since a Hybrid was part of Ford’s original plans for this new 6th-generation Explorer, no space compromises needed to be made. For example, the liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack fits perfectly beneath the passenger side of the rear seat, so interior volume has not been negatively affected in any way.
Note: The Explorer Hybrid is not a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, so the battery is smaller than you’ll typically find in PHEVs. The one in the new Explorer Hybrid, made by Ford, is good for about two miles of pure electric driving at 30 mph. Ford, as stated, hasn’t released any fuel economy figure for the new Explorer Hybrid, but the company did say it will have an impressive range in excess of 500 miles.
On the dirt, we climbed a steep grade with complete ease, then descended a different hill with our feet off the pedals using hill descent control to maintain control of the vehicle. All worked as advertised, and a bit father on, we negotiated a banked turn that put the Explorer Hybrid at a side lean angle of 25 degrees. While that may not sound like much, it was enough to make us nervous, although not as concerned as we were when crossing a 12-inch-deep pond in this first gas-electric Explorer.
Similarly, towing a trailer in the Explorer Hybrid proved to be a cinch. The Hybrid is based on the Limited model, so it comes with a trailer hitch as standard equipment and has enough power (319 combined horsepower, 322 lb-ft of torque) to tow a 4,500 boat with ease. There was no problem getting the rig up to highway speed, and although I occasionally could feel the trailer rocking forward a bit during mild throttle adjustments on the highway, it was too subtle to be bothersome.
Driving the 2020 Ford Explorer Platinum
With its 365-horsepower twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6, the Platinum is a hot rod, an Explorer that blends thrilling power with sublime luxury. Real wood trim graces the Platinum’s dash, whose stitched leather cover complements the fine hides on the seats.
The Explorer Platinum we drove had the optional Premium Technology Package, which includes massaging seats, a 980-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo and a 10.1-inch vertically-oriented touch screen on the top of its center stack. This touch screen looks like a permanently affixed iPad, replete with swipe and pinch-to-zoom capability.
Turbo boost arrives quickly on the road in the powerful Platinum, which is also blessed with natural-effort steering, good brakes and a ride that’s comfortable without being wallowy. At a starting price of $58,250, the 2020 Ford Explorer Platinum is by no means inexpensive, but it’s well equipped with a twin-panel moonroof, LED headlights and seemingly acres of interior leather. It also has Reverse Brake Assist, which will automatically stop the Explorer if it senses you are backing up into something.
10.1-INCH VERTICALLY ORIENTED TOUCH SCREEN
The 2020 Explorer’s optional touch screen is the largest the model has ever offered, and can display multiple functions at once, and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.
12.3-INCH DIGITAL INSTRUMENT CLUSTER
On Explorer ST and Platinum, the standard instrument cluster is replaced with a 12.3-inch digital display. The display can be customized, including with a minimalist Calm Screen that shows only essential info and is supposed to reduce driver distraction.
400-HORSEPOWER ECOBOOST V6
The new Explorer ST model’s twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 produces 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque, figures that tower above most non-luxury competitors’. The ST can be further equipped with a Track Pack or a Street Pack, options that bring more robust brakes with red calipers and 21-inch wheels, the largest ever offered on an Explorer.
The 2020 Ford Explorer comes standard with a third row of seats that accommodates two passengers. The base Explorer’s second row is a 3-person bench, making for a total seating capacity of seven. Higher trim levels have a pair of captain’s chairs in the second row, meaning they seat a maximum of six. Ford claims the new Explorer has a bit more hiproom and headroom than before, and the 2nd-row seats now can slide fore and aft—a common feature that helps apportion space depending on requirements.
Cargo volume shrinks slightly in the 2020 Explorer, although the load floor now measures 48.1 inches in width between the wheelwells—its narrowest point—meaning that 4’ x 8’ building materials can lay flat (albeit sticking out the back by about a foot). The cargo floor is reversible, with carpet on one side and vinyl on the other. On some trim levels, the power liftgate can be opened by kicking a foot under the rear bumper, and power-folding of the 3rd-row seats is available.
The top-spec Platinum ups its game with leather not just on the seating surfaces but also on the dashboard and the door panels—luxury touches befitting its lofty price. Other niceties include heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel.
Although this new 2020 model still clearly looks like an Explorer, the rear-drive architecture has allowed Ford to keep the overall length about the same while extending the wheelbase by 6.3 inches. By moving the front wheels forward, Ford has reduced front overhang and improved upon every important interior dimension in all three rows of seats. The suspension features MacPherson struts in front along with a multilink independent rear. For the record, the base 2020 Ford Explorer is a 7-seater with a 2nd-row bench for three, while almost all the upmarket models are 6-seaters fitted with 2nd-row captain’s chairs.
Notable Standard Equipment
Even the entry-level Ford Explorer is well equipped. It has a power liftgate standard, along with satellite radio, dual-zone climate control, Sync connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 safety suite. The XLT ups the ante with a leather-covered steering wheel and available all-wheel drive, while the Limited and Hybrid add leather-trimmed seats, a 360-degree camera, a foot-operated hands-free power liftgate and power front seats.
In addition to its 400-horsepower engine, paddle shifters, sport suspension and unique appearance, the Explorer ST has leather-covered sport bucket seats, a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, Active Park Assist and a heated sport-style steering wheel. The Platinum model claims its spot at the top of the 2020 Ford Explorer lineup with Tri-Diamond leather seat trim, a twin-panel moonroof and wood interior trim.
Notable Optional Equipment
Depending on the model/trim level that you reach for in your new Explorer, you can find extras like leather, heated/ventilated front seats, a 10-way power passenger seat, Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+, a Qi wireless-device charging pad and as many as four USB ports (including type-C) along with three 12-volt outlets and a 110-volt outlet. These are all found on the Limited models.
At the top of the Explorer lineup — beyond the performance mods of the Explorer ST and the luxury touches on Platinum models — the bounty starts with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in place of traditional gauges. Both models also come with Active Park Assist as well, which can, at the push of a button, park the Explorer into a parallel or perpendicular spot—operating the accelerator, brake, and steering wheel—and pull it out again. This represents an upgrade over the outgoing model’s Enhanced Active Park Assist, which handles the steering but requires the driver to work the pedals.
The 2020 Ford Explorer offers a number of package enhancements as well:
Class III Trailer Tow Package: This package includes a Class III chassis-mounted hitch, along with trailer connectors and an engine oil cooler. It also includes a cargo management system that provides extra pockets in the rear cargo area and sub-floor storage for smaller items. The Tow Package is a $710 option on the XLT and Limited, and it’s standard equipment on the ST and Platinum Explorers.
Comfort Package: This $715 option, available only on the XLT, really should be called the Winter Package. It includes heated first and 2nd-row seats, plus a heated steering wheel and a windshield wiper de-icer.
High-Performance Package: Available only on the Explorer ST, this $1,595 option includes 21-inch aluminum alloy wheels and larger front brakes with red-painted brake calipers.
Premium Technology Package: Optional on the ST and Platinum, this technology package includes massaging multi-contour seats, a 10.1-inch vertically oriented touch screen (it looks like an iPad mounted atop the center stack) and a 980-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system. A bargain at only $995.
Under the Hood
The previous 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 base engine is gone from the Explorer lineup, as the turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder, previously the step-up engine offering, takes over as the standard powerplant for 2020. At the same time, it adds 20 more ponies for a total of 300 horsepower along with 310 lb-ft of torque, which is more than most competitors’ V6s. A 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 with 365 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque is exclusive to the Platinum. Powering the sporty new Explorer ST is a 400-hp version of the same engine, with 415 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers out-muscle everything in the 3-row midsize SUV segment save for the Dodge Durango SRT, with its 6.4-liter V8. Finally, an Explorer Hybrid joins the family for the first time, and pairs a 3.3-liter V6 with an electric motor. All engines use a 10-speed automatic transmission, up from the previous 6-speed.
The base, XLT, Limited, and Hybrid models are available with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The Explorer ST and Platinum come standard with all-wheel drive. Ford’s Terrain Management System consists of a series of drive modes selectable via a knob on the center console, altering dynamics including accelerator sensitivity, transmission shifting, steering effort, suspension firmness, traction-control programming, and all-wheel-drive torque management. Available modes include:
Normal, which seeks to balance comfortable motoring with some driving excitement, is intended for everyday driving.
Sport, aptly named, sharpens the throttle response and steering while providing quicker shifts. The 10-speed automatic, also used in the Mustang and Ranger, holds gears longer for faster acceleration.
Eco, via throttle and gearbox adjustments, maximizes the fuel range of the 2020 Ford Explorer. This does come with a small sacrifice in performance.
Tow/Haul improves the action of the transmission while you’re towing with your Explorer. Upshifts occur at higher engine speeds to reduce the frequency of shifts, and more engine braking is allowed, making life easier for the Explorer’s brakes during descents. The amount of downshift braking is related directly to how much pressure the driver applies to the brakes.
Slippery makes continual adjustments to the Explorer’s throttle response, transmission shifting schedule and traction control to help this Ford SUV keep moving on wet grass, slushy roads or any surface that might be covered in, say, a thin layer of sand or gravel.
Deep Snow/Sand is what you’ll need if you’re trying to reach the office before the snowplows have cleared the roads. Via steady adjustments to the throttle, shift points and traction control, this mode keeps the 2020 Explorer going, even in deep sand.
Trail is intended for use in muddy, rutted, soft or uneven terrain. As in the Deep Snow/Sand model, the Explorer’s forward mobility is significantly enhanced via a shift schedule and traction control tailored specifically the given condition.
Note: Rear-wheel-drive (RWD) 2020 Ford Explorers also are equipped with the Terrain Management System, but it doesn’t include the Deep Snow/Sand mode. We hope a limited-slip rear differential, which would help make the RWD Explorer more capable in the dirt, becomes available.
2.3-liter turbocharged inline-4 (Base, XLT, Limited)
300 horsepower at 5,500 rpm
310 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/28 mpg (RWD), 20/27 mpg (AWD)
3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 (Platinum)
365 horsepower at 5,500 rpm
380 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/24 mpg (AWD)
3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 (ST)
400 horsepower at 5,500 rpm
415 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/24 mpg (AWD)
3.3-liter V6/electric motor (Hybrid)
318 horsepower at 6,500 rpm
322 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/29 mpg (RWD), 23/26 mpg (AWD)
Estimated range: 500 miles
The base 2020 Ford Explorer, just called the Explorer, starts with a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $32,765, plus a $1,095 destination fee. An XLT, better equipped and also fitted with the 2.3, starts at $36,675. The priciest 2.3-liter Explorer, the opulently equipped Limited model, starts at $48,130.
It’s a big jump to the V6 Explorers. The sporty ST starts at $54,740, while the flagship Platinum model begins at $58,250. The new Explorer Hybrid, based on the Limited trim, begins at $53,375 and tops out at about $61,000 when fully optioned.
A 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, one of the Explorer Hybrid’s main competitors, starts at $37,320, a price that can climb to about $50,000 when you order a Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum model. Interestingly, Toyota’s destination fee is also $1,095.
The lower-end 2020 Explorers are priced in line with other 3-row midsize SUVs, but the Limited and V6 models are getting into luxury-brand territory. As always, check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for their new 2020 Ford Explorer. As far as resale value goes, it’s still early to calculate. Historically, however, while Ford Explorers can’t hang with the resale-value leaders, they do hold a strong 2nd-tier status.
RELATED: Best Midsize SUVs for 2020
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How does it compare?
|#1||2020 Chevrolet Traverse||310|
|#2||2020 Ford Explorer||300|
|#3||2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee||295|
|#4||2020 Dodge Durango||293|
|#5||2020 Hyundai Palisade||291|
|#1||2020 Ford Escape||41|
|#2||2020 Lexus UX||33|
|#3||2020 Honda CR‑V||30|
|#4||2020 Subaru Outback||29|
|#15||2020 Ford Explorer||24|
|#1||2020 Volvo XC40||5 / 5|
|#2||2020 Jeep Wrangler||4.9 / 5|
|#3||2020 Volkswagen Tiguan||4.9 / 5|
|#4||2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited||4.9 / 5|
|#20||2020 Ford Explorer||4.3 / 5|
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