Buying a three-row family vehicle doesn’t mean surrendering your enthusiast card at the door. That’s the message Ford is sending with the 2020 Explorer ST, a 400bhp crossover. And if you like your SUVs set to Eco rather than Sport, the sixth-generation Explorer family also expands to include its first hybrid variant. Previously front-drive-based, Explorers now ride on Ford’s new rear-drive architecture with available all-wheel drive. Rear drive makes the Explorer, especially the ST, more exciting. It still feels like a large vehicle, but on the roads outside Portland, Oregon, it showed an agility its predecessor didn’t possess. Off-road, it benefits from short overhangs, as we discovered on a course with an 18-degree grade.
Base trims have Ford’s 300bhp, 310-lb-ft 2.3-liter turbo I-4 with a 10-speed auto. The ST and top Platinum trims both have a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, tuned to 365bhp and 380 lb-ft of torque in the Platinum versus 400bhp and 415 lb-ft in the ST. The other addition is the first Explorer Hybrid, with a 318-hp, 336-lb-ft 3.3-liter V-6 and a 10-speed modular hybrid transmission. The look is sleeker with a wider stance and sloping roofline. Still, its less boxy looks pale in comparison with the Lincoln Aviator’s or Kia Telluride’s wow factor.
Out back, the ST offers quad chrome exhaust tips and an exposed trailer hitch. (AWD and tow package are standard; the ST is rated to tow 5,600 pounds.) The ST has a high-flow exhaust with less attenuation. The engine sound is yummy. Shifts are quicker, on purpose. In Sport mode, the transmission holds gears longer; under hard braking, it downshifts to stay in the powerband on the assumption the driver will get right back into it. Brakes provide strong and confident stopping power. Sport also tightens the steering, but feel from the wheel is still a bit numb. The Limited Hybrid’s electric motor is packaged between the engine and the transmission’s torque converter, and it can drive about 3 miles in electric-only mode. Ford claims a total range of 500 miles. The new powertrain architecture’s twin independent cam timing approximates the Atkinson cycle while keeping more power. The hybrid can tow 5,000 pounds. Inside, all but the base model have standard second-row bucket seats. The second row folds and slides forward at the push of a button. An 8.0-inch touchscreen replaces the old 4.0-incher; a 10.1-inch capacitive screen is also available. For 2020, a full array of driver assist technologies help you steer, stop, speed up, park, reverse, switch to high-beams, and set the adaptive cruise control. The Explorer starts at $33,860, jumping to $37,770 for the XLT, $49,225 for the Limited, $55,835 for the ST, and $59,345 for the Platinum trim.
Base Price $33,860-$59,345
Vehicle Layout Front-engine, RWD/AWD, 6-7-pass,
4-door SUV Engine 2.3L/300-hp/310-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.0L/365-400-
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