• Car Review

Driven: 2020 Ford Explorer

By David Undercoffler | June 20, 2019

Autolist rating: 4/5
But would we buy it? Yep!
Price range: $33,860 - $59,345, including destination but before options

Key takeaways

  • All-new sixth generation Explorer debuts for the 2020 model year.
  • This new version rides on an all-new platform and offers a wide range of powertrain options: a base turbo four, two versions of a turbo V6 and a hybrid model.
  • Every version offers gobs of interior space and comfort in all three rows of seats.
  • On an MSRP basis, this Explorer falls short on value compared to its peers.

What is it?

59 Ford Explorer Platinum

The Explorer is the venerable midsize family SUV of which Ford has built six generations since 1991. It’s Ford’s family SUV, larger and more expensive than the EcoSport, Escape and Edge but smaller than the Expedition.

Redesigned from the ground up for the 2020 model year, this new generation of Explorer rides on an all-new rear-wheel-drive platform, offers three turbocharged gas engine options and the first-ever hybrid model.

There are five trim levels of the 2020 Explorer: Base, XLT, Limited, performance-oriented ST and the top-end Platinum.

There’s also a new Explorer Hybrid, which comes in Limited trim only for the time being.

The Explorer base seats seven passengers; all other trim levels seat six; two in the front, two in the middle and two in the rear seats, which fold when not needed.

The Base, XLT and Limited gas models come with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Multiple drive modes and rear-wheel-drive is standard with all-wheel-drive is a $2,000 option.

Both the performance-oriented ST and the high-end Platinum trims come with a 3.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged V6 engine. In the ST it makes 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque while the Platinum has 365 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel-drive is standard on both models.

Finally, the first-ever Explorer Hybrid uses a 3.3-liter V6 engine and an electric motor to make a total of 318 horsepower and 322 pound-feet of torque. It comes standard with rear-wheel-drive; all-wheel-drive is a $2,195 option.

12 Ford Explorer Platinum

All new Explorer models come with a 10-speed automatic transmission that Ford developed jointly with General Motors.

The exterior of this new generation of Explorer is roughly the same size as the previous model, but it has a bit more passenger space inside and more cargo room with the second and third-row seats folded.

The Explorer competes in one of the most popular segments in the industry: the family SUV or crossover. Nearly all of its competitors offer a third row of seats as standard or optional, with turbocharged four-cylinders or V6 engines being the norm.

Key rivals include the Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander, Dodge Durango, Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, Nissan Pathfinder and Volkswagen Atlas.

What’s good

TLDR: Awesome base engine, space everywhere, offers a hybrid.

Base engine. Forget the headlines about Ford’s (admittedly impressive) 3.0-liter turbo V6 in the Platinum or ST models; it’s the base 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo four that’s the real winner here. With 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, this engine has more than enough smooth and refined power. It’s also paired nicely with the ten-speed automatic transmission to make quick work of gear changes and acceleration on demand. So what if it’s the base choice; we came away believing this was all the engine you’ll need.

Space! Front row, middle row even the dreaded third row…they’re all perfectly capable of holding a full-sized adult for even long trips. We set up the seating to hold six six-footers and every seat in the house had more than enough head and leg room. This isn’t the case for many of Ford’s competitors in this segment, so it was refreshing to see a full-size family SUV that could actually haul an entire full-size family.

23 Ford Explorer Third Row

Hybrid availability. This may be a bit of a surprise but hybrid offerings are rare in this family-sized segment; only the Toyota Highlander currently offers a hybrid option. So kudos to Ford for making one available. We tested it and found it perfectly suitable for daily driving; the V6 won’t overwhelm you with its power but it’s more than adequate. In our roughly 50 miles of testing on both city and highway driving (and driving hard too), we saw 24 MPG without even trying. That’s great for an SUV this size and more conservative drivers will easily see higher figures. We just wish it didn’t start at $53,375.

What’s bad

TLDR: Sync still lacking, wind noise, gets pricey.

Infotainment. This generation of Explorer comes with Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, and it left a little to be desired. Not only the did the system lack enough physical buttons (too many of the functions relied on the touchscreen) but the screen’s menus were often overwhelming or counterintuitive. This was the case on both the standard eight-inch touchscreen on lower trims and the optional 10.1-inch setup on higher trims.

Gone with the wind. This is a minor gripe but we noticed a surprising amount of wind noise coming from the Explorer’s side-view mirrors, particularly on the freeway. While the rest of the driving experience was quiet and refined, this was a bit of a surprise. So if you’re planning on test-driving this latest model, make sure your route includes a jaunt on the highway to check it out.

How much? Ford worked hard to make the Explorer a sound value for the segment but we still found many of the trim levels to have a higher asking price than their comparably-equipped rivals. True, Ford dealers will likely offer incentives that bring down the sticker price but on a pure MSRP basis, the Explorer isn’t as good as value as some rivals. And the high-end Platinum version -- which easily hits $60,000 -- doesn’t have near the refinement or sophistication that it should for that kind of money.

26 Ford Explorer Platinum

5 stars of execution

Safety Features? YES

  • All Explorer models come standard with Ford Co-Pilot360, a suite of safety features that includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist and pre-collision alerts with automatic emergency braking.

  • These features are now par for the course in terms of what comes standard in this segment now.

  • It’s worth noting that many of the Explorers rivals also come standard with adaptive cruise control, which is optional on this Explorer.

  • As of this writing, NHTSA and IIHS have yet to crash-test this 2020 model.

Value? NO

  • As we mentioned, on a pure MSRP basis, the Explorer isn’t as price-competitive as many of its peers.

  • This could change at the dealership, as dealers will likely offer incentives and rebates to bring the true cost down.

  • The top-end Platinum trim that we tested pushed past $60,000, an eye-watering sum for what it is.

Efficiency? YES

  • The base Explorer engine (the 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder) with all-wheel-drive is rated by the EPA at 20/27/23 MPG city/highway/combined.

  • That’s better than most vehicles in its segment and ties other segment leaders like the Subaru Ascent and Mazda CX-9 (both of which also use a turbocharged four-cylinder).

  • Explorer fans looking for even more fuel efficiency also have the Hybrid model to consider, though fuel economy figures for that model have yet to be released.

7 Explorer ST

Driving experience? YES

  • As we mentioned, the base 2.3-liter turbo four is an excellent engine and will give buyers more than enough power for nearly any situation. The optional V6 in the Platinum is gravy on top of this, while the Hybrid gives impressive fuel economy while its V6 has plenty of scoot that doesn’t unjustly penalize you for going green.

  • The ST performance model is a real sleeper -- both in a straight line and when carving through canyons it has more of the Mustang’s handling prowess baked in than we expected.

  • Even the non-ST models handle well for their size and weight, plus they offer quiet refinement in any situation.

Execution? YES

  • The Explorer is one of Ford’s most popular models (behind its smaller Escape crossover and the venerable F Series trucks) so the automaker knew it needed to get this new generation right.

  • It largely succeeded; this 2020 Explorer is a well-rounded, thoughtful approach to how families and large crossover buyers use their vehicles today.

  • Despite a few oversights, most trim levels roll together comfort, practicality and safety in a compelling package.

Total Rating: 4 stars

What’s it gonna cost me?

ExplorerFamily HR

As we mentioned the Base Explorer starts at $33,860 (including $1,095 for destination). It comes standard with the 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, rear-wheel-drive, a ten-speed automatic transmission, the aforementioned Co-Pilot360 safety suite, eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, wifi connectivity, LED headlights, two USB ports, a power liftgate, Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The XLT version starts at $37,770 and adds unique 18-inch alloy wheels, acoustic glass, power front seats, second-row captains chairs, keyless entry and push-button start, a 6.5-inch digital cluster, heated exterior mirrors and rear parking sensors.

The Limited starts at $49,225 and adds leather seats, adaptive cruise control, wireless charging, 360-degree parking camera, power-fold third-row seats, rain-sensing wipers, and a Bang & Olufsen 12-speaker sound system.

The Limited Hybrid (the only trim level the Hybrid comes in) starts at $53,375. In addition to swapping in the hybrid powertrain, this model also adds unique 20-inch alloys wheels and active noise control.

The high-performance Ford Explorer ST starts at $55,835 and comes with all-wheel-drive, a 400-horsepower, 3.0-liter turbo V6 engine, unique interior and exterior trim pieces, a thicker steering wheel, enhanced steering and suspension tuning, sportier tires, unique 21-inch alloy wheels, quad-tipped exhaust and red brake calipers with larger brake rotors.

The Explorer Platinum starts at $59,345 and adds all-wheel-drive, the 3.0-liter turbo V6 engine with 365 horsepower, adaptive LED headlights, rear automatic emergency braking, a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, dual moonroofs and automatic parallel parking.

All-wheel-drive is an extra $2,000 on the Base, XLT and Limited models, an extra $2,195 on the hybrid model and standard on the Platinum and ST models.

34 Ford Explorer Platinum

If it were our money on the line, we’d probably just opt for the Base model plus optional AWD (if needed) and be done with it. This version offers everything that’s great about this new generation of Explorer without adding unnecessary features that drive up the cost.

Also consider

The Explorer competes in a hugely popular segment that offers many strong competitors. While we definitely recommend the Explorer, here are some others you should look at.

Mazda’s CX-9 is the driver’s choice; it doesn’t offer the power or space of most in this segment but it’s perhaps the best-looking and best-driving choice.

Hyundai’s new Palisade and its close cousin the Kia Telluride are both excellent options. They offer plenty of interior space, excellent value and compelling style. Both are absolutely worth a look.

Honda’s Pilot, Volkswagen’s Atlas and Subaru’s Ascent are also worth a test-drive. Each offers good space (especially the VW), power, safety and overall execution.

Toyota’s outgoing Highlander should be skipped since it’s outdated at this point and too small in the third row. An all-new model is due for 2020.

Also skip the Dodge Durango (heavy, old) the Chevy Traverse (basic, expensive) and Nissan’s Pathfinder (outdated).