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2020 Ford Explorer goes rear-wheel drive, gains serious tech

The new Explorer will defend its three-row SUV sales crown with more space and a big portrait-style infotainment screen you've gotta see.


Since launching in 1991, nearly 8 million Ford Explorers have been sold, making it the best-selling SUV of all time. 

Today, the current model sitting in showrooms remains the top selling three-row SUV on the market -- even though it debuted way back in 2011 and contends with a number of fresher entries. Come this summer, however, it will shed its class graybeard status when the 2020 Ford Explorer lands in showrooms sporting new styling, new technology, a new platform and a broader drivetrain lineup. The all-new crossover made its debut Wednesday before being put on display at the Detroit Auto Show next week.

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From the exterior design standpoint, the sixth-generation Explorer's appearance is best described as an evolution of today's model. Up front, there's a new grille shape, light housings and shorter front overhangs for a bit more ground clearance and better approach angle for off-road excursions. From the side, the subtle changes are more noticeable, with a tapering roofline and more sculpted profile surfaces, but overall the exterior redo is underwhelming and looks like it could've been seen on the road for a couple of years already.

Alterations inside are more apparent with new multicontour seats, tiered dash design and more spacious accommodations. That's thanks in large part to a 6.3-inch longer wheelbase that Ford says gives the new Explorer best-in-class first- and second-row hip room and second- and third-row headroom.

The exterior of the new Ford Explorer doesn't fall far from the outgoing model.


Cargo capacity is also at the top of the class with 87.8 cubic feet of space available behind the first row seats and offering the ability to carry 4x8 sheets of plywood for the first time. Other available interior niceties include heated and cooled massaging seats up front, individual climate controls in all three rows and a bigger panoramic roof.  

On the tech front, an updated Sync 3 system with an 8-inch touchscreen, Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 10 devices, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities are standard. A 10.1-inch portrait touchscreen interface is optional, along with a 14-speaker B&O audio setup. Top Platinum models also benefit from a standard 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, with varying 3D animated graphics depending on which drive mode is selected in Explorers equipped with the Terrain Management System.

To juice up smart devices, the Explorer offers a wireless charge pad up front, up to three 12-volt outlets, two USB-A and two USB-C ports and a 110-volt three-prong outlet.

An available 10.1-inch portrait touchscreen interface is one of the more substantial changes inside.


For safety, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist and rear cross-traffic alert come on all Explorers, while intelligent adaptive cruise control with traffic sign recognition, reverse brake assist and a 360-degree camera are offered on midlevel trims on up.

Everything rides on a new rear-wheel-drive architecture shared with the Lincoln Aviator that Ford says make the Explorer a little more rugged and capable, while also being on average 200 pounds lighter than the outgoing car. Base models tip the scale at 4,345 pounds. Standard power now comes from a 2.3-liter turbocharged four with 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, meaning the old 3.5-liter V6 is no more.

The engine gets mated with a 10-speed automatic transmission routing power to rear wheels or to all corners through a rear-biased all-wheel drive system with axle disconnect that's available with a seven-mode Terrain Management System. 

Towing capacity for the four punches in at 5,300 pounds, but fuel economy figures aren't available yet. Ford is simply promising better efficiency and driving range than before. For reference, the outgoing Explorer with the 2.3-liter and front-wheel drive has an EPA estimated fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, and 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway with all-wheel drive.

Those looking for more oomph will want to look at the Platinum model, which packs a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 with 365 horses, a stout 380 pound-feet of torque, all-wheel drive and 5,600-pound tow capacity. As for other drivetrain offerings, a hybrid and performance-focused ST model are confirmed to be on the way.

The 2020 Ford Explorer lineup will also include a hybrid and performance ST model.


Sales of the 2020 Ford Explorer will begin this summer with a $33,860 base price representing a $400 increase over the 2019 model. The lineup will include the base Explorer, XLT, Limited, Limited Hybrid, ST and Platinum trims. Besides the less-than-groundbreaking exterior design, the new Explorer has some drastic improvements with more space, tech and promise of improved efficiency that likely will give it a good shot at defending its title as the best-selling three-row SUV.