Competes with: Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander
Looks like: A sleeker, slicker take on the current Explorer
Drivetrains: Turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder (300 horsepower), turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 (365 hp); 10-speed automatic transmission; rear- or all-wheel drive.
Hits dealerships: Summer 2019
Ford claims the Explorer is the best-selling SUV of all time, with more than 7.7 million sold since its 1991 debut and more than 3.6 million still on the road today. What started out as a truck-based, rear-wheel-drive SUV went to a car-based, front-wheel-drive crossover in 2011 — but now it’s come full circle, as the new 2020 Explorer has arrived, and it is once again a rear-wheel-drive SUV. The new Explorer doesn’t share mechanicals with the new Ford Ranger, however: It’s based on an all-new platform shared with both the Ford Police Interceptor Utility and the upcoming 2020 Lincoln Aviator.
From the outside, you’d be forgiven for asking what’s new about the 2020 Explorer. For a vehicle that sits on an all-new platform, it looks remarkably similar to the previous-generation, front-drive-based model. But look closer, and you’ll notice the proportions are very different: The rear-wheel-drive layout enables a much shorter front overhang and longer rear cargo area, giving the new Explorer a leaner, sleeker look overall. Compared with the outgoing model, the new one is a little bit bigger, with a slightly longer wheelbase that lends more interior room. The body has more aluminum than before, as well as more boron high-strength steel, for an overall weight savings on average of about 200 pounds, depending on the model.
As before, the Explorer is a three-row SUV like the Dodge Durango, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and many other big mid-size SUVs. Ford says the new Explorer has best-in-class cargo room and best-in-class second- and third-row headroom, while offering more hip room in the second and third rows than the outgoing model.
The interior, like the rest of the vehicle, is all-new for 2020. Cloth is standard, but leather is optional depending on the trim. Ford will offer seven: standard, XLT, Limited, Hybrid, Limited Hybrid, Platinum and ST; more details on the Hybrid and ST are coming soon. Ford touts the cargo area’s flat load floor and “apple catcher” divot in the rear, which prevents loose items from rolling out when you open the liftgate. The area also features a reversible cargo mat — one side carpeted, the other with a rubberized coating for muddy or dirty items.
The front seats have optional eight-way power adjustment with heating, ventilation and five different massage functions. The second row can be a standard bench or optional captain’s chairs, making the Explorer a six- or seven-passenger SUV. The second and third rows also have Latch anchors for child seats in every position. Optional is Ford’s one-touch “E-Z Entry” second-row seats, which tilt and slide forward at the touch of a button on the seatback top.
Ford says that it’s quieter cabin, too, with copious new acoustic laminated glass and optional active noise cancellation through the audio system. You can specify premium audio, as well, with an optional 14-speaker, 980-watt B&O sound system available. A big dual-panel moonroof is also an option.
The new Explorer will feature some interesting technology, too. A fully digital instrument cluster is optional, and it features some fun animations when you choose between the various drive modes. Most interesting on the interior is the optional 10.1-inch, vertically oriented touchscreen in the center console, equipped with the latest version of Ford’s excellent Sync 3 multimedia system. Standard is an 8-inch horizontal screen with Sync 3; drivers can also connect smartphones through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Explorer also offers up to four USB ports (including USB-C outlets), an optional 110-volt power outlet up front and three available 12-volt sockets throughout the interior. FordPass Connect is standard, giving every Explorer 4G Wi-Fi with the ability to connect up to 10 wireless devices. It also features a 50-foot range for Wi-Fi, so you’re able to use your wireless devices from outside the vehicle (provided the SUV is on).
Under the Hood
The Explorer’s standard drivetrain is a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with a healthy 300 horsepower and 310 pounds-feet of torque. It works with a 10-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels; all-wheel drive is optional. The optional engine is a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 365 hp and 380 pounds-feet of torque in the Platinum trim, mated exclusively with all-wheel drive.
The Explorer also features Ford’s Terrain Management System, an electronically controlled mode selector that enables different traction programs for varying environments. Get AWD, and seven modes are available: Normal, Trail, Deep Snow/Sand, Slippery, Sport, Tow/Haul and Eco. The Terrain Management System monitors steering position, wheel speed and other inputs to adjust throttle response, shift points and traction control based on what you select.
Maximum towing capacity is 5,600 pounds with the 3.0-liter V-6 and all-wheel drive. Explorers equipped with the 2.3-liter engine and Class III Trailer Towing Package can haul up to 5,300 pounds (a big jump from the 3,000 pounds the current base-engine Explorer can manage).
Ford has upped its safety game with the Explorer by including a Ford Co-Pilot360 system as standard on all models. This includes several specific standard features: automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, lane keep assist, a rearview camera with washer and automatic high-beam headlights. Reverse automatic braking is also available; if the Explorer’s backup sensors detect an object, it will automatically stop before a collision if the driver doesn’t react to warnings. Available adaptive cruise control can now read speed-limit signs to automatically adjust the vehicle’s speed if the driver desires; you can set an offset of up to 10 mph if you don’t want to strictly adhere to a given area’s limits.
Active Park Assist 2.0 makes its debut on the new Explorer, with hand- and foot-free automatic parallel or perpendicular parking. No longer must you operate the brake and shifter; now you just need to keep your finger on a button on the center console, and the Explorer will work the gas, brakes and steering to pull into or out of a detected spot. Lift your finger from the button and the system immediately stops the vehicle. A safety belt monitor is also standard, able to detect if any occupant of the vehicle in any seat is not wearing his or her seat belt and alert the driver with a graphic on the gauges.
The new Explorer hits dealerships this summer.
Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.