The Ford Explorer was fully redesigned for the 2020 model year, adding new technology and switching to a rear-wheel drive platform that makes it the most rewarding SUV to drive among its competitors. However, the Explorer had some notable shortcomings with its interior and especially value, dropping it to a fourth place finish (out of seven three-row SUVs) in our Challenge last fall. With the high sticker price, picking the right trim level becomes even more important and that’s why we’re here today.
The 2020 Explorer is offered in six trim levels but we’re only considering four of them: XLT, Limited, ST and Platinum. The Explorer does offer a base trim level, but for now it’s only available for fleet sales (though Ford’s website indicates it will be offered to consumers in the fall). There is also the hybrid version of the Explorer based on the Limited trim that we chose not to include in this comparison. There are a few reasons for this: Its fuel economy doesn’t fall that much higher than four-cylinder Explorer models (especially the AWD version), it costs an extra $4,150 and it’s not very good to drive. The hybrid didn’t have a chance of being selected here.
Which Should You Buy?
This becomes a bit of a tricky proposition because of the massive price gap between the XLT and the Limited trims. The XLT starts at $37,920 (including destination charges) and to make the jump up to the Limited, the next trim level, is $11,455 more ($49,375). Ford actually offers an equipment group that serves as a gap between these two models that adds an eight-way power passenger seat, upgraded imitation leather upholstery, LED foglights and a remote start system, but it adds a whopping $5,140 to the price tag, as well. The other problem is if you want to upgrade the safety features on the XLT via the Co-Pilot360 Assist Plus package (adds adaptive cruise control with lane centering, evasive steering assist and navigation), you have to also add this 202A mid-level equipment group, so it’s about $6,000 to add any safety features at all to the XLT.
The Limited’s equipment upgrades over the XLT are significant: heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, a 110-volt power outlet, leather upholstery and those added safety features to name a few. But at nearly $50,000, it pushes the Explorer beyond what I’d deem affordable, and that makes me reluctant to recommend it as a value pick. The two trim levels also share the same turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, which is excellent, but the lack of difference is another check in the XLT’s ledger.
Somewhat by default, I think the winner would be the XLT with both the upgraded equipment package and Co-Pilot360 Assist Plus. That bumps the pricetag up to $43,855 and gets you the better safety equipment and some added interior comforts. If you really have to have heated seats, a Comfort Package ($715) adds them to the first and second rows. This still leaves you about $6,000 short of where the Limited starts and you won’t get leather upholstery or that household outlet, but I’m sure you can find a power inverter for much cheaper.
There’s a part of my heart that says to choose the ST. The Explorer’s big switch to RWD was with an emphasis on drivability in mind; following that logic, going for the Explorer that extends that premise the furthest makes some sense. If you’re going to buy a three-row SUV with the Explorer’s shortcomings, you might as well get the fast one that’s got the big engine (a 400-horsepower, turbo 3.0-liter V-6) and is the most fun to drive. But the ST’s price tag of $55,985 is eye watering, and you’ll probably layer another one of the performance packages on top of that because the upgraded brakes are needed to bring the 4,701-pound vehicle to a stop comfortably.
The Platinum ($59,495) is too expensive to consider and isn’t even fully loaded. It comes with the same standard touchscreen you get in the XLT; to get the 10.1-inch vertically oriented touchscreen requires another options package. For that price, it should come with all of the bells and whistles.
Though each of the Explorer trims are fun to drive (both available gas powertrains really are excellent), you have to dig a bit to find the value. Thankfully, a strong set of standard safety features and a large standard touchscreen help give the XLT enough technology and creature comforts for day-to-day life so you don’t have to jump up to the very expensive top-end trim levels.
Here’s how the Explorer trim levels stack up:
2020 Ford Explorer Standard Features
The XLT base price is $37,920 with RWD and includes:
- 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine
- 8-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
- Four USB ports (two front, two for second row)
- 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot
- 4.2-inch color driver information display
- Tri-zone manual climate control
- Powered front seats
- Captain’s chairs
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Cloth seats
- Push-button start
- Cruise control
- LED daytime running lights
- 18-inch aluminum wheels
- Rear parking sensors
- Blind spot warning
- Lane keep assist
- Forward automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection
The Limited base price is $49,375 with RWD and adds:
- Leather upholstery
- Heated and ventilated front seats
- Heated second-row seats
- 110-volt power outlet
- 20-inch aluminum wheels
- Auto-dimming rearview mirror
- Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and lane centering
- Bang & Olufsen sound system
- Front parking sensors
The ST base price is $55,985 with standard 4WD and adds:
- 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6
- Black exterior trim pieces
- Quad exhaust tips
- A towing package
- 12.3-inch instrument panel display
- Sport seats
- Reverse brake assist
- Active Park Assist 2.0
- Sport-tuned suspension
The Platinum base price is $59,495 with standard 4WD and adds to the Limited:
- Aluminum exterior accents
- Twin-panel moonroof
- LED taillights
- Adaptive headlights
- 3.31 non-limited-slip rear axle
More From Cars.com:
- 2020 Ford Explorer: Everything You Need to Know
- What’s the Best 3-Row SUV for 2020?
- 2020 Ford Explorer: 6 Things We Like and 4 Things We Don’t
- 2020 Ford Explorer First Drive: Charting New Territory
- 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid: Real-World Fuel Economy
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