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2020 Ford Explorer Review By Larry Nutson

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2020 Ford Explorer
Roomy, rear-drive, plus a new hybrid

By Larry Nutson
Executive Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

Ford has done it again and completely revamped the Explorer. It still looks very much like an Explorer. However, all the news is underneath the skin.

The Explorer came on the scene back in 1991. It was Ford’s first 4-door SUV replacing the Bronco II. The ’91 Explorer was truck-based, body-on-frame, rear-drive architecture with optional part-time four wheel drive. A buddy of mine had one of these in the rear-drive set up and did not like driving it in snow at all.

As years evolved so did the Explorer. Over time, we had three second-gen and one third-gen in our household. (We then downsized to a Ford Edge.) Our older daughter drove a 2-door Explorer Sport in her junior and senior high school years.

In 2011 the Explorer was again redone. This fifth-gen model was more car-like based on front-wheel drive architecture with all-wheel drive an option.

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For 2020 the Explorer has returned to a rear-wheel drive architecture. Why? For one, the improved front/rear weight distribution improves ride and handling. Also, although most Explorers are sold with all-wheel drive, for those two-wheel drive folks that load up with cargo or tow a trailer it’s better to have the weight over the driving wheels.

There are also new powertrains that are now back to being mounted longitudinally with the rear-drive setup. The base engine on the XLT and Limited is a 300-HP 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost 4-cylinder. Optional on the Limited is a hybrid 3.3-liter V6 coupled to an electric motor for a combined 318-HP. The Platinum gets a 365-HP 3.0-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V6, and there's a 400-HP version of this engine powering the new, sporty ST model. All are mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Tow rating is up too. The 2.3 EcoBoost trims have a 5,300-lb towing capacity. The Hybrid is rated with a 5,000-lb capacity. The Platinum and ST are rated at 5,600-lb towing capacity.

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Seating is for six on all trims. (There is a middle bench option.) Cargo volume behind the third row is 18.2 cu.ft., and when folded you get 47.0 cu.ft. Cargo volume maxes out at 87.8 cu.ft. with both seat rows folded. In my Explorer days, I was most pleased with the arrival of the 3-row model. We had two labrador retriever dogs that loved riding in back and our two daughters enjoyed their own center-row captain’s chairs.

As is the trend, and objective, EPA fuel economy ratings are up. With AWD, the 2.3-liter EcoBoost is rated at 20 city mpg and 27 highway mpg and the 3.0-liter V6 EcoBoost is rated at 18 city mpg and 24 highway mpg. The 3.3-liter hybrid AWD has an EPA rating of 23 city mpg and 26 highway mpg. The hybrid just might be the engine to have if you do lots of lower speed city driving.

Prices start with the XLT at $36,675. The Limited jumps to $48,130 with the ST at $54,740 and the top-line Platinum at $58,250. Shipping charge on all is $1,095.

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For my spin around my Chicagoland home I drove a Platinum trim optioned with 21-inch alloy wheels for $595 and the Premium Technology Package for $995 bringing the bottom line to $60,935 including the shipping charge.

Some cool features on the Explorer include wireless phone charging, side wind stabilization, trailer sway control, 360-degree camera, and 4G Wifi. Adaptive cruise control has a stop and go feature that is great for crawling along in highway commutes. Active Park Assist now does it all—-steer, shift, throttle and brake. Automatic rear braking is also available.

Co-Pilot360 safety features are standard including forward collision warning and mitigation with pedestrian detection, blind spot and rear cross traffic alert, lane-keep assist, and automatic high beams.

An SUV first is Michelin’s self-sealing tires. The tires contain an internal layer of soft rubber able to seal holes up to 1/4-inch in diameter.

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The Platinum trim has a 10.1-inch, vertically oriented touchscreen. It’s mounted high, within easy reach, and tactile controls include volume and tuning knobs. I didn’t like that you need to remove a glove on cold winter days to use the touch feature. B&O Sound System by Bang & Olufsen with 12 Speakers cranks out the tunes very nicely.

The new 2020 Ford Explorer has much improved ride and handling. The engine on the Platinum provides plenty of performance, but there’s a bit too much air intake noise under moderate acceleration. The hybrid offers nice economy benefits. Passenger room is quite comfortable and plenty spacious. I found the driver’s seat position to be quite good. The rotary transmission shifter is easy to use for quick changes between drive and reverse when maneuvering.

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More information and specifications on the 2020 Ford Explorer can be found at

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As for the Bronco of years ago that I mentioned, stay tuned as Ford has a new one in the works for all you off-road fans. We’ll see it later in the year.

© 2020 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy