DETROIT – Look no farther than the windshield A-pillars for evidence the ’20 Ford Explorer is an all-new and much-improved vehicle.
Gone are the massive, tree trunks that obstructed visibility and made the previous-generation model seem too large and hard to drive. In its place is a significantly slimmer upholstered pillar made of ultra-high-strength steel that is carefully canted to minimize visual blockage.
That’s what happens when you build an all-new, rear-drive, three-row SUV from the ground up instead of re-engineering a car platform into a utility vehicle, says Bill Gubing, Explorer chief engineer. The outgoing Explorer, introduced as an ’11 model, required a series of compromises such as the oversized roof pillars needed to meet roof-crush protection requirements. Despite its faster windshield rake, the ’20 Explorer meets that requirement using a triangular pillar structure that extends above the door frame and runs all the way back to the B-pillar.
Ford reveals the sixth-generation Explorer at a special event tonight prior to its premiere next week at the North American International Auto Show. The Explorer goes on sale this summer with a base price increase of $400, Ford says. The ’19 model base price, excluding delivery charges, is $32,365.
Gubing says the new architecture knocks 200 lbs. (91 kg) off the curb weight, has better second-and third-row access and provides an overall roomier and more comfortable interior with increased cargo space.
Added standard equipment includes a 300-hp, 310-lb.-ft. (420-Nm) 2.3L EcoBoost turbo I-4 (up 20 hp) hitched to a 10-speed automatic transmission, with LED headlights and taillights, a power liftgate, rotary shifter and electronic emergency brake, 8.0-in. (20.3-cm) touchscreen with Sync3 and WiFi, four USB charging ports and dual-zone climate control.
The optional engine is a 3.0L EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 producing 365 hp and 380 lb.-ft. (515 Nm) of torque, enabling a 600-lb. (272-kg) increase in towing capacity to 5,600 lbs. (2,540 kg) over the current model powered by a 365-hp, 350-lb.-ft. (475-Nm) 3.5L turbo V-6.
Thanks to the rear-drive chassis, 2.3L-powered models can be equipped to tow up to 5,300 lbs. (2,404 kg), a 2,300-lb. (1,043-kg) boost, Ford says. The 290-hp, 255-lb.-ft. (346-Nm) naturally aspirated 3.5L V-6 will no longer be offered.
Ford’s Co-Pilot360 driver-assistance suite is standard with Pre-Collision Assist with automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, forward collision warning and brake assistance, blind-spot detection and cross-traffic alerts, lane keeping, a rearview camera with a built-in lens cleaner and automatic high-beam headlamps.
“We obsessed about what Explorer customers need and want,” Gubing says. “Every enhancement on this all-new Explorer was inspired by our customers.”
Optional 10.1-in. vertical touchscreen dominates Platinum trim interior.
Premium options include a vertically mounted 10.1-in. (25.6-cm) capacitive touchscreen, Ford’s Terrain Management System with seven modes to control the Explorer’s powertrain, stability controls and all-wheel drive; adaptive cruise control capable of adjusting speed to correspond with speed-limit signs and driver variances; Active Park Assist 2.0 that adds throttle and braking to current steering control; and a 980-watt, 14-speaker B&O premium sound system.
A one-hand-actuated mechanism on the second-row seats allows easy third-row access; power-folding third-row seats are optional. Handy, wide steps are molded into the rear door sills to aid entering and exiting as well as reaching up to the roof rack.
In addition to the base Explorer, trim levels are XLT, Limited, Limited Hybrid, ST and Platinum. The 2.3L engine is standard on the base Explorer, XLT and Limited models, while the Platinum comes equipped with the 3.0L V-6. Additional information on hybrid and ST models will be announced at the Detroit auto show.
According to Wards Intelligence data, the Explorer is the king of the midsize SUVs with sales topping 261,000 in 2018, off by just 10,000 units from the previous year. The Explorer’s closest challenger for dominance of the segment is FCA’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. Other competitors include the Dodge Durango and Toyota 4Runner.
Craig Patterson, SUV marketing manager, says Ford has sold 7.7 million Explorers since the brand’s introduction in 1990 as a ’91 model, and its strong sales in 2018 were a large part of the Dearborn automaker’s best SUV sales year ever at more than 800,000 units. Patterson expects the all-new Explorer to continue the brand’s tradition.
“A vehicle like Explorer can’t just be good-looking,” Patterson says. “Explorer customers need it to do certain things. They need to be able to drive certain places and haul specific items. This Explorer performs no matter what adventures you have in store.”
Latest Explorer carries on tradition dating back to ’91 model.