When a vehicle has dominated its class for years, it’s standard operating procedure to keep doing what works while making incremental changes to keep fans coming back for more. Ford’s intentions of eliminating most of their passenger cars from their lineup changes the calculus. This is why the all-new 2020 Ford Explorer made big changes as well as added two new styles to the family.
The Limiting Hybrid and ST versions of the Explorer will give it the flagship options that it’s star SUV needs in order to attract the masses flocking to the midsize SUV segment. But the 2020 model didn’t just add versions. They redesigned the entire vehicle, including switching it from front-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive, a platform shift that will also improve the popular 4×4 variation.
“Changing the Explorer to rear-wheel drive was a really big deal,” said Ford Motor Company’s Executive Vice President Jim Farley. “It allows our designers to deliver those beautiful proportions, give that athletic stance for Explorer, and helped our engineers to do so much more. The best towing capacity we’ve ever had. Off-road ability you hear about. On top of all that, it gave the customer more room.”
With 5,600 lb for towing, it’s more than older Explorers. More importantly, it’s more than their competitors in the segment.
But Ford will need more than a couple of new versions of the Explorer and more towing power if they intend to make a strong move in the segment. Despite the segment growing 11% last year, Explorer’s sales numbers declined 3.5%. It’s still on top, but the contradicting directions on sales numbers was a clear indicator they needed to make big changes.
The hybrid model will obviously attract a completely different type of buyer, but it’s with the new ST that Ford hopes to impress those who are moving from performance sedans or even sports cars to the midsize SUV market. The new 2020 Ford Explorer ST trim is basically a performance package. It’s the most powerful Explorer Ford has ever built with a 3.0L, twin-turbocharged V6 with 400 hp and 415 ft-lb of torque. We’ll confirm our expectations when we’re able to actually drive it, but based on the numbers we’ve seen, this is going to be an extremely fun SUV to take on the road.
The biggest changes over the previous generation are on the inside. Technology has been an unavoidable push by every automaker as they attempt to keep up with the rapidly improving available options. Today’s cars are smart cars. We’re seeing the transition in a way that’s extremely similar to what happened between smartphones and feature phones. If your vehicle doesn’t have a touchscreen infotainment system and safety assistance features, it’s old.
Ford clearly took this to heart with their most connected and functional technology suite ever in the new Explorer. It has two option touchscreens with similar capabilities to a smartphone. With connection options to Amazon Alexa, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto, there is no shortage of ways the drive and passengers can interact with the outside world.
Safety features are dramatically improved with braking assist moving forward or backwards, lane assist that knows when the vehicle is towing, and cameras on all sides to keep full awareness.
“In the insider, there are thousands of thoughtful touches,” Farley said. “A second row seat that a child can activate and move forward with one hand, cup-holders that double as juice box holders. It’s an SUV for families that is so smart in a way that we couldn’t even imagine years ago. Speaking to Alexa to unlock your car, start the ignition. The vehicle can even read speed limiting signs and actually react to them to save you a ticket.”
With all of this, the price tag is only expected to go up $400 from the previous generation.
Ford CEO Jim Hackett said, “If there’s a heart and soul of Ford Motor Company, it’s this vehicle.” We’ll see if midsize SUV buyers agree when the 2020 Ford Explorer goes on sale this spring.
As a side note, Micah Muzio, managing editor for video at KBB, is the most entertaining car review guy on YouTube.