Will the 2020 Ford Explorer be a Proper SUV?

When the last generation Ford Explorer debuted, fans cried foul of its CUV design. The 2020 Explorer returns to its RWD roots, but will it be a proper SUV?

When the original Ford Explorer came on the scene, it wasn’t a first of its kind, but it quickly rose to prominence thanks to the first Jurassic Park film for the general public.

However, for us who loved off-roading it was the Rough Riders Ford/BF Goodrich SCORE Class Six (the original Class Six, mind) team with a V6 Explorer built by Bill Savage with John Swift behind the wheel. Between 1991 and 1993, Swift and the Rough Riders Explorer made 22 starts, earned 15 wins, and three Class Six titles. It’s considered one of the most successful open desert racing icons today.

The Fifth Generation Explorer

Photo: Wikipedia
So, that’s why you can understand why Explorer fans weren’t too thrilled with the fifth generation U502 Explorer that bowed in 2010 as a 2011 model. The chassis was now based on an enlarged version of the Taurus and shared a platform with the Lincoln MKT and Ford Flex. You see, from its debut in 1991 to 2010, the Explorer was a truck-based and body-on-frame SUV. It was something made with a proper off-roading chassis and RWD first.

The Sixth Generation: Introducing the U625

Photo: Ford Motor Company
However, the new 2020 Ford Explorer – the sixth generation U625 – is based on the CD6 platform. This is a unibody chassis but is designed as a RWD SUV but can come with all-wheel drive. The only other vehicle that shares its platform is the new 2020 Lincoln Aviator, which also marks the return of that name plate since the CD6 is RWD/AWD.

Photo: Ford Motor Company
While its not a full, body-on-frame design, a unibody SUV has been shown to be capable off-road for most owners who will get one. You won’t be able to raise it up much because it will be a full-independent suspension chassis, but, again, many have found ways to get around those issues. You won’t be able to put 33-inch or larger tires on it, but you technically couldn’t on any Explorer without hacking up the body and installing fiberglass fenders.

The Variants

Photo: Ford Motor Company

There will be three major variants of the Explorer: Base, Hybrid, and the ST.

Base Explorer

Photo: Ford Motor Company
Now, when I mean “base,” I mean every Explorer besides the Hybrid and ST. The top of the line U625 will be the Platinum and is loaded with creature comforts but there will also be the base, XLT, and Limited. The barebones base Explorer will get the EcoBoost 2.3-liter but is still capable of towing up to 5300-pounds. The only other engine in this lineup will be the 3.0-liter EcoBoost and can come with their 10-speed 10R80 automatic and Intelligent Four-Wheel Drive. This gives the Explorer multiple drive modes from pavement to dirt to sand to snow.

The ST

Photo: Ford Motor Company
The ST is Ford’s new standard of high-performance for everything not a Raptor or Mustang and the Explorer ST is no exception. This sports sport utility vehicle will come with a 400-horsepower, 415-lb-ft torque version of the 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine. This ST is intended to hit a top speed of 143-MPH. In an Explorer. Even the V8 and Saleen versions didn’t see speeds like this.

Photo: Ford Motor Company
“We designed it to be an ST from the beginning,” said Ed Krenz, Ford Performance chief functional engineer. “There’s no mistaking its ST DNA. It has a performance feel with sustained performance capability and wears an unmistakably ST appearance. More than anything, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to drive.” It will get the 10-speed automatic and four-wheel drive but can come as the ST Street or ST Track Packs. The Track Pack gets high-performance brakes with larger vented rotors and larger brake pads. Sport mode will tighten the effort of the steering wheel, change the response of the accelerator pedal, hold gears longer and shift quicker, and pump in an “enhanced engine note” to the cabin.

Photo: Ford Motor Company
It will also get ST only features for the body besides the iconic “ST” badging. You’ll find a black mesh grille insert, liftgate applique, body side details, roof rack side rails, and skid plate elements. The “Explorer” badging goes across the hood to remind people you’re in an Explorer.

Photo: Ford Motor Company
Inside, there is an all-digital dash, a flat-bottomed and heated steering wheel with an embossed “ST” logo, ST only floor mats, and leather sport seats with City Silver accent stitching and a “ST” logo embossed into the upper seat back. The second-row bucket seats feature all the same treatments as the fronts but lose the “ST” logo. The folding third-row seats just get the leather treatment. All three rows will only fit two people each, making the ST a six-seat SUV.

Explorer Hybrid in Two Flavors: RWD and AWD

Photo: Ford Motor Company
Yes, you can get a 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid in either RWD or AWD. This, of course, comes with a catch: you lose mileage with the AWD. The EPA estimate for the RWD Hybrid is 27-MPG city, 29-MPG highway, and 28-MPG combined – about 500 fill-less miles – while the AWD will score 23/26/25 – about 450-miles without stopping. What you lose in mileage you gain in towing capability with Ford boasting up to 5000-pounds of towing capacity and besting the 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

Photo: Ford Motor Company
You’ll also get the 3.3-liter V6 working in conjunction with the hybrid powertrain to a total power output of 318-horsepower and driving a hybridized version of Ford’s 10-speed transmission. Europeans will get a more powerful, EcoBoost 3.0-liter V6 version of the Hybrid that’s capable of 450-horsepower and 600-lb-ft of torque total when both powertrains are used at the same time. I can say that I’m disappointed but we’re getting the 400-horsepower 3.0-liter EcoBoost ST where Europe isn’t.

Photo: Ford Motor Company
“Explorer is the ultimate family adventure vehicle – and fewer pit stops is one of the latest reasons why,” said Bill Gubing, Explorer chief engineer. “Explorer provides space for the whole family and their gear, it’s got great towing capability, and now it has range like no Explorer before.” Even though it will have a battery pack, the Explorer Hybrid won’t lose any cargo room. Ford achieves this by using a specially made, liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack built into the chassis below the second-row seats. By doing so, you keep the rear-most cargo room and don’t lose the passenger space in both the second- and third-row seats.

The Important Question: Is It a Proper SUV Now?

Photo: Ford Motor Company
Explorer purists will probably still lament that this isn’t the Explorer they grew up with. The one they idolized in movies and off-road racing. Even so, Ford has created an Explorer that can be considered a traditional SUV. One based on a unique, RWD platform rather than something shared with a FWD car. If you’re wanting something akin to the original Explorer, wait for the Bronco. If you want a real SUV, you’re looking for the 2020 Ford Explorer.

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Photo: Ford Motor Company

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Justin Banner

Justin Banner, Lead Editor and Founder of Carbage Online, has been involved with the automotive media and industry in many capacities and now tackles publication ownership with CarbageOnline.com. Prior to that, he has freelanced for top online publications of modern media that include Speedhunters, MotoIQ, Super Street Online, Hot Rod Magazine and many others. All due to his nearly 20 years experience as a mechanic, service writer, and technical support in the automotive industry. Justin is also a Journalist Level member of the Motor Press Guild - an industry recognized entity of professional automotive journalists - since 2015.

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