An all-new version of the highly-capable three-row SUV from Ford.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Pricing: 2020 Ford Explorer
Base price (XLT 4WD trim): $45,199
Options: $450 Rich Copper metallic paint; $1,500 Equipment Group 202A; $200 floor liners; $500 2nd row 35/30/35 split bench; $1,750 twin panel moonroof; $600 Class III tow package; $1,000 20″ wheels; $1,000 Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+; $1,300 Cold Weather package
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $55,449
It was interesting to review what is basically the entry-level trim for a vehicle. Usually manufacturers send the top-of-the-line trims, instead of the middle-of-the-road trims that are the volume sellers, and as nice as that may be, it’s not really representative of what most people end up buying. So I was thankful for this XLT trim Explorer. That said, even the “base trim” Explorer is well-equipped as you will see. If you need more, you can step up to the Limited (which is also available with an amazing hybrid drivetrain), the performance-oriented ST or the range-topping Platinum.
While the design is all-new, it certainly combines some elements that obviously nod to the Explorer’s heritage, and I also felt that, from some angles, there were hints of Toyota Highlander here. Not in a bad way, but it really felt a bit derivative. It’s a handsome design, to be clear, but nothing that will really turn people’s heads as it’s driving by – although my vehicle’s Rich Copper Metallic paint sure caught the eye. The wheel wells were filled with huge optional 20-inch rims and 255/55-sized rubber.
LED lighting can be found front and back.
The materials inside are nice, with plenty of nicely-textured soft-touch surfaces to be found, although nothing here is going to raise any eyebrows or set any new benchmarks. The styling is fresh for the Explorer and works well visually and ergonomically.
There are some standard gauges behind the heated steering wheel (upper trim levels get full digital dashes), along with a fairly large customizable driver information screen. The central touchscreen is smallish by today’s standards, however the alternative is a massive iPad-like tacked-on vertical screen in the upper trim levels, which I think looks absolutely horrifying. The one in this Explorer is run by Ford’s excellent SYNC 3 system and works very well. The standard audio system was just fine here but the upgraded B&O systems are stellar.
I like that there are hard buttons and knobs (which are beautifully knurled and feel excellent!) for the stereo controls – below these is the climate control panel.
The heated seats are comfortable and clad in Ford’s ActiveX material – which is a synthetic leather-like fabric. Overhead you’ll find a huge panoramic sunroof with a powered sunshade.
My review vehicle came with a lot of driver assistance technology – rear-view camera with rear proximity sensors, lane keep alert and lane keep assist, driver alert system, intelligent adaptive cruise control, evasive steering assist, automatic high beams and evasive steering assist.
Second and Third Row Seats
The second row is very roomy and comfortable. Second row passengers get a separate climate control panel, as well as 12V, USB-A and USB-C charging ports. The outboard seats can recline, as well as slide fore and aft. The middle seat can’t slide, but the middle seatback can recline as well as fold completely forward to become an armrest with cupholders.
The second row is split evenly into three seats – the two outboard ones are heated and they can also be slid forward quickly and easily to make third-row access easier – even then, as an adult, getting into the third row is no fun whatsoever.
The third row has two seats and is not spacious and will likely be reserved for kids or very occasional use. At 5’10”, I was highly uncomfortable back there – the seat cushions are very close to the floor, so you’ll find your knees pointing skyward and leg room is limited if the second row seats are adjusted for normal passengers. Passengers back there get cupholders and little storage bins, and that’s it.
If you’re transporting little ones, you get four(!) sets of child seat anchors (2 in the second row, 2 in the third) which makes this a great family hauler.
I appreciate that the Explorer comes with plenty of options of places to put your stuff. In the centre stack underneath the screen is a deep open bin with a rubberized mat, and it’s an excellent place to put your smartphone. It would also be a great place for a wireless charging mat, but that isn’t included in this trim.
Below the climate control panel is a pop-up lid that hides a large bin as well as 12V, USB-A and USB-C plugs. Behind that, on the console, is a great little vertical slot – a perfect parking spot for your phone.
The large trunk is accessed via a power liftgate. Even with the third row in use, you’ll find 516L of space, which increases to 1357L behind the second row. Should you need it, you can fold the second row down and end up with a massive 2487L cargo space.
Under the Hood
Here you’ll find the base engine, a 2.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine, paired with a 10-speed automatic and an all-wheel drive system. This combination is rated at 11.6/8.7 L/100 km (city/hwy). We averaged 12.2 L/100 km which is quite decent for a vehicle this size.
If numbers matter to you, the engine puts out 300HP at 5,500 RPM and 310 lb.ft of torque at 3,500 RPM.
If you need to tow, the Explorer can lug 5,300 pounds (2,404kg).
The EcoBoost engine is very capable, and the powertrain pulls smartly off the line with no hesitation. It has plenty of power for all driving situations, including highway passing.
The Explorer lets you choose from a number of drive as well as terrain modes. The first offers a choice between Normal, Eco, Sport and Tow/Haul modes – the latter lets you pick from Slippery, Trail, Deep Snow and Sand modes.
The transmission is quite good, and as expected. it generally sails up to the higher gears quickly to save on fuel. Because of that, it occasionally felt a bit flat-footed when I called for power quickly as it had to downshift a couple of cogs first – but this is perfectly fine for a large SUV.
I found the Explorer to have a good ride, but not a great one – I expected it to ride more plushly over some surfaces, but it felt a bit harsh at times. It’s not uncomfortable by any stretch, but some of the bigger hits do transfer through to the cabin and that surprised me. I suspect that part of the blame can be put on the low-profile tires, but certainly the suspension isn’t quite as luxurious as I had expected it to be.
Handling on the other hand was very good – it felt quite agile and capable, and perfectly competent around corners and sweeping curves, for a large, heavy vehicle.
The Explorer is quiet in most circumstances, the one exception being a bit more engine noise than expected under acceleration. That engine noise itself felt somewhat unrefined – it was a bit grainy and raspy.
Visibility out of the vehicle is mostly good. Some of the rear pillars tend to blend together visually when shoulder-checking, so it requires a tad extra effort, but it’s nothing alarming. The two rear headrests definitely block part of the rear view when they are in use.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was pretty high – she liked the looks and how it drove, but said nothing about it was very special.
Overall, the new Explorer takes things to the next level from before – it offers modern technology (particularly in the higher trim levels), excellent performance, spacious utility and handsome looks. I was a bit surprised at the ride and engine noises which were slightly less refined than I expected but the package as a whole is excellent.
As always, it is important to remember that the competition in this vehicle class is extraordinarily fierce. The Explorer’s starting price is certainly competitive, but once you option it up like this, the pricing sits in the mid-$50,000s – for an entry-level Explorer. That surprised me a bit. The pricing strategy becomes a bit more startling when you realize you can buy a fully-loaded, top-of-the-line Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot for the same price.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Ford Canada.
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