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2020 Ford Explorer Gets Evolutionary, High-Tech Redesign

Consumer Reports logo Consumer Reports 1/15/2019 Jeff S. Bartlett
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Ford has completely redesigned the Explorer for 2020, but you might not realize it from the photos. The exterior styling is so familiar that it would be easy to overlook the extensive re-engineering that this popular midsized SUV has undergone. 

The 2020 Explorer's platform is all new, moving from a front-drive setup to a rear-drive configuration that's more often used for truck-grade work abilities. All-wheel drive will be offered again. The basic underpinnings will be shared with the upcoming Lincoln Aviator, the luxury cousin of the Explorer. 

Three new gasoline engine options are more powerful than the current choices, and each has improved towing capacity over the current generation. Plus, there is a hybrid option.

Beyond increased work capability, Ford says that its customers were asking for more technology. The Explorer delivers that in spades, with a roster of standard safety equipment, new driving modes, and a sophisticated infotainment system.  

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Outside

Ford clearly didn’t stray too far from its current design. At a glance, the 2020 is little different from the 2019 , aside from the grille. Look closer and you may notice the more sloping roofline, shorter front overhang, and broader shoulders. A change in the sculpting along the body’s side grants it a more modern flair.

Overall length and width remain unchanged, but the wheelbase has increased a significant 6.3 inches, meaning the front and rear wheels have been moved farther apart. 

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Inside

The cabin has an elegant simplicity. There is an all-digital instrument cluster in front of the driver, rather than traditional analog gauges flanking an LCD display, as seen in many of the Explorer's competitors. The screen will change its appearance based on the driving mode that's selected.

The base model comes with an 8-inch center-mounted touch screen that serves as its infotainment hub, complete with WiFi for up to 10 devices. It is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible. 

A 10.1-inch screen is available as an option, and it looks a lot like an Apple iPad standing on edge. Connected families may want to spring for the wireless charging pad and combination of USB and USB-C charge ports. For an upgraded sound system, you can opt for a 980-watt, 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo. You can also add a massage function to the front seats.

The interior is wide enough to let owners carry items that measure four feet across, such as plywood. Ford says second-row seats fold flat, and you can slide the second row forward to make it easier to get to the third row. 

The standard power liftgate is a nice touch. There is an available hands-free feature that can open the rear hatch when drivers wave a foot past a sensor at the rear bumper, a useful feature when hands are full.

The top-trim Platinum version is richly swathed in leather, covering seats, dash, doors, and armrests. It also has a twin-panel  moonroof,  and numerous exterior design flourishes.

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What Drives It

The Explorer will be offered with a choice of three gasoline engines and a hybrid. The base powerplant is a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 300 horsepower. That's a 20-hp improvement from the 2019 model and it holds a similar advantage over most rivals. When equipped with a trailer package, the four-cylinder can tow up to 5,300 pounds—a huge increase over the 3,000-pound limit for the previous 2.3-liter version.

The next engine choice is a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 that churns out 365 horsepower on premium fuel, matching the horsepower output of the 3.5-liter engine in the outgoing model.  This new Explorer's mighty engine will give it a peak tow capacity of 5,600 pounds, 12 percent better than the 2019 Explorer.

The driver can select from up to seven drive modes, such as normal, sport, trail, slippery, tow/haul, and eco, to dial in the desired performance traits.

The performance-focused Explorer ST is fitted with a 400-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6. It has standard all-wheel drive, and there are upgrade packages available to enhance the brakes. The ST is visually distinguished with a black grille, badges, and other trim details. 

The hybrid features 3.3-liter engine, with a combined system output of 318 horsepower. Ford estimates a 500-mile range for the rear-drive model. Mileage estimates have not been released. 

All four engines use a 10-speed automatic transmission. 

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Safety & Driver-Assist Systems

The Explorer comes with a full suite of safety features, known as Ford Co-Pilot 360, as standard equipment. This includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, and lane-keeping assist. Plus, Ford says the rearview camera will have a built-in lens cleaner.

Adaptive cruise control with speed sign recognition is available on upper trims.

CR’s Take

Today's Ford Explorer has had a long run. The 2019 version is based on the model introduced in 2010. Despite good interior room and flexibility, including a usable third-row seat, overall it trails the competition in our tests. It lacks the agility, fuel economy, and smooth transmission shifts of many competitors. However, we believe this 2020 redesign may address those issues while keeping the Explorer's strong points.

We will find out when we buy one to test later this year.

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Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2019, Consumer Reports, Inc.

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