Now With A Hybrid, Ford’s Electrified Future Is Here
Expected to hit dealers this fall, the anticipation is high for the 2020 Ford Explorer as it will come in two gasoline-only engine choices and—for the first time—as a hybrid. There will be something for everyone looking for a three-row, seven-passenger large SUV.
All-new in the case of the 2020 Ford Explorer means exactly that, especially when it comes to the Explorer Hybrid. But the change-over from the 2019 Explorer to the 2020 Explorer sees more than just an electrified option. How about going from front-wheel drive bias to rear-wheel drive and a 200-pound weight reduction? Plus, with three engine options, in either 2WD or 4WD, Ford is making a statement that the 2020 Explorer is a force to be reckoned with in the large SUV class.
Three Engines, One Transmission
Built on the MHT platform, for modular hybrid technology, the all-new 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid drivetrain comprises an electric motor that is sandwiched between the engine and a 10-speed transmission. There is also a disconnect clutch so the Explorer Hybrid can run in pure EV mode. The electric motor provides 35 kilowatts of power, good for 44 horsepower. Combined with the naturally aspirated 3.3-liter V6, total output is 318 horsepower (hp) and 322 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. This allows the Explorer Hybrid to tow up to 5,000 pounds, by far best-in-class for a hybrid SUV. Fuel economy numbers have not been released, so we will have to wait just a bit longer to see if the hybrid technology is worth the premium over the Explorer Base, XLT or Limited that come with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine (which turns in EPA numbers of 21 city/28 highway/24 combined). The third engine option is the 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 that puts out either 365 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque in the Platinum model or 400 hp and 415 lb.-ft. of torque in the ST.
Our impression of all three engines is that they are quiet upon idle and take little effort getting up to speed. The hybrid system is designed so the electric motor doesn’t come all-on at initial acceleration, but adds oomph when needed. We particularly noticed this when towing up a 10 percent grade from a standstill. Move over to the ST with the 400 hp and 415 lb.-ft. of torque—and baby does this thing perform great. Drop the ST into Sport, blip the paddle shifters and let her rip. Of course, this type of fun driving doesn’t do anything for the fuel economy, but heck, sometimes you just have to go for it.
Hitting the Road
I personally am familiar with the 2018 Explorer, having driven it often over the past couple of years. I can flat-out say the difference between the last generation and the all-new 2020 Explorer is not only noticeable, but dramatic. Where the outgoing Explorer had a soft suspension and numb steering feel, the 2020 Explorer is taut on the corners, and the steering has been programmed to make you feel connected to the road. One of the main reasons for the improved handling and ride is the switch from front-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive.
Clean Fleet Report drove both the rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid. The former provided good stability and grip, but the all-wheel drive was even better. The computer seamlessly engages the front wheels when maximum torque and traction are called for. The all-wheel drive could be felt biting in as the wheels, shod with 20-inch Michelin self-sealing tires, were planted around sweeping arc turns. The ride quality was solid and quiet; the 4,969-pound Explorer Hybrid that never felt heavy. The 1.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery has been mounted under the rear seat so as not to take-up any cargo space. It also adds to a low center of gravity and improved handling, something tall SUVs are not known for. Off-road, the 2020 Explorer is very capable with seven driver-selectable drive modes to make easy work when leaving the comfort of paved roads.
During the Explorer media introduction in Stevenson, Washington, there were no long, open stretches of highway to test the fuel economy. Knowing the only other full-size hybrid SUV, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, is rated at a combined 28 mpg, we were a bit surprised with a dash read-out of 24.7 mpg on the Explorer Hybrid. To be fair, this was almost exclusively driving on curvy and sometimes mountainous roads through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, east of Portland, Oregon. Our results are premature for what may be higher official fuel economy numbers; Clean Fleet Report will have a full Road Test review in the coming months, where we will give real world miles per gallon over several hundred miles of highway and city driving alongside official EPA numbers when they are available.
Behind the Wheel
The wheelbase has been stretched over the outgoing model, making for more rear leg room. The interior has also been widened for better shoulder space. A power liftgate is standard, as are Captain’s Chairs in the second row (a second-row bench seat is optional) and a third-row seat that can fold flat. Ford designers also were clever in squaring-off the rear door cup holders so juice boxes now can be easily secured.
The dash on the 2020 Ford Explorer is far more attractive and user-friendly than the 2019 model. This extends to the base 8.1-inch horizontal center display, which is twice the size of the previous version, and an optional 10.01-inch vertical center display. Leather trim and power everything can be found on most models, along with Ford’s Co-Pilot360 driver-assist features.
The 2020 Ford Explorer comes in six models of Base, XLT, Limited, Hybrid, ST and Platinum, with an MSRP range of $36,375 to $58,250. Options will be added on as will the $1,095 destination charge. Your local Ford dealer will see the 2020 Explorer in the fall of 2019.
Observations: 2020 Ford Explorer
In mid-March 2018, Ford announced it would be introducing 24 battery electric hybrids during the next few years. The sixth generation Explorer, a nameplate dating back almost 30 years, is one of them. Ford is in its fourth generation of hybrid technology, with developments over the past few years having resulted in smaller and lighter controls and batteries, but with improved power, fuel economy and driving range.
In upcoming Road Test reviews of the 2020 Explorer, Clean Fleet Report will dive deep into the interior and safety features, as well as more details on the performance and drivability.
Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.