By KEVIN WEAKS
Sixth generation SUV shifts from front-drive to a rear-wheel drive
In 1999 my wife and I traded in our Ford Windstar minivan for a beautiful new 2000 Ford Explorer. About a year later a little old lady rammed into it in the library parking lot and it never drove straight after that.
But many cars since, my wife still pines for her Explorer. In those years, it evolved from an underpowered rough-riding cousin of the Bronco and F-150 to a flabby front-wheel-drive family wagon that threatened to tip over in a high wind.
Fast forward to 2019 and the sixth generation Explorer for 2020 is leaner, meaner and shifts from a front-drive to a rear-drive architecture, with all-wheel drive available and a standard 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-four engine that makes 300 horsepower.
Finally able to live up to its name, the all-new 2020 Explorer has been completely redesigned – inside, outside and under the hood – and is more off-road capable than ever before. There are two new available trims: a no-compromise hybrid as well as the most powerful Explorer to date – the all-new Explorer ST with 400 horsepower and top speed of 143 mph.
A BEST-SELLER FOR FORD
The Explorer had its genesis in the Bronco II, Ford’s smaller version of the full-sized SUV. The Bronco was intended as a competitor for the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout. The Bronco II was derived from the Ford Ranger compact pickup truck and marketed as a competitor of the Chevrolet S-10 Blazer and the Jeep Cherokee.
When the 1991 Ford Explorer replaced the Bronco II in the automaker’s lineup, it quickly gained popularity with consumers. In fact, the first-generation Explorer sold more than 300,000 units per year, outselling the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevrolet S-10 Blazer by a significant margin. It had moved more than 400,000 units a year by the end of the second generation. Ford sold more Explorers than all import SUVs combined. By 1994, it was the ninth best-selling vehicle in the U.S.
Ford is reviving the Bronco for the 2020 model year, it announced to dealers at a March event. The new Ford Bronco SUV will come with either two or four removable doors and have a removable hardtop. It will share a platform with the next-gen Ranger pickup. The Bronco will go on sale in late 2020, according to Automotive News.
EXPLORER TOTALLY REDESIGNED
The Explorer has changed quite a bit over the years, and today it faces perhaps its stiffest competition ever in the three-row SUV category, battling a redesigned Toyota Highlander and the new Kia Telluride.
As part of the 2020 redesign, Explorer now offers two all-new high-powered trims, says automobilemag.com. “The Explorer ST has an athletic look that’s matched by a powerful 400-hp engine and driving dynamics engineered by the Ford Performance team. The Explorer Hybrid packs a similar punch. It is a no-compromise hybrid SUV that’s engineered for big adventures.”
Not only is it the only hybrid in its class that can tow 5,000 pounds, the reviewer noted, it’s also fully off-road capable. The rear-wheel-drive model also offers an EPA-estimated range of more than 500 miles between fill-ups.
The switch back to rear-wheel drive makes sense on numerous levels, says edmunds.com. “Handling and overall balance improve dramatically when you stop trying to steer and power a vehicle from the same end. There are also benefits to towing stability and powertrain selection. The new Explorer comes with Ford’s smooth and sturdy 10-speed automatic, for instance. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Ford was able to expand the interior room in the bargain.”
The all-wheel-drive system is a no-brainer that needs no driver intervention, Ford says. The drive mode switch has settings such as Trail, Sand and Snow. Each has specific calibration settings for the throttle pedal, the shift timing of the transmission and the tire slippage allowed by the traction control. There’s also a hill descent feature.
Inside the cabin, new technologies abound. Along with a 12.3-inch digital cluster, there is an optional 10.1-inch screen (standard eight-inch screen) with an updated Sync 3 interface. Instead of a traditional gear stalk, you’ll find a new rotary gear shifter, as well as an electronic parking brake.
The 2020 Explorer has standard seating for seven in the base level, but you can also order it with second-row captain’s chairs, which offer more room for the middle two riders while keeping the third row a bench seat. The Explorer has one of the largest capacities in the class. Optional features like a power-folding third row and a hands-free power liftgate make it easy to utilize the Explorer’s wide and deep cargo area.
BACK TO ITS ROOTS
In some ways, the 2020 Ford Explorer returns to its roots. It once again rides on a rear- or all-wheel-drive platform, eschewing front-wheel drive to gain improved performance and towing capability compared to the last generation.
While the Ford Explorer isn’t as significant to the automaker’s bottom line as the highly profitable F-150, it’s an important player nonetheless, says Kelly Blue Book. Explorers are everywhere. Consider this: The Ford Explorer is the most popular SUV ever sold in the U.S., with all-time sales rapidly approaching the 8 million mark.
The 2020 Ford Explorer starts at $32,765 plus a $1,095 destination fee, and tops out beyond $60,000 in the Platinum version. The new Explorer is built by UAW members alongside its equally new Lincoln Aviator counterpart at Ford’s factory in Chicago.
Contact Kevin Weaks at email@example.com