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The grille of the 2020 Ford Explorer

Ford’s High-Tech, Top-to-Bottom Makeover of the Explorer

Keith Turner is a veteran freelance automotive writer. Visit his websites: www.thefamilycar.com and www.greenfamilycar.com. He can be reached at carguy@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @KTCarguy. 

With sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks driving the bulk of new vehicle sales these days, Ford is making sure that the redesign of its historically best-selling SUV, the 2020 Ford Explorer, doesn’t get lost in the crowd. The automaker pulled out all the stops this week with the grand unveiling of the new Explorer by jumping the gun on the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) with an NFL-sized sneak peek of the three-row SUV at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions.

Returning to its roots, the 2020 Ford Explorer sports a rear-wheel-drive platform with all-wheel-drive option while featuring lighter, leaner and stronger construction, more powerful and efficient EcoBoost engines and new technology to help keep family members safe, comfortable and happy. The rear-wheel-drive architecture enables a sportier design, improved on- and off-road capability and 600 pounds more in maximum towing capacity when properly equipped and the available 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine makes this the most powerful Explorer ever.

While details about aftermarket accessory options will be released at a later date, the new Explorer will offer its broadest model lineup ever with standard, XLT, Limited, Limited Hybrid, ST and Platinum models. Improved off-road capability comes courtesy of intelligent four-wheel drive and an available new “Terrain Management System” that features seven easy-to-engage drive modes accessible by a dial in the center console; normal, trail, deep snow and sand, slippery, sport, tow/haul and a new eco mode each come with special 3D animated graphics in the available new 12.3-inch digital cluster.

Powertrain offerings include a 3.0-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V6 projected to produce 365 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque using 93-octane gas, making this the most powerful Explorer ever.

“Explorer drivers told us what they want—more capability, more power, more space,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s head of product development and purchasing. “They want more technology, not just for the driver, but for the whole family. And they want all of it with a beautifully sporty exterior. This new Explorer gives them all of that, and more, helping make every journey more enjoyable.”

The Explorer’s rear-wheel drive allows a 12-percent increase in towing capacity when properly equipped, no matter which engine is in use. Vehicles equipped with a 3.0-liter EcoBoost can tow up to 5,600 pounds and new models outfitted with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost and Class III trailer tow package can tow up to 5,300 pounds, versus the 3,000 pounds of today’s similarly equipped Explorer.

Driver-assisted technology is expanded in the new Explorer, with available Active Park Assist 2.0, to be offered as a standard feature on Platinum level models. This feature allows the driver to park in a parallel or perpendicular parking spot with the touch of a button—no need to work the steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal. Available reverse brake assist, also on the Platinum model, utilizes radar sensors to brake the vehicle in order to avoid collision when backing up at low speed.

Another new feature is the Explorer’s Speed Sign Recognition system that not only automatically slows the vehicle to adjust to traffic ahead but also uses cameras to read speed signs and adjusts cruise control settings to match the speed limit.

Other available safety features include evasive steering assist, which provides steering support to help avoid a collision; and post-impact braking that brakes after a collision to lessen injury and damage caused by a secondary crash event.

“It’s not about filling the vehicle with technology for technology’s sake,” said Chris Billman, Ford Co-Pilot360 engineering manager. “It’s about improving the experience, making driving less stressful, and helping the driver to feel more confident behind the wheel.”

All three rows of passengers will be able to connect through 4G wi-fi for up to 10 mobile devices, as well as allowing drivers to access the Explorer remotely to lock, unlock, locate and start the vehicle, as well as monitor key vehicle diagnostics from their smart phone.

Sales of the new Explorer should begin in late summer 2019 and while final retail pricing is yet to be announced, Ford says that the new Explorer, with all its additional bells and whistles, will still only come in priced at about $400 above the current models.