DETROIT — It was a Ford night last week when Ford introduced the all-new Ford Explorer at Ford Field last week. The company wanted to get the jump on this week’s North American International Auto Show here and it did so by lifting the bar in the midsize crossover utility market.
The Explorer has been around from some 30 years and it was the dominant crossover, they were called sports utilities back then, for more than a decade. First came the Firestone tire controversy and that was followed by escalating gasoline prices that stunted sales. Still, the Ford Explorer is America’s best-selling SUV.
We didn’t get to drive it but there were some highlights that deserve mentioning. Even from the rafters of Ford Field (it is an indoor football stadium) the Explorer looked good. Ford said longtime traits – including Explorer’s blacked-out A-pillars and D-pillars and body-color C-pillars have been retained. But changes to the overall profile include a more sloping roofline and shorter front overhang that made it look sleeker and less boxy.
They told us that pretty much the 2020 Ford Explorer is all new from the ground up. That is no doubt true since engineers switched the vehicle from being front-wheel-drive to rear-wheel drive. In other words, the Explorer sits on an all-new chassis. And because of the switch, in addition to better handling, it will be better off-road and the towing capacity jumped by 600 lbs. to 5,600 lbs.
The company said the new sport utility is lighter, leaner, more rigid, and more powerful and it has better fuel efficiency. A real eye-opener for me is that there will be two engine choices when the Explorer goes on sale this summer.
The standard engine will be a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that will make, get this, 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. It will be mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission.
There is also a 3.0 turbocharged six-cylinder engine that will make 365 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque using 93 octane gas. It too gets a 10-speed automatic transmission. And both of them will be dial shifters. The Explorer lineup will expand. There will be standard, XLT, Limited, Limited Hybrid, ST and Platinum models.
The cabin has been recrafted, Ford said it is quieter and offers more space. Of course there will be more technology including an available 10.1-inch portrait-mounted touch screen with full-screen maps, traffic-sensing Ford Co-Pilot360 driver-assist innovations and features that can help reduce stress such as available Reverse Brake Assist and Active Park Assist 2.0, which handles all steering, shifting, brake and accelerator controls during a parking maneuver with a touch of a button. The portrait screen also can be swiped and pinched like an iPad which is what it looked like in photos.
An all-new available Terrain Management System with up to selectable drive modes will help tackle any adventure through an easy-to-use 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.
Ford said the all-new Explorer comes packed with more than a dozen new standard features for only $400 more over the previous model. Standard features now include a power liftgate, the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine with all-new 10-speed transmission, an 8-inch digital touch screen with SYNC® 3, and FordPass Connect Wi-Fi service for up to 10 devices and more.
These are just some of the things that await a test drive this summer. They say good things happen in warm weather. Odds are that the 2020 Ford Explorer will be one of them.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com