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Home / Technology / 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid First Drive Review: A New Kind of Explorer

2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid First Drive Review: A New Kind of Explorer



As the Ford
Explorer was launched 30 years ago and was an immediate success. Since then, more than 8 million Explorers have found a happy home, and this completely redesigned sixth-generation Explorer for 2020 should make the SUV even more attractive, especially to those looking for the added functionality and efficiency of a hybrid.

The Explorer might not look so different from its predecessor, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The new model underscores the look of the old with a slightly more conical roofline, beautifully sculpted body sides and a longer wheelbase with shorter front and rear overhangs. Slimmer headlights and redesigned fog lights adorn the front bezel, though the Explorer's hull generally looks the same as before.

The big change for 2020 is indeed under the skin of the Explorer. The longer wheelbase is made possible by a new rear-wheel drive platform, which represents a major departure from the front-wheel drive architecture normally used for mid-size crossovers. The rear-wheel drive platform not only allows the Explorer to drive a little better, but also offers better overall handling.

The Explorer's base engine is a 2.3-liter EcoBoost I4 turbocharged with 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. If you climb from there, you'll find a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 with more robust 365 hp and 380 lb-ft. The ST gets a more powerful version of this 3.0-liter engine with 400 hp and 415 pound-feet. More information about this model will be provided later. Finally, we come to the brand new Explorer Hybrid, the version I test for this first drive.

Electrified, not electric

Under the bonnet, the Explorer Hybrid has a naturally aspirated 3.3-liter V6 engine, supplemented by a 35-kilowatt-hour battery and an electric motor. The hybrid offers a total output of 318 hp and a torque of 322 lb-ft. Buyers can optionally equip the electrified powertrain with rear or four-wheel drive. A 10-speed automatic transmission handles switching tasks.

With the Explorer Hybrid, I can not choose when to consume power, and it works only in the most efficient mode the whole time. It is based on pure battery power at parking speed. The engine starts when you are on the road. The Explorer Hybrid does not seem to be out of line, but it is ready for use fast enough and offers enough power to drive on and drive on the open highways of my test track.

The Explorer Hybrid is a brand new model for Ford.


Emme Hall / Roadshow

The hybrid does not fight with a steep, winding climb. The 10-speed gearbox does not look for gears and if you like, it can take one or two gears out. On the way down, the Hybrid's regenerative brakes do not feel too different from the Explorer's standard brakes, with progressive pedal response and no gripping tendencies. Neither Ford nor the EPA have official fuel economy data for the 2020 Explorer Hybrid, though the automaker says the electrified SUV should be able to travel about 500 miles between replenishments. The Explorer has an 18-gallon fuel tank, so I estimate my calculations to be 27 or 28 MPG.

While the powertrain itself dictates how much energy the battery consumes at any one time, the driver can choose between Normal, Sport, and Eco modes for adjusting throttle, shift points, and steering feel. In addition, a slippery mode improves traction in bad conditions and a trail, deep snow and sand mode help the explorer to master more difficult terrain. Finally, there is a trailer hitch mode that keeps the transmission in a higher gear to provide more power when towing a trailer. It's also worth noting that non-hybrid Explorer models can pull as much as the aforementioned 5,600 pounds; the hybrid is limited to 5,000. Still, that's a good deal more than a Toyota Highlander Hybrid that can only tow 3,500 pounds.

Fine in the Muck

The shorter overhangs of the redesigned Explorer make it more manoeuvrable in terrain with an approach angle of 20 degrees to facilitate getting up and overcoming obstacles. The hybrid can carry up to 18 inches of water, and the available downhill control keeps the Explorer nice and stable on a 45 degree slope (though the system is quite loud). The Explorer is not a serious off-roader, but it's nice to know that there are tons of built-in capabilities for those looking for a good off-piste adventure.

Standard on my four-wheel hybrid tester are Michelin's new SelfSeal tires. These rollers are equipped with a cured natural rubber inside the tire, which acts as a sealant to fill in most tire punctures and helps slow down leaks. Unlike some runflat tires that have a very stiff sidewall, the SelfSeal tires make no compromise on traction or ride quality. Even with large 20-inch wheels, the hybrid does not crash over potholes and offers a forgiving ride. And hey, if you hit the sidewall on a huge rock, the Explorer will still come with a spare tire.

Each Explorer ships with Ford's Co-Pilot 360 driver assistance suite, which bundles things like blind spot monitoring and lane surveillance. Keeping Assist. The Hybrid comes standard with the Assist + package, which features adaptive cruise control, lane centering, speed limit detection and assisted steering assistance.

The gasoline powertrain is only available on the Explorer Limited fairing. It comes standard with LED headlamps and taillights, rain sensor windshield wipers, heated and cooled front seats, heated Captain's chairs in the second row and power folding seats in the third row. Speaking of which, the seats in the second row can be folded up quickly to get into the third row, although the return route is tight for the passengers. Fold down the seats and you'll find nearly 30 cubic feet of cargo space and an area large enough to carry four-by-eight-foot plywood panels.

Overall, the interior is not significantly different from earlier with the exception of the optional 10.1-inch portrait infotainment display. However, the My Limited Hybrid model has an 8-inch standard screen with embedded navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A wireless charging station is also standard on this panel, and there are countless 12-volt, USB-A and USB-C ports in the cab.

My God, what a big screen you have (optional)!


Nick Miotke / Roadshow

An optional 12.3-inch digital gauge is an optional technical element with a feature called the idle screen that displays only a small amount of information to reduce distraction. Think of it as a modern version of Saab's old Night Panel feature.

In general, the 2020 Ford Explorer is a nice improvement over its predecessor. It's not a huge leap forward in any way, but that's because the fifth-generation model was already decent and popular with consumers. If I can file a complaint, the hybrid is quite noisy despite the explorer's active noise cancellation technology.

The hybrid is also pretty expensive: $ 52,280 for the launch here, or $ 57,975 for the charge here, including $ 1,095 for the target. Yes, it's based on the Limited trim, but remember that the above-mentioned Highlander hybrid is available from around $ 37,000. Damn, even the three-row Lexus RX 450h is cheaper. It is pretty, but also expensive. Emme Hall / Roadshow

However, you can save a few bucks by opting for the base XLT model starting at $ 36,395. A non-hybrid limited trim starts at $ 48,130 while the platinum rises to $ 58,250. New for 2020 is an ST variant for those in full swing starting at $ 54,740. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the Explorer – and its hybrid variant – are well received by SUV-hungry buyers. It looks good and sums up all tech buyers in this segment. At the same time it offers better driving dynamics and even more off-road capability and transportability. The Ford Explorer was already a solid offering in the mid-size SUV segment, and this 2020 model only enhances those qualities.


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