Back in 1991, Ford replaced the Bronco II with the Explorer. Since then more than seven million of the crossover SUVs have been rolled out. Ford now is introducing the sixth-generation 2020 Ford Explorer, which shares a rear-wheel-drive based platform with the new Lincoln Aviator. It’s been more than six years since the Explorer’s last update. Ford has a surprise up its sleeve with this new generation: a new performance-based variant for this model, the AWD Explorer ST with a base price of $55,835.
In his YouTube video, Doug DeMuro shares his thoughts on what the new SUV has to offer.
The ST’s engine places it far ahead of the other new Explorers, as well as its competitors the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander. It’s equipped with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that is tuned to pump out 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. It goes from zero to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, which is startling for a husky family SUV with a curb weight approaching 5,000 pounds.
By comparison, the 365-hp Platinum Explorer uses the same engine, and the XLT has to manage with a 300-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four. The Pilot and the Highlander lag behind, making 280 and 295 hp respectively. As DeMuro notes, the Explorer ST’s engine seems to be setting a new standard for the usual crop of three-row SUVs.
DeMuro starts the tour of the Explorer ST’s interior by calling attention to the gear dial, which was borrowed from the Ford GT and replaces the gear lever. If the driver can’t see which gear the SUV is in, they can check the gauge cluster screen where it is displayed.
The gauge cluster screen also has some unexpected features that include an off-road status screen and a screen that provides feedback on the fuel efficiency of the driver. A speedometer readout that can be moved from the left of the screen when the lane-keeping assist feature is active to the center of the screen when the feature is turned off is another unusual feature.
The Explorer ST’s cabin has luxe leather seats with white stitching and a substantial, performance-type steering wheel. DeMuro appreciates the four cubbyholes for smartphones for just the front row and likes the novelty of the vertically-oriented infotainment screen.
The second row has a second climate control zone and heated seats. The ST follows the lead of other luxury SUVs with its sunshades already built into the rear doors.
Access to the third-row seats is easy because pushing a button on the backrest folds it and moves the entire seat forward. But DeMuro prefers the Hyundai Palisade‘s two-button setup for this access. One button is set high on the backrest and the other is set lower for smaller passengers to reach.
At 18 cubic feet, cargo space in the ST is good for a three-row SUV. The left and right third-row seats can be power-operated to fold separately to expand the space, which means no awkward straps or levers.
Overall, the new Explorer ST looks trim and taut compared to its predecessor. It sports a rather bold, menacing grille that is oddly offset by tiny turn signal lights.
Ford enhances the urban-sporty look of the SUV by adding blacked-out wheels, mirrors, and the ST name on the hood. And in case anyone forgets, Ford sprinkles ST badges inside and out: on the grille, the tailgate, the steering wheel, the seats, and the infotainment screen.
The sportiness is driven home with bright red brake calipers front and rear and quad exhaust pipes.
How does it drive?
When DeMuro takes the Explorer ST out for a spin, he’s pleased. He’s driving it in Sport mode, which steps up the throttle response and is, in his words, “fantastic.” He likens the ST to the formidable Dodge Durango SRT, which delivers an impressive 475 hp.
Although he says the ST is not as quiet as the Aviator, he thinks the ride quality is very comfortable. He’s happy with the SUV’s carlike handling and its excellent visibility. Safety features such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist add to the ST’s appeal.
At the end of the video, DeMuro ranks the Explorer ST after the first-place Lincoln Aviator and before the Hyundai Palisade. Ford offered a sporty Explorer back in 2016 but nothing like the 2020 ST. By introducing an Explorer that balances just enough luxury with performance that is a cut above the ordinary, Ford breaks new ground in the crowded field of midsize SUVs. The Pilots and the Highlanders of this field will now have to find ways to step up their game.