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The Ford Explorer has been a problematic SUV for Ford. It’s been considered, among other things, one of the worst cars ever made by some outlets. Mechanical issues aside, it’s also been having difficulties in the safety department, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or the IIHS.

The Ford Explorer’s good days

In the first few years of the Explorer’s fifth generation design, which started in the 2011 model year, the IIHS praised the Explorer for its safety. The 2011 Explorer received a “Good” grade in every safety category and crash test category the IIHS tested back then, which is the highest safety grade the IIHS gives. 

The 2011 Explorer did so well the IIHS awarded it a Top Safety Pick award, one of the highest awards for safety. However, later on in this model year of the Explorer, issues started popping up. On top of that, the IIHS, as well as other safety agencies, started using new testing procedures and those revealed some issues with this generation of the Explorer.

The faulty Ford Explorer

2020 Ford Explorer
2020 Ford Explorer | Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

2013 and onwards haven’t been good years for the Explorer. Not only were the 2013 Explorers as problematic as the earlier model years, but the IIHS found issues with the Explorer’s safety. These issues became so serious that for the rest of the fifth generation of Explorers, the IIHS was forced to strip it of its Top Safety Pick rating. 

These Explorers all had a few things in common. They all did poorly in the front small overlap crash tests. These crash tests weren’t done by the IIHS until the 2013 model year, so that’s why every Explorer after 2013 isn’t considered a Top Safety Pick. In particular, each Explorer was rated as “Marginal,” which is the second to worst safety rating possible, in the driver-side small overlap crash test. 

Furthermore, the IIHS started taking into consideration the smart safety features that cars offer. The Explorer didn’t have much going for it in this area, so that also hurt its safety rating. 

The 2020 Explorer is better, but not good enough

For the 2020 model year, Ford redesigned the Explorer entirely. But despite this redesign, the IIHS says the Explorer still didn’t perform well enough in the front small overlap crash tests. It did better than the last generation of Explorers, but it still fell short of getting a “Good” grade in that category. 

The front small overlap crash test simulates what might happen when a vehicle crashes into a pole or a similar obstacle. In these crash tests, the 2020 Explorer was given an “Acceptable” rating, which is the second highest rating possible. The reason why it fell short of getting the best grade possible was because the IIHS found that the driver’s foot and legs could still get severely injured in these crashes. 

That said, the driver’s head and body would be well protected, according to the IIHS. So while the 2020 Explorer may not protect your whole body in that type of crash, it will protect most of it. In every other crash test, the 2020 Explorer did get a “Good” grade. 

On top of that, Ford has made strides in the smart safety feature category. The 2020 Explorer does have a lot of smart safety features as standard or as options. All of these factors show the 2020 Explorer is an improvement from its older model years in terms of safety. But it also shows the 2020 Explorer just barely missed out on the Top Safety Pick award.