DETROIT -- Ford unveiled an all-new 2020 Ford Explorer Wednesday at Ford Field in Detroit, ahead of the 2019 Detroit auto show.
The Explorer is Ford's third most popular vehicle, having sold 7.7 million units since its launch in 1991. Trailing the F-series pickup and Escape crossover in Ford's U.S. sales, demand declined 3.5 percent to 261,571 units in 2018, although that was enough to outsell the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse. The new design should improve the Explorer's fortunes, something that seems assured in a segment that grew 11 percent last year.
In some ways, the 2020 Explorer is a return to its roots. When the Explorer replaced the Bronco II for 1991, the Explorer was rear-wheel drive, compliments of its Ranger pickup platform. In 2011, it switched to an architecture derived from the previous generation Volvo XC90 that was shared with Ford Taurus, Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT. Base models featured front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive was optional.
The 2020 Explorer is redesigned from the ground up, once again using rear-wheel-drive and optional all-wheel courtesy of a new platform shared with the upcoming 2020 Lincoln Aviator. The switch back to rear-wheel drive architecture enabled the new Explorer's sleeker, sportier look, with shorter front and rear overhangs and a gently sloping roofline. Overall length is close to the current model's, although the wheelbase is 6 inches longer. Key Explorer styling signatures, such as the body-colored C-Pillar, are retained. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, but 20- and 21-inch wheels are offered. But beyond its more sophisticated wardrobe is a litany of upgrades and improvements, the result of Ford spending eight year listening to Explorer customers.
"Explorer drivers told us what they want," said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's head of product development. "They want more technology, not just for the driver but for the whole family."
There's no doubt that Ford has fitted the 2020 Explorer for family duty. Of course, there are three rows of seats, although the third row is best left to small children or amputees. The other two rows prove roomy and comfortable and include some considerate touches.
Designers placed a large flat space inside the rear doors for owners to stand on when loading items onto the roof. And those second-row doors can be fitted with sunshades. And if there's any doubt that this new Explorer is equipped for rug rats, its confirmed by the presence of square cup holders for juice boxes and child-seat anchors in every seat.
To keep everyone connected, Ford installs a standard eight-inch or optional 10.1-inch touch screen at the center of the instrument panel featuring an updated version of Ford's SYNC 3 infotainment system. Navigation maps fill the entire screen, or split it with the audio system, which can be upgraded with a 980-watt, 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen premium audio unit. SiriusXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Waze navigation, and 4G LTE Wi-Fi that accommodates 10 mobile devices is standard. A wireless charging pad is optional. Up to four USB ports (including two USB-C outlets) are offered, as well as three 12-volt outlets and a 110-volt outlet.
Cargo space is impressive. Folding the second and row seats provides 87.8 cubic feet of room, not to mention a flat floor that hauls 4- by 8-foot sheets of plywood -- something that couldn't be said of previous models. The cargo floor is reversible, with carpet on one side, vinyl on the other. There's even an "apple catcher," a lip molded into the rear cargo floor to prevent produce, bottles or jars from rolling onto the ground when the power liftgate opens.
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When it's time to move this mobile family room, you'll find it equipped with a 300-horsepower 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine on Base, XLT, and Limited models, while a 365-horsepower 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 is found in Platinum models. A ten-speed automatic transmission is standard. The new model can tow up to 5,600 pounds, 600 more than the 2019 Explorer. Ford will also offer Limited Hybrid and sportier ST models, but didn't offer any specifics.
As you'd expect, four-wheel drive is available, and a new Terrain Management System offers normal, sport, trail, slippery, tow/haul and eco drive modes on rear-wheel-drive Explorers. Vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive add deep snow and sand modes.
Keeping everyone safe is Ford Co-Pilot360, a suite of standard driver-assist features that includes automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, blind spot warning, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, rearview camera with built-in lens cleaner, and automatic headlamps. Two other features, Evasive Steering Assist, which provides steering to help avoid a collision, and Post-Impact Braking, which provides braking after a collision to lessen injury, are optional.
The 2020 Ford Explorer will be built at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant alongside the Lincoln Aviator. Look for it in showrooms this summer.
Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.
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