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FIRST LOOK: New Explorer paces Ford into the future

Redesigned from the ground up on Ford’s new rear-drive unibody architecture

Published: January 10, 2019, 9:30 PM
Updated: January 17, 2019, 5:03 AM

Ford Explorer Platinum trim

DETROIT – Ford hasn’t been shy about where it’s heading – its future isn’t building cars, it says. Instead, the company is focusing on developing utility vehicles loaded with smart technologies, greater efficiency and the features today’s consumers are demanding.

Ford Explorer Limited trim

Just check out what Ford bosses told a gathering of employees, dealers and media at Ford Field as the all-new 2020 Ford Explorer made its global debut in a splashy video/real-life presentation on the turf of the NFL stadium.

The Explorer utility vehicle is “the heart and soul of the Ford Motor Company,” said company president and CEO Jim Hackett, while Jim Farley, president of Ford Global Markets, described the Explorer as the “pace car for a whole new utility lineup,” adding that the nameplate, which has already built such a great heritage over its nearly 30 years in the marketplace, would now be “a beacon for our future and our business.”

Ford Explorer Platinum trim

This sixth-generation Explorer has been designed to not only meet consumers’ preferences, but to prove Ford’s shift from sedans to SUVs is a gamble that pays off big time on the sales charts.

For starters, the Explorer has been redesigned from the ground up. It’s built on Ford’s new rear-wheel-drive unibody architecture – one of the company’s five basic vehicle foundations. That decision has enabled the designers and engineers to create a vehicle with a more athletic design, premium proportions, more capability, plus advanced connectivity and safety features.

Ford Explorer Platinum trim exhaust

“Explorer drivers told us what they want – more capability, more power, more space,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s head of product development. “They want more technology, not just for the driver, but for the whole family. And they want all of it with a beautifully sporty exterior. This new Explorer gives them all of that, and more, helping make every journey more enjoyable.”

Ford says the new Explorer is one of the quietest vehicles it has ever produced, thanks in part to a new active noise cancellation system. In the spacious, 7-passenger cabin, there are three rows of seating, including two front chairs with an available 5-setting massage feature. The sliding second-row seats have a new mechanism for easy access and exit to the third row that even a child can operate with one hand. For added convenience, a power-folding feature is available for the rear bench. With the second- and third-row seatbacks folded, there’s a flat floor that offers nearly 2,490 litres of cargo space – and wide enough to accept a 4x8-foot sheet of plywood. Also, especially important to young families, there are now redesigned ISOFIX anchor points that allow child seat installations anywhere in the second and third rows. Second-row windows can also be equipped with available retractable sunshades.

Ford Explorer Platinum trim wheel

The base engine for the standard, XLT and Limited trim models is a turbocharged 2.3-litre aluminum EcoBoost 4-cylinder that cranks out 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque on regular-grade gasoline. The premium Platinum model comes with a turbocharged 3.0-litre EcoBoost V-6, which is expected to generate 365 horsepower and 380 lb-ft using premium fuel, making it the most powerful Explorer ever offered.

Both engines are paired with a new 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission that’s controlled by a new, console-mounted rotary knob electronic shifter.

Ford Explorer rotary shift knob

In Canada, the Explorer comes equipped with intelligent 4-wheel drive (with front axle disconnect) as standard equipment. The 4WD terrain management system offers up to seven selectable drive modes to help the driver adapt to road, weather and terrain conditions, including normal, sport, trail, slippery, tow/haul, eco, deep snow and sand mode for improved performance off-road. All drive modes are available on demand.

If towing capability is on your wish list, the new Explorer is up to the task. The 3.0-litre EcoBoost V-6 can tow up to 5,600 pounds, a 12% increase over outgoing models with 3.5-litre EcoBoost, while the 2.3-litre EcoBoost 4-cylinder and Class III trailer tow package can tow up to 5,300 pounds, which is 2,300 pounds more than the current model, similarly equipped.

Ford Explorer Platinum trim front seats

The base Explorer comes with 18-inch, painted aluminum wheels and 255/65R18 tires as standard equipment, while the XLT trim gets 18-inch, 5-spoke, sparkle silver-painted aluminum rims. Available upgrades include three 20-inch models with 255/55R20 tires and top off with a 21-inch premium aluminum rim and 275/45R21 tires, offered to Platinum buyers.

Platinum models also feature a standard twin-panel moonroof, special leather seats, plus leather-wrapped steering wheel, dashboard, door rollovers, and door and front console armrests. This top-of-the-lineup trim level has door handles with satin aluminum inserts, liftgate appliqué, lower bodyside cladding insert, roof-rack side rails and a unique grille with satin aluminum finish.

Ford Explorer 8-inch digital touch screen

All trim levels include more than a dozen new standard features, including a power liftgate, 8.0-inch digital touch screen with SYNC 3, which gives drivers compatibility with available features such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Waze navigation, plus FordPass Connect providing 4G LTE Wi-Fi service for up to 10 devices, and Co-Pilot360 with blind spot information, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping system, hill-start assist, rearview camera with built-in lens washer, auto headlamps with auto high-beams and pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning and dynamic brake support, and post-impact braking.

The list of available driver assist technologies includes Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+, which adds such features to the base Co-Pilot360 content as intelligent adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and lane-centering and speed sign recognition, plus evasive steering assist, voice-activated 10.1-inch touch-screen navigation with pinch-to-zoom capability, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, Active Park Assist 2.0, reverse brake assist, 360-degree camera with front split-view, hill descent control, blind spot information system with trailer tow coverage (when equipped with trailer tow) and rain-sensing wipers.

Ford Explorer middle seat

An available wireless charging pad allows customers to recharge compatible mobile devices, and there are up to four USB ports, including new type-C outlets. Up to three 12-volt outlets and a 110-volt outlet are also available.

The standard audio system includes access to SiriusXM satellite radio and comes with new touch screen graphics and functionality. HD Radio is standard on Limited and Platinum models. An audio upgrade to a 980-watt, 14-speaker B&O premium system is available.

Ford Explorer third row seats

More information on the 2020 Explorer lineup, including details about a hybrid version and a performance-oriented ST model, will be revealed next week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The new Explorer, which will be built at Ford’s assembly plant in Chicago, is expected to arrive in dealers’ showrooms in fall 2019.