Ford Motor Co. debuted new 2020 Explorer models for all tastes, adding fuel-efficient hybrid and ST performance models to the SUV lineup.
The automaker debuted the vehicles at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit just a week after unveiling the sixth generation of the family SUV.
“This new generation of Explorer recognizes that every family – and every driver – is unique,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford executive vice president of product development and purchasing. “With an all-new ST and an all-new hybrid, there truly is an Explorer for every adventure.”
The rear-wheel-drive version of the Explorer hybrid promises a range of 500 miles, Thai-Tang said, giving families the ability to drive from Los Angeles to beyond San Francisco without refueling. Four-wheel-drive also will be an option.
The new Explorer also has a 3.3-liter hybrid powertrain projected to deliver up to 318 horsepower with the combined gas and electric motors. They are mated to an all-new 10-speed modular hybrid transmission.
The liquid-cooled, lithium-ion battery running the electric motor is built into the Explorer chassis beneath the right side of the second-row seats so it doesn’t cut into cargo and passenger space, as was the case with previous Ford hybrid vehicles.
“Lost cargo space in hybrids is a thing of the past for Ford,” said Bill Gubing, Explorer chief engineer.
Functionally, the vehicle is almost identical to the gas version of the 2020 Explorer, Ford engineers told Trucks.com.
Both the hybrid and the ST variants will come standard with Ford’s CoPilot360 system, a suite of driver’s assistance technology that includes automatic emergency braking and blind-spot alerts that work when towing a trailer or boat. Also included are a lane-keeping function, a rearview camera with a self-cleaning lens and automatic headlights and high beams. Side wind-mitigation technology keeps the SUV steady in gusts, and a braking system triggers following a collision to stop any resulting momentum.
Analysts believe the hybrid version will be attractive to consumers, even though regular gasoline’s national average is hovering around $2.25 a gallon. Ford has not released a fuel economy rating, but the SUV has a 19.3-gallon fuel tank, which would give the hybrid about 26 mpg at least in highway driving to get to the stated 500-mile range.
“Fuel economy still matters to buyers, and gas is not going to stay inexpensive forever,” said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Markit.
Buyers care about getting the best miles per gallon for the type of vehicle they purchase, even with a big SUV, Brinley said.
Other brands have had some success with hybrid SUVs.
“There is definitely some market for an Explorer hybrid. Competitors like the Toyota Highlander hybrid do pretty well,” said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Navigant Research.
Toyota sold nearly 15,000 Highlander hybrid and more than 48,000 RAV4 hybrid SUVs last year. Both Mercedes-Benz and Volvo sell several thousand hybrid SUVs annually.
Ford plans to use the same basic hybrid system in the Explorer across a broad range of vehicles including the Mustang and F-150 pickup truck, Abuelsamid said. “That will get Ford scale that will help with the development cost.”
Ford is going in the opposite direction with its performance-oriented ST Explorer.
The automaker has not yet released fuel economy ratings for the ST, but the performance version of the SUV is for those who won’t mind spending a few more dollars at the pump.
The Explorer ST uses a specially tuned 3.0-liter EcoBoost, or turbocharged, engine projected to generate as much as 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. It’s capable of reaching a top speed of 143 mph on a closed track.
As Ford has seen sales of sedans slide. it’s started to transition its ST performance package to SUVs. The first was the five-passenger Edge.
The automaker designed the Explorer ST to be “a hell of a lot of fun to drive,” said Ed Krenz, Ford Performance chief functional engineer. “There’s no mistaking its ST DNA.”
“It has a performance feel with sustained performance capability, and wears an unmistakably ST appearance,” Krenz said.
The Explorer ST has a 10-speed automatic transmission and standard four-wheel drive with selectable traction control. Available upgrades include an ST Street Pack and an ST Track Pack. Both feature 21-inch aluminum wheels and red-painted brake calipers, with differing levels of performance brakes.
Drivers will be able to recognize the vehicle by its black mesh grille, roof-rack side rails and skid plate elements. Explorer badging stretches across the front edge of the hood.
It has a standard 12.3-inch all-digital instrument cluster. Other adornments include a flat-bottomed heated steering wheel embossed with an ST logo, leather sport bucket seats with micro-perforations and silver accents.
Ford will release price information for the hybrid and the ST later this year, nearer to when they go on sale.