2020 Ford Explorer ST 4WD Review

Exploring new levels of greatness


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Truly handsome exterior design, ferocious acceleration and grip, fresh take on infotainment, interior gets way better, ample amounts of space.
Negatives: Heavy in the corners, infotainment screen looks like a glued-on iPad Mini, still some evidence of Ford interior cheapness.
Bottom Line: The best Explorer ever comes in the form of the new ST that delivers speed, room, looks, and solid tech in the cabin. While it's not as angry sounding as the Dodge Durango SRT, it's faster, is better-styled, and levels up the comfort. It's Ford's best interpretation of the ST in non-hatch form.
Forget the last generation Explorer. The move to a front-wheel drive platform seemed to dilute the original rugged formula and made it more of a crossover than an SUV. While the new Explorer migrates to a more driver-friendly rear-wheel-drive setup, it retains the unibody construction rather than return to the original body-on-frame. Now, the brand has given the Explorer the ST treatment normally relegated to their now-defunct hot hatches, and it pairs with the less powerful Edge ST. The rear-wheel drive setup allows for a longer wheelbase and more room, as well as better off-road capability, although you won't drive the ST off the beaten path much at all. We helmed the 400 horsepower beast for a week to see if this new flavor is what the doctor ordered. Read ahead for the full review.
 

Driving Experience

8.5

 

The mere fact that a three-row SUV from a non-premium brand is this fast is a bit harrowing. Although it's no Durango SRT, the Explorer ST provides enough grunt from its twin-turbocharged V6 to impress any driver.

Ride Quality: The ride is controlled and comfortable, but there's firmness, too. It's not cushy, by any means, but daily driving is no problem. The beefier suspension components add sportiness without making the ST hard to live with.

Acceleration: The transmission makes quick work of things, even though Sport mode doesn't amp up the throttle response. 0-60 comes in a fast 3.9 seconds.

Braking: Our upgraded brakes were strong and authoritative, but they're a little grabby at lower speeds.

Steering: The steering lacks feel, but at least it's precise and on-center. Dial it into Sport mode, and the effort increases but not progressively.

Handling: The 4,700-lb ST is a heavy one, so don't plan on crushing twisty off-ramps at 60 mph. At least body roll isn't overly dramatic, and the sport suspension helps keep things planted.

Technology

8.4

 

Ford's in-car tech is pretty good, and now the excellent SYNC3 system is improved and augmented by the presence of a vertically oriented 10.1" vivid color touchscreen.

Infotainment System: Although the new screen looks like Ford glued an iPad atop the center stack, it's a very good system that's easy to read in bright sunlight and quick to respond. Ford's system is quite good in terms of navigating menus and diminishing distraction. The system also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a great 4G LTE Wi-Fi connection.

Controls: Ford appears to have simplified controls, which is a good thing. The presence of physical knobs and buttons for audio and climate are still there, but the layout is better. We also actually like the rotary shifter (but prefer traditional gearshift knobs) since it's way better than pushbutton versions found on vehicles like the Honda Pilot.

Styling

9

 

Dare we call the new Explorer ST the most masculine version of the model since its inception way back in 1990? Well, it's true and the new RWD configuration aids that look by stretching the wheelbase. It looks powerful and purposeful with the black trim, too. Rather than the last-gen version that just ends up looking like an emergency response vehicle, the new Explorer is a head-turner.

Front: The front fascia lacks tacky chrome and instead gets sporty black mesh that partially undercuts the headlights, as well as matching black trim on the lower trim. The long rectangular LED foglights look great, as does that red ST badge that pops.

Rear: Ford managed to build aggression into the tail section thanks to an angular portion in the tailgate that rises up to meet rear glass. The quad pipes are fantastic (to look at, as well as listen to). Again, the lack of chrome is nice and adds to the menace.

Profile: The ST looks great from this angle with the right amount of sculpting and creasing, great proportions, and ample black trim around the wheel wells and from the dark 7-spoke wheels. The red brake calipers also pop nicely.

Cabin: Ford really does need to start departing from their Darth Vader-esque blackness in their cabins. Although materials look and feel better than before, there are still some noticeable plasticky bits inside. Good-looking tech and controls certainly help the interior's appearance. ST stitching in the front seats would've also been nice.

Comfort

8

 

There is some sacrifice in making the Explorer RWD based since you lose some room in the back, despite the 6-inches of added wheelbase. Aside from this, the front two rows do quite well.

Front Seats: There's very good support and cushioning, as well as a great seating position for optimal sightlines out the front.

Rear Seats: The second row Captain's chairs are excellent in terms of comfort and leg/headroom. They slide forward but don't fold all the way, making third-row access challenger. The anticipation of getting back there less worthwhile when you realize the seats are too low to the floor, making you feel like you're sitting in a padded grammar school desk chair.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The ST is quiet inside except for the low but noticeable rumble of the engine. We didn't notice any wind noise at high speeds, either.

Visibility: Visibility is good until you try looking past the thick C-pillars. The BLIS and 360 camera are huge plusses in this regard.

Climate: The front seats are heated and cooled, and the Captain's chairs also get heat. Thee climate system also works well during chilly days.

Safety

6.8

 

The Explorer doesn't exactly crush the test scores, but it does do well in most of them. In terms of safety equipment and technology, it assembles a great package in the Ford Co-Pilot 360 Assist+.

IIHS Rating: It misses the top scores due to an "acceptable" in the driver's side small front overlap crash (but oddly receives a "good" for the passenger). It also gets dinged on the headlights.

NHTSA Rating: The new Explorer earns 5 stars from the feds with top scores in every area except for 4 stars in the rollover crash risk.

Standard Tech: The ST comes standard with side-wind stabilization, 360-degree camera, SOS Post Crash Alert,

Optional Tech: The Ford Co-Pilot 360 Assist+ includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot information system, lane keeping system, rear backup camera and auto high beam lighting.

Storage/Cargo

9.1

 

The added wheelbase length gives the new Explorer capacious amounts of cargo space, and the cabin storage is also quite good. We're not sure why more SUVs and crossovers aren't this good.

Storage Space: The ST has a cubby with a cover in front of the shifter and big twin cupholders. We love the smartphone slot that sits right in front of those. The center armrest is also keep for bigger items.

Cargo Room: The Explorer ST is really big in back with a significant 18.2 cubic feet of room behind the third row, a big 47.9 cubes behind the second row, and 87.8 cubes when everything's folded. That's bigger than the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride but smaller than the huge VW Atlas.

Fuel Economy

7.7

 

The powerful engine isn't a miser, but it also did better than we thought. The EPA ratings weren't met on our test, but we did drive in in Sport mode most of the time, so we expect more conservative driving will result in the EPA estimates.

Observed: 18.8 mpg.

Distance Driven: 116 miles.

Audio

8.7

 

The Bang & Olufsen premium audio system gets 14 speakers with the $995 Premium Technology Package, and it's totally worth it. We cranked up the tunes, and the system delivered powerful, clear sound that even drowned out the growl of the turbo V6.



Final Thoughts

It's the first Explorer we've been excited about since the Jurassic Park days. The RWD setup is more entertaining to drive, and the look and interior space of the new Explorer benefits, too. Add in great styling, mean ST trim bits, and an improved interior, and it's a truly desirable performance SUV that has enough power to thrill you and enough practicality to take the family along each and every day.
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