Way back in 1990, Ford unveiled a vehicle that still continues to define the midsize SUV - the Ford Explorer. Now, the competition is cut-throat and the Ford Explorer is fighting to keep its place in the segment it once pioneered. It's well-armed to fight with best in class cargo space, spacious and hushed cabin riding on well-tuned suspension, and lunar rover rivaling off-road capability with the optional 4WD.
On the infotainment front, you can have the Explorer with SYNC 3 with an 8-inch touchscreen (lower trim gets 4.2-inch SYNC). Splash out some more cash and you can have 12 speaker Sony audio system, second-row USB, dual-zone climate control and more. Safety tech like automatic braking, lane departure warning, and even inflatable seat belt are also on the table.
Engine choice range from the base (and unimpressive) 3.5 L naturally aspirated V6 and efficient 2.3 EcoBoost I4 to satisfactorily efficient and abundantly powerful 3.5 L EcoBoost. All the powerhouses are mated to a rather dated 6-Speed Automatic. Four-wheel drive is available even in base trim if you really want to explore.
7.0/10 Engine and Performance
4.0/10 Fuel Economy
2020 Ford Explorer Features
The Explorer comes in 5 trims and three engine options. 4 wheel drive is available on all trims. The starting price is $31,990 for the base explorer that gets you base spec 3.5 L naturally aspirated V6, fabric seats, and old school SYNC infotainment. The top of the line has a hefty $53,940 price tag and has Lincoln rivaling luxury with interior draped in real wood and leather.
Includes Base model’s features and adds -
Includes XLT’s features and adds -
Includes Limited's features and adds -
Includes Limited's features and adds
SYNC Voice Recognition Communications and Entertainment
10-way power driver’s seat including power lumbar
Intelligent 4WD with Terrain Management System and Hill Descent Control
Front Fog/Driving Lights
Infotainment System with 4.2" color LCD screen in the center stack
Dual-zone electronic automatic temperature control
SYNC with 8" color LCD capacitive touchscreen in center
Class III Trailer Tow Package
Turn Signal Mirrors
1 smart-charging USB port
911 Assist, AppLink, Apple CarPlay compatibility,
Sony Premium Brand Speakers
8-way power driver’s seat with manual lumbar
Android Auto compatibility, and 2 smart-charging USB ports
Sony Premium Brand Stereo System with 12 speakers
4.2" configurable color LCD screen in instrument cluster
2nd-row fold-down center armrest with 2 cupholders
Heated Steering Wheel
Intelligent Access with push-button start
Dual 4.2" configurable color LCD screens in instrument cluster
Mirror – Manual day/night rearview
Mirror – Auto-dimming rearview
Exhaust tips – Dual, bright
Exhaust tips – Quad, bright (3.5L EcoBoost)
Tires – P245/60R18 all-season BSW
Tires – P255/50R20 all-season BSW
911 Assist and AppLink
We think the ford explorer in limited trim gives the most bang for the buck as it has an efficient and powerful 2.3 L EcoBoost engine and gets the much-improved SYNC 3 infotainment system, a very special ambient lighting and host of other feel-good amenities.
2020 Ford Explorer Engine and Performance
“The crown jewel of the lineup is a twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 that puts out 365 horsepower. Throttle response is almost instant, and it's the best choice if you plan to do any midrange towing. All engines are mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission.”-Cars.USnews
Engine and Transmission
The explorer gets three engine choices. So, there is a good chance that one of them would suit your requirements. The base 3.5 Liter naturally aspirated engine is a low-cost alternative that delivers more towing capacity (5000 pounds with additional equipment) than the more expensive 2.3 L EcoBoost (3500 pounds). However, the 3.5-liter Ti-VCT engine is a little low on steam when compared to the 2.3 L EcoBoost with its excellent low-end torque.
If 3500 pounds towing capacity is adequate for your needs, the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine is easy to drive in stop and go traffic. It also lives up as the most fuel-efficient engine in the lineup. It’s optional in base and XLT trim and standard on the Limited trim.
The best of the lot is the 3.5 L EcoBoost engine. When equipped with this engine, Ford Explorer rushes from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. It’s optional on the Limited trim and standard on Sport and Platinum trim. Ford offers only a 6-Speed Automatic on all engines. It’s smooth and doesn’t hesitate while going through gears.
3.5-liter Ti-VCT V6
2.4-liter turbocharged Subaru Boxer 4-cylinder
288 hp @ 6500 rpm
260 hp @ 5,600 rpm
280 hp @ 6000 rpm
185 hp @ 5800 rpm
254 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
277 lb-ft. @ 2,000 rpm
262 lb.-ft. @ 4700 rpm
184 lb.-ft. @ 4200 rpm
Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer beat the Subaru Ascent at the horsepower game. Ford’s Ti-VCT engine churns out the segment-best – 288 horsepower which is closely followed by Honda in second place. Toyota Highlander is outclassed by its competition. But when we talk about torque, Subaru takes an obvious lead with its turbocharged boxer engine’s 277 lb.-ft. torque output.
Ford Explorer, when equipped with the 3.5 L EcoBoost, is the fastest SUV in this comparison. The closest competitor is the Honda pilot that trails the explorer by 0.3 seconds taking 6.1 seconds to do 0-60 mph dash but in its base trim, it takes a very long 8.2-seconds to achieve a similar feat.
3.5 L V6
2.4 L H4
3.5 L V6
(Tons/yr. of CO2 Emissions @ 15K mi/year)
Honda Pilot takes the lead with its 6.2-second naught to sixty runs. Honda’s 6.2-second run is followed by Subaru’s 6.9-second. And finally, the Ford Explorer takes the longest 8.2 seconds to achieve a similar speed.
Ride and Handling
The Ford Explorer has its priorities set right - comfort over everything else. The suspension has been tuned to offer a supple ride quality. Even on longer journeys, your family would be cocooned in comfort. Explorer can soak up the undulations from bad road surfaces without any drama. High-speed ride quality is composed and there is no nervous body movement at such speeds.
Engaging handling and fun to drive characteristics are low on the Ford Explorer`s priority list. Effortless, safe and family-friendly characteristics are high on the list – a good thing for a family crossover. Owing to its large exterior dimensions, the Ford Explorer can be cumbersome to maneuver in the tight spots while driving in town.
The Ford Explorer has an adequate pedal feel which is backed by an impressive stopping power. It is equipped with identical 12.8-inch rotors at the front and back. Ford Explorer stops from 60 to 0 mph in 108 feet (with stickier tires) – among best in class. This is impressive considering the Explorer is the heaviest crossover in this comparison.
Brake Front (in.)
Brake Rear (in.)
Curb Weight (lbs.)
60-0 MPH (ft.)
108 (With optional tires)
The Ford Explorer manages to score an impressive stopping distance. Honda Pilot’s estimated braking distance is 117 ft. However the Toyota Highlander with its estimated stopping distance of 126 ft.
The Ford Explorer tow capacity is 5000 pounds when properly equipped. By properly equipped, we mean you must have the base 3.5 L naturally aspirated V6 or the 3.5 L EcoBoost V6 and you must get the optional Trailer Tow Class 3 package.
3.5 L V6
2.4 L H4
3.5 L V6
2.7 L I4
2020 Ford Explorer Fuel Economy
The ford explorer is certainly not the most fuel-efficient midsize SUV. The EcoBoost with base 3.5 naturally aspirated V6 delivers 17 mpg in city and 24 on the highway for a combined EPA rating of 20 mpg. Interestingly, the much throatier 3.5 L EcoBoost V6 delivers just 1 mpg less in the city and 2 mpg less on the highway even with AWD.
The Explorer’s base engine isn’t the most frugal of the lot. This normally aspirated engine returns a combined 20 miles to the gallon. If you are looking for something more efficient then move up the trim ladder or get the optional turbo-four which offers better fuel efficiency.
Looking at the competition, Explorer has an average score. The newly introduced Subaru Ascent delivers a segment-best of 23 mpg which is followed by Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.
2020 Ford Explorer Interior
“A well-made SUV. There's plenty of soft-touch materials throughout the cabin; the steering wheel has quality leather; and the trim pieces look good and fit together well. The only flaw we noticed was an occasional dash rattle that we couldn't pinpoint.”-Edmunds
Seating and Comfort
Ford Explorer comes with seven people capacity which is on the lower side for this segment. Other three-row SUVs come equipped with eight-person seating. The base and the XLT trim come with cloth upholstery. If you want something more premium than the Limited trim comes with leatherette upholstery. One thing that would be appreciated is Explorer’s capacity to filter out road noise. The cabin is a quiet place to be and is well equipped to take on longer journeys.
Dual-zone automatic climate control is available from XLT onwards and the optional SYNC 3 takes care of the infotainment. You get a leather-wrapped steering wheel in XLT and higher trims. From limited trim onwards, ambient lighting creates a beautiful airliner like night driving experience.
Front (Head/Shoulder/Leg) (In.)
Second (Head/Shoulder/Leg) (In.)
40/ 60.3/ 38.6
Third (Head/Shoulder/Leg) (In.)
The base and XLT trims are equipped with Ford’s SYNC system which comes with a standard 6-speaker audio system. Ford’s SYNC3 system which is a standard feature on the Limited and above trim is available as an option on the XLT trim. SYNC 3 is a user-friendly system. This interface is intuitive and offers a decent response time.
Ford Explorer comes with a decent list of interior features. Some of these features are listed below:
Tilting and telescopic steering column
Heated steering wheel
Memory driver’s seat
Power driver’s seat
Heated Front Seats
Cooled Front seats
The cargo capacity behind the third row is the best in class. But with folded seats, the cargo volume isn’t at par with the competition. With the rear seats folded the Explorer frees up 43.9 cu-ft. of space. With both the rows folded the cargo area increases to 81.7 cu-ft. The higher trims come with hands-free liftgate which can be a boon when you are carrying luggage in both your hands.
The Explorer can seat seven people with rear bench seats. However, third-row access is compromised with bench seats. Getting Captain's chair makes the second row far more comfortable while also allowing easy third-row access.
Cargo Volume (cu-ft.)
2020 Ford Explorer Exterior
“Outside, the Explorer’s shape is clean and largely unadorned. Unlike Eddie Bauers of decades past, the current model doesn’t try to be faux rugged. It’s modern enough and smart in certain lighter shades with larger wheels. Thankfully, Ford now includes alloy wheels as standard equipment on all versions of the Explorer, as well as tinted windows.”-TheCarConnection
Design and Dimensions
Explorer is based on an older platform while the majority of the rivals have undergone major changes currently. The design isn’t anything fancy but it sticks with a conservative design that doesn’t command any unwanted attention. Over the decade, the Explorer has received nips and tucks to keep it up to date.
2020 Ford Explorer tips the scales at 4458 lbs. – it surely is the heaviest of the lot. It stretches to 198.3 inches from the front to the back. At 78.9-inches it is also the widest crossover in this comparison. In case you decide to leave the interstate and take the gravel road, the Explorer has a 7.8-inches ground clearance.
Curb weight (lbs.)
Ground clearance (in)
Track width (in) F/R
Newly updated rivals pose a challenge to the aging Ford Explorer. The all-new Subaru Ascent is surely a prime contender in the three-row crossover segment. It has the best in class ground clearance of 8.7-inches and sits on a wheelbase of 113.8-inches.
2020 Ford Explorer Safety
Ford Explorer comes with state of the art safety equipment that allows it to score well on the safety tests conducted by the agencies. Some of these features are mentioned below:
Front, Rear, and Third Row Head Airbags
Post-Collision Safety System
Front and Rear Ventilated Disc Brakes
Tire Pressure Monitoring
2020 Ford Explorer Competition
Ford Explorer vs Subaru Ascent
Newly introduced Ascent is powered by a horizontally opposed four-cylinder boxer engine. Transmission duties are taken care of by a CVT automatic transmission. Ascent is one of the better performing three-row SUVs available in the market. Being the costliest Subaru, Ascent brings a plethora of standard features. Unlike its competitors, it comes equipped with standard AWD and Subaru’s Eyesight safety system.
Ford Explorer vs Honda Pilot
Honda Pilot is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates 280 hp and 262 lb-ft. of torque. Pricing for the Honda Pilot starts at $31,450. Honda Pilot has been one of the best vehicles in this segment. The third generation of the Pilot was introduced in 2016. The pilot is a can’t go wrong decision in the three-row CUV market.
With the updates received, the 2020 Honda Pilot comes off as more contemporary in design but Honda has addressed many of the shortcomings. The exterior gets some subtle changes. The 9-speed automatic transmission from ZF gets reworked to l
Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander
Powered by a 2.7-liter inline-four engine, the Highlander makes a meager 185 hp and 184 lb-ft. of torque. Those numbers are underwhelming for a three-row SUV. With a full load of passengers and cargo, this mill struggles to keep up with other vehicles in its class. The Highlander is priced at $31,330. The Highlander, when equipped with the larger V6 engine, has enough gusto to get it going even with a full load of passengers and cargo without much drama.
Compared to the V6 powered Explorer, the Highlander is best to be avoided with the base turbo-four configuration. It is thirstier in this form as the base engine constantly works in higher RPMs to satisfy the requirement. Considering the available options and value for the base model. We believe that your money is spent well someplace else.
2020 Ford Explorer Final Verdict
The Ford Explorer is the hottest selling three-row crossover in the market. Explorer is the crossover that basically kick-started the three-row crossover segment. It is still the king of the midsize segment, at least by sales volume. It still has a lot going for it like a spacious cabin, supple ride quality, eerily silent interiors, and powerful engines. The optional 4 wheel-drive and terrain management system ensures it can handle the backroads.
However, Ford Explorer has aged well and over the years it has held its ground against the onslaught of modern Japanese rivals. The rivals also pack the same goodies for a lower cost and can tow as much as the Explorer.
But again, the explorer is set in the hearts of many Americans and it can do whatever you ask it to do almost as good as or better than the rivals. The hefty body is the very reason some love the explorer. All in all, if you like the explorer and are ready to pay more than you will pay for a similarly equipped competitor, get it.