Review: 2020 Ford Explorer Platinum
True to form.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Explorer fans will find the new generation carries on their favourite attributes.
- What’s Bad: Competitors offer a better value proposition in top trims.
It’s comforting, especially in these times, to find something that’s exactly as you expect it to be.
The 2020 Ford Explorer is a good example. Several three-row SUVs have joined the market in recent months, and they tend to be designed primarily for family commuting use with lighter, more car-like dispositions. As the Explorer goes into its sixth generation for the 2020 model year, though, there’s a lot about it that’s the same as it ever was: a weighty sturdiness and solid drive feel that lean toward towing and utilitarian intent. As these sorts of larger SUVs become harder to find, they’ll be even more appreciated by those who prefer their trucks to feel more like, well, trucks.
With this generation, this goes even further: the Explorer is back on a rear-wheel-drive platform. While all-wheel drive is standard in Canada, this still does mean that it’s the rear axle that’s doing the pushing until the system detects a loss of traction and the front wheels kick in.
That’s the good news. The not-so-good news? The entry price point looks high because there’s no two-wheel-drive variant, which means the Explorer starts at $44,699. That stings, but how many Canadians were really going to buy this with RWD, anyway? It’s up at this top-level Platinum trim where things get a little eye-watering, though, pushing close to $70,000 with delivery charges.
Is it worth it? It depends on where your priorities are.
Steady as She Goes
If light and nimble aren’t words you feel should be associated with a large SUV – while those attributes are possible to find these days – then the Explorer might be up your alley.
The 3.0-litre twin-turbo EcoBoost V6, standard on both this Platinum and the Explorer ST performance model, delivers 365 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque from 3,500 rpm. This engine, paired with the same 10-speed automatic transmission as the Ford F-150, feels ready-made for towing, and its 2,540 kg max rating with the towing package is indeed on the higher end for the segment. The trade-off is that it feels heavier to get going despite not being appreciably heavier than most of its competition at 2,022 kg.
It’s also thirstier than average: with ratings from Natural Resources Canada of 13.3 L/100 km in the city, 9.8 on the highway, and 11.8 combined, and having returned it after a week with an even higher reading of 13.8 L/100 km, the Explorer is not the most frugal choice.
Where it does excel, though, is in its handling, which is excellent for a three-row SUV. There’s very little body roll, it deals well with rougher roads, and it carries an overall steadiness that’s very pleasant given its size.
A Better Exterior
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and while some newer SUVs are doing interesting things with light signatures and the like, I appreciate the Explorer’s more traditional look. The continuous line across the top of the headlights and the grille unites its head-on appearance, and the deep stamping on the doors conveys a certain muscularity.
On the inside, while any attempt to shake things up from black-on-black is always appreciated, I happen not to enjoy the brown and black default upholstery combination. Not only do the colours not mesh particularly well together, they make the entire cabin seem quite dark, although that is mitigated somewhat by the large panoramic sunroof. There’s a light sandstone configuration that would help this even more, but people who wear jeans continuously, myself included, might find the blue dye wears onto the seats after a while.
While there’s nice use of wood inserts on the dashboard that mark a clear improvement over the last generation, there are some spots in this test unit where they don’t align perfectly with their surrounds. The third row isn’t as easy to access as in some SUVs due to the operation of the seatback lever and the fact that the seat itself is fairly heavy, and the shallow leg room means that it’s not a place you’d want to plan to seat gangly teenagers very often, a point also supported by the fact that there are no USB ports back there.
These things, plus those that do work well here like the very comfortable second-row seats, are also present in the ST trim, while that adds elements like a blackout grille, more attractive included 20-inch wheels, and metal inserts. This combination makes the ST – to my eye at least – the more attractive option.
Much has been said about the 12.3-inch vertical infotainment screen layout in the Explorer’s top trims, which is roughly equivalent to the format currently used in newer Volvos and more expensive Ram 1500s among others. I happen to like it because it allows me to run Android Auto on the top half of the screen while continuing to access vehicle functions like the radio on the bottom (although it’s perhaps not as critical here as in the Ram since the climate controls are housed in separate buttons).
I’ve heard criticism of the fact that the back-up camera doesn’t expand to take up the full screen and becomes harder to see as a result, which is a fair point. And yes, it does look like someone picked up a tablet and shoved it into the dash. Those, for me, aren’t deal-breakers. The bigger problem is that Sync is still slow to load on start-up, and if fully froze on me once when I was a little too eager to change the radio station before it was ready. Fortunately, if enough owners complain about these issues, they can be fixed in a system update.
Heated first and second rows are included with the Platinum trim, as are a heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats. But ventilated second-row seats aren’t available, which is a feature that’s becoming more common in the priciest SUV models.
I enjoy driving the new Explorer quite a bit, although with nothing to tow all that often and being concerned about fuel efficiency in city driving, it wouldn’t be my personal first choice. If I did have a compelling reason to choose it, though, and I had budget to shop at the higher end of the grades, I’d definitely opt for the Explorer ST over the Platinum.
Its lower starting price of $61,049 including delivery, along with more stylish looks and upgraded suspension without much sacrifice in feature content – you’ll pay extra for the digital gauge cluster and panoramic sunroof if you want those things, but those are the biggest differences – makes it this line-up’s better value.
2020 Ford Explorer Platinum
BODY STYLE: Three-row SUV
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, all-wheel drive
POWER: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6; 365 hp, 380 lb-ft of torque from 3,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 10-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: (L/100km) 13.3 city/9.8 hwy/11.8 combined
PRICE: $68,699 as tested, including freight and PDI
WEBSITE: Ford Explorer