A lot has happened since 1990. We’ve seen game consoles go from stacking blocks to 3D interactive movies. There were the endless frosted tips on every wanna be cool kid in high school, while all the girls fawned over a few select boy bands. Lite Brite was a thing, as were mood rings. Will Smith was doing a network sitcom, while Lunchables were dominating cafeterias everywhere.
Before we get too nostalgic and break out our Nirvana and Third Eye Blind CDs, lets focus on the automotive world. Amidst all of those incredibly fascinating idiosyncrasies of that decade, odds are, since its inception in 1991, almost all of you have owned, ridden inside, or seen a Ford Explorer during the course of its three decade dance through time. It is one of the longest tenured uninterrupted SUV production vehicles in history, along with being one of the best selling. So for its 29th birthday, Ford has decided to unveil the sixth generation of its perennial Explorer, and it may just be the best one yet.
The fifth get Explorer was an attempt at making a more car-like truck, and to put it nicely, it wasn’t well received. The fifth get handled horribly, felt terribly out of balance, and has archaic architecture the harked back to — you guessed it — the ’90’s. So, for 2020, Ford has decided to wipe the slate clean, put away all its neon highlighters, and focus on the future instead of holding onto the past.
First and foremost is the new setup. The 2020 Explorer will feature a longitudinally mounted drivetrain, which is the exact opposite of its predecessor. Now, this is big news for a few reasons. First, it gives the Explorer back its truck roots. Real trucks are RWD with 4WD capabilities. Secondly, it provides the SUV with markedly better handling and on-road feel, thanks to its much better weight distribution. And third, acceleration and braking feels much more controlled and smooth, again, thanks to the better weight balance, making the Explorer far more confidence inspiring than ever before.
Engine choices abound when it comes to power plant options for 2020. The base engine is a DOHC turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-4 that produces 300-horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Up from that is a hybrid system 3.3-liter V6 that makes a combined 318-horsepower and 322 lb-ft of torque from all sources. Then there is Ford’s fun-loving 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that makes up to 400-horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque. All manner of engine get backed by the same 10-speed automatic transmission that comes with a manual shifting mode. Power is then routed to either just the rear wheels or to all four corners depending on your choice of drivetrain setup.
The biggest news is the addition of an ST model to the Explorer lineup. That 400-horsepower turbo V6? Yeah, that’s going into the ST, and will be the Blue Oval’s answer to the Hellcat everything Chrysler is shoehorning its performance engine into, including the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk — which the ST is aimed squarely at. The ST isn’t just a fancy badge though, it gets heavy duty shocks and suspension upgrades and much bigger brakes. Tires are changed to Michelin Latitude Sport 3 rubber, which is essentially as track ready a tire as an SUV can be shod in. Opt for Sport mode and you’ll be treated to much quicker throttle response. When pushed into action by Sport mode, that 10-speed auto shines, with perfect downshifts and a much more satisfying delay in upshifting to keep RPMs where they need to be for spirited driving. The ST can rocket from 0-60 mph in only 5.1 seconds and rip through the quarter mile in 13.3 seconds. That may not make it a serious match for anything Hellcat, but is still breathtakingly impressive for a nearly 5,000 pound truck.
Base price for the 2020 Explorer starts around $37,500 and can climb faster than most sherpas. The top end ST fully loaded can come dangerously close to the 60k mark, which for any Ford not named GT350, GT500, or GT, might seem a little unreasonable. But, then again considering what it has to offer, maybe there is some merit to that price tag. Besides, a lot has changed since the ‘90s, and maybe the idea of a $50,000 Ford SUV isn’t that crazy after all — no crazier than listening to N’Sync playing a Gameboy with frosted tips anyway.