The 2020 Ford Explorer ST is Ford’s second attempt at building a performance SUV after the Edge. I’m personally not a fan of the Edge ST. I find it feels slow, heavy, sounds like ass, and its gearbox is lazy. It’s also a humiliation to the ST badge, two letters that are typically associated with fun, nimble, fast Fords; cars like the Ford Fiesta ST.
So when Ford announced it would slap the magic letters on its next-generation Explorer, I was worried it would mess it up and present us with yet another abomination. I was flown down to Oregon state for the North-American launch of this thing, and I got to say, I’m quite impressed.
One of the reasons the 2020 Ford Explorer ST is so good is because the new Explorer is plane solid to begin with. It’s also all-new, which allowed Ford to develop the high-performance version from the ground up, unlike the Edge ST which was a mid-cycle refresh. The Explorer ST is Ford’s first high-performance three-row SUV, a segment currently not exploited by mainstream carmakers. This means the Explorer ST only has one real contender; the Dodge Durango SRT. Any other comparable performance midsize SUV sit in a premium space, with substantially higher price tags. Think vehicles like the BMW X5 50i and the Porsche Cayenne.The 2020 Ford Explorer ST rides on Ford’s CD6 rear-wheel drive architecture, the same that will also underpin the 2020 Lincoln Aviator. While the ST comes standard with all-wheel drive, its engine, in this case a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6, sits longitudinally, and sends the power to the rear first. Torque is shifted to the front wheels only when required. What’s more, the all-wheel drive system can apply torque vectoring, and even completely disconnect the front wheels for improved rotation in tight corners. Power is rated at a comfortable 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque. The gearbox is Ford’s ubiquitous ten-speed automatic. The Explorer ST gets important chassis and suspension revisions over the standard vehicle. While dampers are the same as an Explorer Platinum, their ride frequency was increased, while the roll gradient was stiffened to reduce overall bodyroll. Springs are stiffer – 10 percent front, 8 percent rear -, and sway bars grow a full millimeter in diameter.You can also get upgraded brakes for your 2020 Ford Explorer ST; essentially comprised of vented discs and larger calipers, but in Canada that option will only arrive later this year through an optional High Performance Package. I don’t understand why this is optional to begin with.Aesthetically, the Explorer ST gets a blacked out grille, and wheels, ST lettering front and rear, a distinctive quad-pipe exhaust and red brake calipers. Pricing kicks off at $59,099.
Between Two States
Ford asked us to take off from Portland, Oregon, and drive our ST’s all the way to Stevenson, Washington where we would stay for the night. To get there, we would have to drive East on beautiful Highway 84, which weaves its way alongside the Columbia River towards Hood River Bridge. Once on the other side, we had to head back West on Highway 14, where abrupt cliffs, winding roads and some of the most breath-taking landscapes the northwest has to offer made sure to fill up our windshield.The 2020 Ford Explorer ST proved more than capable for the task. Unlike the Edge ST which is plagued with irritating transmission delays upon corner exit, the Explorer’s ten-speed gearbox had no issue shuffling through its cogs, always ready to hand me another gear when applying throttle. While it still somehow feels slow, even with 400 horsepower on tap, the Explorer ST’s chassis calibration proved impeccable on these endlessly winding roads.Always well planted to the road, with actual sports-car dynamics, surprisingly quelled body roll and an eagerness to turn in quickly, the Explorer ST feels more like a large German sedan – something heavy like a BMW 7 Series with a stretched wheelbase, for instance -, than a midsize SUV. And its massive brakes never showed signs of fade. If anything, they encouraged me to keep pushing this behemoth harder in the straights, taking in the hits when approaching an apex. While the Explorer’s weight is felt, it can hustle when asked to. Impressive machine, to say the least.
That Interior Though
So yes, Ford is proving to the entire world that it can make a bargain-basement BMW X5 with its 2020 Ford Explorer ST, but the similarities end there. Inside, the Explorer quickly reveals its budget-minded construction, with hard plastics that have no reason to be in a vehicle of this price range. Ford should spend some time checking out the cabins of the recent Korean offerings. In terms of interior materials, a Kia Telluride walks all overt his Explo.The same applies for interior design, which means none in the Explorer’s case. That dashboard is a mashup of intersecting lines, curves and edges, with a flagrant absence of any sort of coherence. It’s even worse with that 12.1-inch portrait-style screen sitting right smack in the middle of it, appearing more like an afterthought than an actual styling element that was given any serious thought.While still incorporating Ford’s Sync 3 interface, it’s been updated, now integrating driver assist controls which move away from the instrument cluster. The main menu now stacks main information on top of each other, and there’s now a feedback feature which allows drivers to communicate to Ford any issues the system may be experiencing in real-time.While the Explorer ST does little to impress through cabin design and material quality, it does a fantastic job at carrying seven passengers in utmost comfort. Front seats have this soft, sofa-like feel, with tight bolsters that firm up during aggressive driving, with plenty of lumbar support. Both rows of seats are easily accessible and plenty spacious for adults.With the 2020 Ford Explorer ST, Dearborn may have cracked the code to transforming an SUV into a genuine canyon-carving machine. With a 5,600-pound towing capacity, which walks all over most of the segment, seven-passenger seating, a plethora of cool technological features and performance that’s substantial enough to trade punches with an Audi Q8 on a good back-road, this SUV finally lives up to those no compromise claims carmakers make about their crossovers.
Review of the 2020 Ford Explorer ST by William Clavey
- Solid chassis and suspension calibration
- Comfortable and spacious interior
- Class-leading towing
- Painfully cheap-feeling interior
- Could use a little more power
- Upgraded brakes don’t come standard
Special thanks: Ford Canada
Photography: Traction Life, William Clavey
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