2020 Ford Explorer ST: Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
A pioneer of the SUV segment, the Ford Explorer has been on the road for almost 30 years, and has overall sales that make it one of the most popular SUVs in America. For 2020 the Explorer is completely redone with fresh styling and an all-new rear-wheel-drive platform. As part of the redesign, Ford adds a new high-performance trim to the Explorer lineup — the Explorer ST. Boasting big power and sporty styling, the ST is easily our favorite version of this new Explorer.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOur Test Vehicle
We spent a few days with a 2020 Ford Explorer ST painted in Rapid Red Metallic. Optional equipment on the tester included an ST Street Pack, Ford’s Premium Technology Package, a twin-panel moonroof and 21-inch wheels for a total MSRP of $58,910. Competitors to the Explorer ST include the Chevrolet Traverse RS, Dodge Durango SRT, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT and Volvo XC90 T8.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFresh Styling
While still recognizable as an Explorer, the 2020 model looks sportier than it has in the past, thanks to a more sculpted body, a sloping roofline and shorter overhangs at the front and rear. Up front sits a larger, wider grille flush with narrow LED headlights. This gives Explorer a wider and more athletic stance, further enhanced by horizontal fog lights below. At the rear are larger LED taillights as well as available quad exhaust outlets.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceExplorer ST
The ST (Sports Technologies) is clearly the sport version of the Explorer with unique styling that distinguishes it from the rest of the lineup. This includes a black mesh grille, a black EXPLORER badge on hood, black bodyside cladding, black roof rails, quad chrome-trimmed exhaust outlets, blackout treatment on the headlights and 20-inch machined aluminum wheels. The blackout treatment looks especially striking with the Rapid Red Metallic paint.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBig Power
Ford backs up the ST’s sporty styling with high-performance motive power from a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 engine that produces 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque, teamed with a 10-speed automatic transmission. With the grip of standard 4-wheel drive, the ST moves quickly for a big SUV.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDrive Modes
A dial on the center console allows the driver to choose from multiple modes that set up the Explorer for towing, slippery conditions or sporty driving. We tend to favor Sport mode, which improves throttle response as well as holds gears longer to keep rpm high. The digital gauge cluster changes appearance depending on the chosen mode; for example, Sport adds a tachometer to the display. At startup the vehicle defaults to Normal mode.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBig Display Screen
During a quick spin in the new Explorer earlier this year, we weren’t big fans of the 10.1-inch vertical display screen. The tablet-like display doesn’t fully integrate into the dashboard design — in fact it looks like it should be removable. However, after spending a few days with the new Explorer the lack of integration is not as bothersome, and the large display is clear and easy to read. With the extended real estate it’s possible to have multiple items in focus — such as navigation, audio and mobile — all displayed at the same time.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceControls
The screen of the 2020 Ford Explorer ST continually shows the main menu at the bottom for quick, easy access to most functions — another advantage of the large display. Volume and tuning knobs are always nice to see, and separate climate controls are clear and logical. We especially like the quick access to the heated / cooled seats and heated steering wheel.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFront Seats
Front seats in the 2020 Ford Explorer ST are comfortable, with multiple adjustments as well as heating, cooling and massage features. Our only complaint: the seat bottoms are a bit short, which becomes more noticeable during longer drives since they offer less leg support.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSecond Row
The ST has standard second-row captain’s chairs, which are not only stylish but also offer plenty of legroom and headroom. Seats slide forward to provide more space for third-row passengers or larger cargo. A USB port and a standard 110-volt outlet as well as rear-seat climate controls provide additional benefits to second-row occupants.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceThird Row
Access to the third row of the 2020 Ford Explorer is simple — press a button on top of the seatback and the seats quickly fold and slide forward. Although space in the rearmost seat is not bad thanks to plenty of headroom and hip room — a rarity in the aft row of many SUVs — the seat is low to the floor, which can be uncomfortable for tall passengers.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUseful Cargo Space
Even with all seats in place, the 2020 Ford Explorer has a decent amount of rear cargo space. If additional space is required, pressing a button will individually fold the third row to provide a long, flat load floor. The row can be returned to the seating position from the same set of buttons. A hidden space below the cargo floor provides additional storage away from prying eyes.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
Ford has never applied the ST treatment to an Explorer before, and this Explorer ST is certainly deserving of the label. Quick throttle response and strong acceleration make passing other vehicles on two-lane roads a breeze. Even at highway speeds a stab of full throttle results in a satisfying speed boost. The transmission shifts quickly and smoothly even under hard acceleration. However, response from the paddle shifters is a bit slow.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNice Handling
Sure, the Explorer ST is no sports car, although this big vehicle handles quite well on winding back roads, owing to the sport suspension, precise steering as well as the all-wheel-drive system. Freeway driving is equally impressive with a comfortable, solid ride. The Explorer ST would be a great choice for a road trip, given its ability to handle nearly any road or terrain condition.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 9.0
The new Explorer ST brings a wonderful mix of style and performance to the very competitive SUV segment. Even better, the ST is not only fun to drive but retains all the utility expected of a powerful SUV. Add in high levels of comfort, technology, the latest safety equipment and a spacious interior, and the Explorer ST suddenly becomes one of our favorite midsize SUVs on the market.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Black grille and lettering on hood are unique to the ST.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Quad exhaust outlets adds to the sporty look.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Stylish new headlights.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Ford Performance brakes.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Clean interior design.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Controls are easily accessible by the driver.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Drive mode selector in center console.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Gauges for Sport mode.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Cargo space with all seats upright.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Third row folds easily with buttons in the cargo area.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Secret storage below the cargo floor.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
One push to slide second row seats forward.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Ford Explorer ST
Controls and power for rear-seat passengers.

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