Driven: 2020 Ford Explorer ST
Words and Images by Paul Strauss
If you’re looking for a three-row SUV that drives like a sports car, look no further than the 2020 Ford Explorer ST. We spent a week behind the wheel of this tricked-out 400 horsepower family vehicle, and were very impressed with its performance and capabilities. Read on for more details on this sporty SUV.
Made in collaboration with Ford Performance, the Explorer ST put the emphasis on the "Sport" in Sport Utility Vehicle. It packs a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 engine that cranks out 415 lb-ft. of torque. Connected to an efficient 10-speed automatic transmission, it shifts quick, and launches from 0 to 60 in just over 5 seconds. Not too shabby for a vehicle that can carry six passengers. The engine kicks out plenty of grunt and sounds the part too, thanks to its quad exhaust and in-cabin sound enhancement, which really kicks up the audible feedback in Sport mode.
Every 2020 Explorer rides on a new rear-wheel-biased platform, and has a wheelbase that's 6.3" longer than last year's models. These changes gives it a much more dynamic feel than most other SUVs, and in ST flavor, it's got an adaptive all-wheel drive platform that can disconnect the front axle, giving you the best of all worlds - quick launches, confidence in bad weather, and sporty cornering. We were especially impressed with how car-like it handles, and how well body roll is controlled by the sport-tuned supension.
We love the aggressive styling of the Explorer ST, with its black body trim pieces, bold black grille weave, and matching gloss black 21" aluminum rims. Behind those rims, you can get high performance brakes, which do a great job bringing something this heavy and powerful to a quick and predictable stop. We found the Pirelli Scorpion Zero all-season performance tires handled quite well, even in the chilly and sometimes wet days we had the Explorer on hand.
Inside, the Explorer ST is nicely appointed, with clean lines and nicely bolstered leather sport seats, which offer heat and ventilation for front seat passengers, and can be equipped with a delightful massage feature as well. The instrument panel is all digital, and provides visual feedback to the vehicle's various drive modes, which include Eco, Normal, Sport, and a Tow/Haul mode. USB A and USB C outlets can be found in both the front and second rows, and there's a smartly-placed wireless Qi charger in front of the center armrest.
There's sporty carbon-look trim on the dash, and the excellent sounding 14-speaker B&O stereo system sports slick matte aluminum speaker grilles. Front and center in the dash is Ford's new 10.1" tablet-style interface for its SYNC 3 infotainment system. While we found the added screen real estate to be useful in applications like navigation, not every application can use the full space. We're also not crazy about the way it sticks out of the dash.
A plethora of tech features are aboard, including a 360º camera to help negotiate tight parking spaces, adaptive cruise control, lane-centering assist, blind spot monitors with cross-traffic alert, hill descent control, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beam headlights, and more. In addition to color ambient lighting in the cabin, the Explorer ST has a neat little touch that you can only see at night - "ST" logo puddle lamps which light up the ground when opening the doors.
Of course, it wouldn't be an Explorer without room for your family and friends - and their stuff. There are comfy seats in the second row. They're heated, and can slide to make it easier to get in and out of the back row or to adjust legroom. The third row's more limited legroom is better suited to kids, but adults can sit back there for short jaunts. The panoramic moonroof overhead helps make the cabin feel more spacious, even all the way in the back.
There's a good amount of storage space available too, with up to 43.4 cubic feet with the third row folded, and 78.5 cubic feet with both second and third rows down. That space decreases to a car-like 12.7 cubic feet with all three rows in use, but Ford makes that space a bit more useful thanks to a hidden storage area below the load floor.
Bottom line, the 2020 Ford Explorer ST gives you everything you expect from a mid-size SUV - room to haul around people and their gear, comfort, all-wheel drive confidence, and modern safety tech. But it also is a sports car, with impressive acceleration, and surprisingly good handling for its size. Plus, it looks really badass as SUVs go. So if you were thinking you'd have to give up your dream of driving a powerful sports car just because you have to haul the kids to soccer practice, think again. The 2020 Explorer ST has got you covered.