January 11, 2019 Cars By Bryan Campbell Photo by Bryan Campbell
Ford unveiled the all-new 2020 Explorer SUV ahead of this year’s North American International Auto Show, and while the styling does take only a marginal step forward in modernity, there are massive leaps and bounds lurking under the sheet metal. It’s evolution hiding a revolution, accompanied by only a $400 jump in price to $32,765.

A complete rework of the Explorer from the ground-up was always in the cards, especially with the announcement of the Lincoln Aviator with which the Explorer historically shares a platform. Since the Explorer shares the new Lincoln’s platform the three-row Ford is going back to rear-wheel-drive with optional all-wheel-drive. The performance Ford can now tap into is one thing, but the new architecture allows for engineers to lighten up the design of the Explorer’s front-end. Most importantly, it yields more interior space for each of the three rows of seats.

Under the hood, Explorer models – base, XLT, and Limited – will get the potent 2.3-liter twin-turbocharged I-4 now making its way into all of Ford’s trucks and SUVs. It’s good for 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. The Platinum trim level gets an EcoBoost V6 which churns out 365 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque and, with the help of the rear-wheel-drive architecture, the Platinum will now tow up to 5,600 lbs. There will also be an ST and Hybrid model, but performance specs for those trims will be announced in next week at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.

Along with an increase in space, the interior gets a few modern touches and influences from the Lincoln side of the family. You can choose to have a second-row bench seat or two captain’s chairs. The 10.1-inch touch screen infotainment system — that, admittedly, looks as though an iPad was tacked onto the dash — is pretty intuitive and compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Waze navigation and pumps sound through a 14-speaker B&O premium audio system.

Design-wise, it’s a relief to see Ford make the switch to a rotary-dial gear changer and move away from the traditional clunky automatic levers. The 12.3-inch all-digital instrument cluster is also a neat little touch. Each of the seven drive modes gets its own animation and mode-specific dial layout. One weak spot is the leather Ford decided to use on the steering wheel and seats. It looks almost identical to the upholstery in the ’94 Explorer my buddy had in high school. Weird ’90s reference, but okay, Ford.

Now that Ford is committing to make the majority of its lineup trucks and SUVs, it’s good to see the models they’re putting out are something to be proud of. If Ford continues to use Lincoln as a foundation for the rest of its products, it’s easy to assume the more affordable brand will see similar success and warm receptions as the luxurious relatives.