By on February 2, 2018

Image: Brian Williams/SpiedBilde

As you hopefully read on TTAC earlier this week (if not, read it here), there’s some significant changes in store for the next-generation Ford Explorer. Expected to debut next year as a 2020 model, the upcoming Explorer ditches its front-drive-biased platform for a rear-wheel-drive setup, our sources say.

The change is made possible by the switch to Ford’s modular CD6 platform, which accommodates front-, rear-, and all-wheel-drive configurations. The engine lineup sees a similar shakeup, with a new variant spawned by the addition of a motor currently found only in the Lincoln stable. Yes, the ST badge is coming to the Explorer line.

Think of it as a high-riding, three-row Fiesta — a model Ford doesn’t want us to have anymore.

It’s not the camo’d up current-gen Explorer test mule we’ve seen in other spy photos, that’s for sure. Don’t expect those long tailpipes to reach the showroom floor, but the body — what we can see of it — certainly will. Until the disguised model starts shedding its clothes, it’s hard to see the design as anything other than an evolutionary take on the well-received current model.

If this is indeed the ST model, we’re not seeing any lower body flourishes that would give it away. The brakes definitely do not appear upgraded.

Image: Brian Williams/SpiedBilde

One item of note is the integrated trailer hitch receiver in the rear bumper and corresponding seven-pin plug. Ford apparently wants more boaters behind the wheel.

Image: Brian Williams/Spiedbilde

Any ST trim will require improved handling dynamics to go with the hotter engine, otherwise you’re just tossing around a two-ton SUV that won’t be able to use the added horsepower to full effect. Well, as fully as a utility vehicle can. Like the 2019 Edge ST, the go-fast Explorer should a receive suspension upgrade and a sport mode capable of fine-tuning the vehicle’s throttle response, shift points, and exhaust note.

Image: Brian Williams/SpiedBilde

According to our sources, the ST should also gain a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6. Currently, that engine makes 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft in the Lincoln Continental. Base engine duties for the upcoming Explorer line will be handed over to the F-150’s new 3.3-liter V6, featuring dual port injection. The 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder carries over, and a hybrid 3.0-liter variant should appear, as well.

[Images: Brian Williams/SpiedBilde]

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42 Comments on “Spied: 2020 Ford Explorer, Possibly in ST Guise...”


  • avatar
    redapple

    Like we used to say at the GM Axle Plant.
    God in his infinite wisdom made all animals – rear drive.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Oh, my, it’s a CUV. Be still, my beating heart.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    What will be hilarious is if the styling stays pretty much the same while radically changing the platform underneath. I understand the current one is successful but it seems silly to make the switch from FWD/AWD to RWD/AWD and not change the styling MORE.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      From the looks of it it is a conservative redesign.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      To be honest the Explorer is probably one of the best looking CUVs out there, even being ~7 years old.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Its not like the current look is hurting sales. Despite the age of the vehicle underneath, its still a very strong seller.

      The new one, even though its switching to RWD, will still be a unibody, car-like family truckster, so why go batsh¡Г on a radical new look? I’m sure we won’t have a problem distinguishing the old one from the new one, even if its a familiar general look.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Principal Dan,
      There could be numerous reason why Ford is shifting back to rear wheel drive.

      What about Ford using the platform for other rear wheel drives in the future?

  • avatar
    Gail Bloxham

    You referred to the motor?
    Charles Kettering would be offended.
    He never let his engineers use that word.
    An electric car does indeed have a motor… or 2.
    But a piston motor is not a motor. If it burns fuel…
    …it is an engine.
    If it operates on air from a compressed air tank…
    …ok then it is a motor.
    This is a car site right?
    Yes?

  • avatar
    dwford

    One thing Mulally wasn’t able to change was Ford’s 10 year product cycles. They are sitting in Dearborn wondering why sales are down, um guys, look at your lineup! Everything’s OLD. How about picking up the pace of the redesigns!

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      I suppose Mr. Kettering suspended his objection long enough to cash his paycheck, which came from a subsidiary of General MOTORS.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      The Explorer just had its best sales year since 2004.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Right, doesn’t seem to be hurting it. And the Grand Cherokee is right behind it in sales. Also quite old.

        Tell me, would F-150, Super Duty and Expedition be considered part of “everything” concerning FoMoCo’s lineup?

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The switch away from 10 year cycles predated Mulally’s tenure. Look at the Fusion the first one lasted 2006-2012, The current one is scheduled to run from 2013 to 2020. The last Explorer ran from 2002-2010. The current one is running an extra year due to the fact that the made the switch back to RWD.

  • avatar
    Hydromatic

    I wonder how this will affect the Police Interceptor Utility that’s bound to be based on this Explorer? I’m sure cops everywhere would welcome the rear-wheel drive setup.

  • avatar
    2o6

    Ford’s product line and planning seems to be all over the place

    No fiesta

    no focus

    Possible Fusion axed

    Whack Ecosport introduced; that design is both old and not really well received wherever it’s sold. Most western markets say its crap

    This Explorer switches to RWD, and no one asked for this or really cared

    Updated mustang despite the fact Pony cars haven’t sold well in a very long time

    No refinement of hybrid tech or alternative energy….

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      No Focus? Except the next-gen has been seen testing very recently. No indication that it won’t be sold here.

      The market clearly doesn’t want subcompact cars, so why bother with the next-gen Fiesta? I have little doubt that it has been a money-loser in this market since being introduced. Toyota doesn’t even seem to be interested in developing a decent subcompact, the freshest model they offer is a rebadged Mazda. The Yaris is old and sells poorly.

      Why shouldn’t the Explorer be RWD-based? It’ll increase towing capacity, if nothing else. Also allows it to share an engine and transmission with F-150, helping economies of scale there.

      And why not update the Mustang? Aside from being a halo car, its a global seller now, and its doing quite well as a whole. But, yeah, they should just build a Prius instead, in an era of cheap gas for the foreseeable future. That’ll do wonders for image, as it has for Toyota, which is trying desperately to gain some notoriety for building something aside from soulless appliances.

      All over the place? As in concentrating their efforts on what will be the most profitable products that acknowledge consumer preferences? Sounds like a terrible way to run a business.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Pretty much agreed on all that, John.

        I also think rumors of the Fusion’s impending death are greatly exaggerated, and a byproduct of the “midsize is dead” thing. I bet they refresh it versus redesigning it, or maybe make it a tad bigger to take up the room the (truly dead) Taurus leaves. Maybe they’ll build it elsewhere, but there’s no way they walk away from almost 200,000 sales.

        The good news for Ford is that if the market turns back towards midsizers and compacts due to an economic downturn, they’re far better positioned to make that work, given that they have smaller products being sold in Europe that could be adapted easily for American sale.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yes people asked for the Explorer to be RWD based again. The previous generation had a much higher tow rating and people did buy it for that.

      The Focus is coming, unfortunately from China.

      They are busy putting the finishing details on a new Hybrid system for the F-150, Mustang and Explorer Hybrid that will be hitting the showrooms soon. That new power train will also probably make its way to the Expedition and Transit too.

      The Escape Hybrid is also scheduled to return soon too and the Model E EV is also on the way.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I know this is RWD and awesome and all but it looks like a diabetic sperm whale. WTF is wrong with this industry?

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      Trying to picture in my mind what a diabetic sperm whale must look like. Hmmmm.

      It looks to be a decent amount longer in the cabin area with a more upright rear. This should help it compete with some of the larger 3 row crossovers. With the flex surely on it’s way out, no minivan in the lineup (I don’t count the Transit, don’t think buying public does either), Ford needs this to be a bloated mommy mobile more than a tow ready workhorse or credible off roader. The Expedition is too expensive for volume family duty and this explorer is the only thing in Ford’s stable that will be in that Goldilocks size range. I would think the RWD switch is nothing more than an attempt to capture certain fleet markets rather than meet demands of retail consumers who really only demand interior volume and amenities.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    @2o6 – The Explorer was never meant to be Taurus based but once the US Ranger (its former platform mate) was axed, Ford still had to keep the name alive and relevant, even if traditional buyers got a little upset. Similarly the Mustang was Pinto based for a few years. At least that’s my take.

    I know little about Ford’s current FWD cars, but keeping the Mustang updated and fresh seems like a reasonably expenditure, but it sounds like you know better.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Of course he does, that’s why his car company dominates the market, building subcompact cars and Hybrids nobody wants.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The 2002-2010 Explorer and siblings were not based on the Ranger platform. It was unique to the vehicle with coil overs and tall spindle IFS and IRS. The Ranger had a live axle and leaf springs out back and a torsion bar IFS.

      You are correct that Ford wasn’t planning on moving the Explorer to the Taurus platform but the high gas prices caused traditional SUV sales to crater. So moving the name to a CUV was the best option at the time to increase MPG and hopefully sales, which it did quite nicely.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    An ST Explorer? God, help us all. Fast cars are supposed to be low-slung and small. This makes them controllable, and helps keep the drivers’ ego under control, too. I don’t want to share the road with this…

    • 0 avatar
      SuperCarEnthusiast

      The new 2020 Explorer ST could be a bigger Cayenne for me! I going buy it if it looks like the current Range Rover Sport!

    • 0 avatar
      Rocket

      “Fast cars are to be low-slung and small”?

      I don’t recall seeing that in the rulebook. If people need utility, but want power, as I do, they’ll be glad to have options like this. A vehicle for every occasion isn’t exactly practical, now is it?

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    It looks kinda boxy for a Mustang.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    If it comes with a tow rating of 7,500 pounds, I’ll buy one.

    Some of us require a vehicle that tows, has AWD, hauls dogs, bikes, etc., and doesn’t drive like complete crap.

    This looks like it will fit the bill.

  • avatar
    NG5

    I will gladly embrace this future if it means we get something bonkers like a Ford Transit ST.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    If Fusion sales slip, Ford may as well forget cars and become the post-modern International Harvester. Just sell trucks and rugged SUV/CUVs for agrarian types who have to haul two 15 lb. bags of peat moss and the value sized sack of dog food.

  • avatar
    JDG1980

    It’s good to see that Ford is finally going to stop selling 1998 Volvos.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    So the 2020’s Explorer looks like the 1990’s/2000’s Explorer? We are already doing “retro” SUVs?

    I assume they will be rolling over at a high rate

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Looking at the likely approach and departure angles of this road masher, it should be able to face down most curbs in the urban jungle. Only a few will present desperate challenges that a ’78 Caprice would shrug off. Personally, I’m waiting for the F350 ST. I need a track day vehicle to face down those uppity Miatas.

  • avatar
    rcx141

    Rear drive? Stick a Mustang engine in it and I’ll buy one!

  • avatar

    Yet, another boring Ford truck/suv.


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