12 MPG in 10 Years: Ford Explorer Hybrid's Fuel Economy Figures Come to Light

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
12 mpg in 10 years ford explorer hybrids fuel economy figures come to light

Barring the development of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, the slow march towards better fuel economy, especially in larger vehicles, has been just that: slow. Yet incremental improvements continue, and the latest large family vehicle to see a darker shade of green is Ford’s new-for-2020 Explorer.

Now bearing rear-drive architecture it shares with the Lincoln Aviator, the Explorer drives into its sixth generation with a hybrid and high-performance model in tow. The greenest of the bunch, unlike the Aviator, is not a plug-in proposition, so fuel economy gains are limited. It’s up to buyers to decide if the just-released EPA numbers are worth the extra coin.

In rear-drive guise, the 2020 Explorer Hybrid earns an EPA rating of 27 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 28 mpg combined. Contrast that with the 21 mpg/28 mpg/24 mpg figure applied to its gas-only sibling.

Available as a Limited model but not as an entry-level XLT, the Explorer Hybrid carries a 3.3-liter V6 mated to an electric motor and a 10-speed automatic, the same tranny carried by all 2020 Explorers. Power amounts to 318 horsepower and 322 lb-ft of torque. Ditch the hybrid element, and a regular Explorer Limited fields a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder good for 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. So, on paper at least, the Explorer Hybrid packs a slight power edge, though its on-board battery (nestled below the rear seat) and larger engine may saddle it with a bit more weight.

We’ve yet to stage a 0-60 run between Explorer Limiteds of both stripes.

Add four-wheel drive to the equation and the hybrid model’s economy drops to 23 mpg city/26 mpg highway/25 mpg combined, versus the gas-only model’s 20/27/23 rating. Clearly, those who do the most city driving stand to benefit the most from the Explorer Hybrid’s assisted V6.

Despite not breaking the 30 mpg barrier, Ford’s pretty proud of its achievement, claiming the hybrid allows for a 500 miles of driving without stopping for gas while also offering the same towing capacity (5,000 pounds, when properly outfitted) as a 2019 3.5-liter Ecoboost model. Indeed, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of Explorers of yesteryear. A rear-drive 2000 Explorer equipped with Ford’s 4.0-liter V6 returned a miserable 16 mpg on the combined cycle (15 mpg when equipped with four-wheel drive).

A decade later, nothing had changed.

It’s worth noting that 10 years ago, a non-hybrid Escape didn’t come close to 28 mpg combined. A 2010 Focus matched the 2020 Explorer Hybrid’s combined economy. And while better available MPGs is always nice, would-be buyers will probably reach for the calculator before signing on. Starting at $52,780 after destination, an Explorer Limited Hybrid is not exactly a thrifty runabout, as its gas-electric powertrain adds $3,555 when compared to a Explorer Limited.

An all-wheel drive Toyota Highlander Hybrid is capable of garnering 1 extra mpg for less money, but it falls behind in both power and towing capacity. 1,500 pounds behind, when Ford’s Class III Tow Package enters the room.

[Images: Ford]

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2 of 23 comments
  • Luke42 Luke42 on Aug 31, 2019

    I am the target market for this thing. I have three kids, I live in the American Midwest, and I just started a job which effectively doubles our household income. I already own a minivan, but I travel about a 20-mile city-driving circuit each day, and I'd really like to be able to do that circuit 0 gasoline. Sustained highway MPG numbers are only going to me a few times a year when we drive to Chicago or go visit Grandma in GA/NC. For me, there are precisely three vehicles on Earth that would be enough of an upgrade over my gray minivan to be worth new-car money: 1) Tesla Model X (270-mile AER, most awesome) 2) Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (30-mile AER, most kid-friendly space) 3) Ford Explorer PHEV (25-mile AER, 5000lb towing) The problem is that a CPO Tesla Model X costs about the same as the new Ford/Chrysler vehicles -- I saw one on tesla.com for around $57k (which didn't last long). I'm not buying anything anything this big about a year, and so the supply of off-lease CPO Model Xs will be even bigger when I'm ready to buy. You read that right: if I'm typical of the kind of dad who's going to be buying this the Explorer PHEV (and I'm very glad it exists), it could be beat in the marketplace by used Teslas...

  • Bd2 Bd2 on Sep 02, 2019

    A 48V ("full hybrid") system makes more sense. Doesn't require lugging around a heavy battery pack (which is reason even less keen on PHEVs) and the cost of entry is a lot less. Basically 60-70% of the fuel economy improvement for a fraction of the price.

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.