Ford’s Performance team has added another SUV to its roster in the form of the 400-hp ST version of the all-new, rear-drive-based 2020 Explorer. There’s also a new “off-road-capable” hybrid version coming with a 3.3-liter V-6, a 1.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, and up to 500 miles range.
The automaker calls the new Explorer ST a “genuine Ford Performance vehicle,” and it replaces the outgoing Explorer’s Sport trim. Ford Performance is the group responsible for ST and RS models, Shelby Mustangs, and with Ford eradicating most cars from its North American lineup, an increasing number of SUVs, including the Edge ST introduced last year. (As an aside, we wonder: If performance sedans are sport sedans, does that make stuff like the Explorer ST and Edge ST sport-sport-utilities?)
Ford boldly calls the Explorer ST “the fastest three-row SUV under $60,000,” and it packs upgraded brakes, springs, and dampers. While already more honed than a regular Explorer, an available Sport mode turns up the wick even more, with even quicker transmission responses to automatic or paddle-initiated gearswaps, more aggressive throttle response, sportier steering, and a deeper, throatier sound. Both the Explorer ST and hybrid will come with the same 10-speed automatic as in the standard members of the Explorer lineup. The company says it’s estimating a 143-mph top speed.
Visual changes for the ST include a blacked-out grille, high-gloss black body accents and badging, titanium shift paddles, dual exhaust tips, 21-inch wheels, and unique interior accent stitching. The 400-hp 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6 also spins up 415 lb-ft of torque; a 365-horse version of the same engine is available in the range-topping Explorer Platinum. Ford will offer both ST Street Pack and ST Track Pack upgrades, with 21-inch aluminum wheels and red-painted brake calipers, and differing levels of performance brakes. Interior tweaks include a flat-bottom heated steering wheel, unique floor mats, leather sport buckets with micro-perforations, City Silver accent stitching and ST logos.
As for the hybrid, it’s Ford’s first new hybrid SUV in six years, and the first-ever hybrid from the company on a platform engineered for gasoline/electric propulsion from the beginning. To the latter point, the liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery is located below the second row of seats and doesn’t impinge on interior space. Ford says it has designed this version of the ’20 Explorer to be all about torque boost, although we were told it can run on electrons alone for a couple of miles at 20 to 25 mph. The hybrid can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
The electric motor is sandwiched between the transmission and the V-6 engine, with combined output standing at 318 horsepower and 336 lb-ft of torque. No EPA mileage figures are available yet, but Ford says the rear-drive Explorer hybrid can go 500 miles between refueling stops. Like other versions of the 2020 Ford Explorer, all-wheel-drive is available for the hybrid.