The 2020 Ford Explorer ST pictured here can reach 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds, which is only a tenth of a second faster than a 1991 GMC Typhoon could. How many of us would have thought at the beginning of the grunge decade that the utterly outrageous GMC would be a harbinger of the future? We will guess zero. At that time, Typhoon and its pickup brother, Syclone, were bizarre, irregular irregularities. But look around now: The market is a shock block with high-powered, worn-out SUVs. Explorer ST, like the Typhoon, is powered by a turbocharged V-6. Both are four-wheel drive. And both fit chrome and brightness in an attempt to look at least slightly threatening. A note to Ford's communications professionals, who are no doubt excited about us equating their new hotness with a nearly 30-year-old GM product: Don't worry; this part will be over soon.
Explorer ST is not really like GMC Typhoon. First, Ford is not named after a storm that could cause widespread accident and death. It doesn't even get its own name, just its own suffix: ST. And before we embark on an independent music store snob about using this ending on this three-row SUV, let's remember that the sum of the history of ST in the US before Ford started turning it on SUVs was just two cars: Focus ST, which was an admirable effort, and Fiesta ST, which, up to its name, was a party on wheels, a splash in the waves, as precious as drunkenness on Tuesday afternoon.
Also compared to the Typhoon, Explorer ST has twice as many doors, two more seats, two fewer drum brakes, six more forward wheels, one less tension shaft and wheels five inches in diameter. By measuring us it will travel seven kilometers for every liter of consumption. And the cheeky Explorer ST will give you a massage of the butt (just front passengers).
This Silver ST is the first new Explorer that we have had the chance to take to the test track. However, all 2020 Explorers benefit from a brand new platform that can handle the trick of growing just an inch longer while cycling at a wheelbase that extends by more than six inches. Equally impressive is that our well-equipped ST's curb weight was 127 pounds lighter than the 2017 Explorer Platinum. It's still a chubby 4853 pounds, but we're trying to be encouraging here. And that the weight is better distributed between front and rear than the last Explorer was; the new one carries only 51.3 percent of the front axle booklet, compared to the previous generation's 54.9. This is partly because this Explorer has the engine mounted longitudinally rather than transversely. The base model is now rear-wheel drive instead of front-wheel drive. All ST's are four-wheel drive.
The new Explorer short overhang, tight musculature and plunging roofline give it a look that is both sportier and more elegant than the outgoing model. Black 21-inch wheels contribute to the look of our ST. They are part of the $ 995 ST Street package which also includes red, front and rear sliding brake caliper; larger brake rotors; and high temp seals in the braking system. Instead, opt for the $ 1595 High Performance package and you'll get the same upgrades plus more aggressive brake pads. And to really drive home the sportiness of things, Ford released a $ 2,500 Michelin Latitude Sport 3 summer tire.
Compared to Platinum, ST rides on stiffer sources (10 percent more then front and 8 percent rear), tuned dampers and fatter anti-roll bars. Ford also fine-tuned the electrical assistance system to give a heavier feel. And the two-turbocharged V-6-liter V-6, actually the same engine used in certain Lincoln models, delivers 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. Platinum uses a 365-hp version of this engine, while XLT Explorers settle for a 300-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four. Limited models use either the four-cylinder or a 318 hp hybrid based on a 3.3-liter V-6.
The ST engine may be half a liter smaller than the old Explorer optional dual-turbo 3.5-liter V-6, but it gives 35 horsepower more and 65 kilo meters. Predictably, the new vehicle is faster. And more importantly, it feels significantly faster on the road. When the 10-speed automatic decides on the optimal gear, this rig extends with surprising authority. That transmission, the only one available on a new Explorer, sometimes manages to change gears several times when a single change would suffice. We find that switching the drive mode to Sport helps alleviate some of the transmission's indecision and sharpen the gas response to just this side of the touch. Our only other driving force is that the engine note is less mechanical symphony than a moan. And Sport mode only amplifies that noise.
The stiffer suspension and summer tires deliver on the test track. ST pulls to a stop from 70 mph at 161 feet. Most three-row SUVs take at least another 10 feet to make it. And ST circled our 300 foot ski pad with 0.86g of side grip. Of course, there are more than unsportsmanlike three-row SUVs with the entire season and the tires manage – they tend to return numbers in the low to mid-80s – but we expected more from a vehicle with large summer tires fitted to a relatively stiff suspension.
On the road, the ST ride is not worthy of criticism, but there is no denying that the vehicle's sporting intentions and big wheels give it a sensitive feel. Despite the grip on the tires, the starch in the suspension, and a structure that feels rock solid, Explorer ST is not as coordinated as we hoped it would be. The brakes on our test car were unlucky, and it took more effort on our part to achieve smooth, smooth stops than it should have taken. The steering action is heavy through the thick rim, but it feels artificial. None of the cancer builds that in the best sports machines telegraph the status of the grip to the driver. Combine that with a gearbox that likes to let the engine rest on any occasion, requiring multiple downs and turbo winding to get into the pressure, and the Explorer ST is not a natural vehicle. Rather, it is a regular vehicle with extra grip and a lot of horsepower.
There is still much to like about the overall readiness of this normal vehicle. The interior of the previous Explorer was a nasty affair. The high belt line made us feel as if we were sitting in a giant soaker tub made of cheap black plastic panels. The new interior, though still a composition entirely in black in this example, is a nice place to spend some time. The apparent quality of the materials is at least on par with the best in Explorer's mainstream competitors. Only a few dubious refinements, such as the center stack panel, surround the climate control knots. It is hard, hollow and unreinforced, making it feel and look cheap. Such a piece would not be offset in an XLT, starting at under $ 40,000. But it is a little harder to swallow on our test vehicle, which had an MSRP of $ 62,020.
The ST comes at least well equipped for its base price of $ 55,835, including diets such as automated parking, a wireless charging pad, a navigation system, automatic high beam headlights, rain-sensing wipers, steering wheel and front and second-row seats, ventilation for the front seats, remote start, a Wi-Fi hotspot and leather upholstery. The front-seat massage, a 10.1-inch center screen and a 14-speaker audio system provided $ 995. The portrait-oriented infotainment screen is useful, although when proud of the line, it looks strikingly like the mysterious 2001 black monoliths: A Space Odyssey. For another $ 1,695, our test vehicle delivered a two-pane roof. It's fine for brightening up the interior, but it eats up more than two inches of precious ceiling height for second-row passengers, making it barely tolerable for adults to sit there. In fact, with the sunroof, the ceiling height in the third row is slightly better than in the second, which is great except that Ford achieved this in part by slamming the cushion down on the floor, putting passengers in a kneeling position that they will resist. Load compartments are plentiful, about halfway between the capacity of a Mazda CX-9 on the small end and that of a Chevrolet Traverse on the big.
Perhaps the Platinum model, with most of ST's power and none of its overtly sporting intentions, will be more to our liking. Perhaps we have become soft during the three decades since the launch of Typhoon, but we appreciate the basic Explorer package more than we do the performance upgrade integration.
I like every opportunity to shake my fist at the SUV acquisition, and Explorer ST – as impressive as it is – is a simple target. The extra weight and height that comes with a package like this are the enemies of performance, apparently ST's primary mission. So if Ford's engineers managed to do this tall, nearly 5,000-pound family bus corner and accelerate it quickly, imagine what they could have done with this platform and driveline if they had mounted a lower, lighter sedan house on top of it and called it Taurus SHO. Sure, the Chevy SS was a flop, but the Dodge Charger could really use a good rival. It's an alternate universe I wish I lived in. – Joey Capparella, staff editor
All expensive Fords – Lincoln's included – have the same problem: They simply cost too much. They are priced as if they are more than premium products than they are. Just look inside this thing. The hard, strangely grained plastic that lines most of the lower half of the interior not only looks like it had been pulled straight from the old Explorer, it also looks like a popcorn roof and is about as appealing as asbestos. And I know what you want to say: "But this one is based on a back platform!" Sure, but the driveway is a little doughy, and the front and rear axles roll at different speeds. And why does the front end look like someone hit it flat? Durango SRT, please. – Alexander Stoklosa, staff editor