If you think you’re familiar with the Ford Explorer, think again. Like an early scout leading the charge, the Explorer was America’s sport utility spearhead. But various detours during its journey led Ford astray, and for a while, the all-purpose entry seemed to lose its way. So much so, that any lesser nameplate would have been long buried and forgotten.

But that was then, this is now. With Ford’s dedicated commitment to the long-haul, the Explorer simply enjoyed too much market recognition to be put out pasture. The well-accepted artifact was rediscovered and reinvigorated, to retake its rightful place within the mid-market SUV melee.

The “Motor Company” decided to dig deeper still for 2020 and has now unearthed a new platform that’s been vastly improved. For example, instead of relying on a transversely-mounted (side to side) engine, the new Explorer is specified with an inline (front to back) powertrain. Why? Because for one reason, it makes for a better police car, since rear-wheel drive is preferred in such service.

In addition, Ford launched its Lincoln Aviator version of the family first and derived the Explorer from that. As opposed to the other way around, which is normally the case. Rear-wheel drive is much more amenable in the luxury car category, as well, and the new-for-2020 rear-wheel drive configuration provides better trailer towing, too. The ST is rated for 5,000 pounds and comes with Sway Control.

With such upscale aspirations in mind, certain 2020 Explorer styling cues very much mimick Range Rover’s approach. Particularly, the roof and side window treatment which tapers toward the rear of the body. While sharing the basic architecture with its 2019 predecessor, the new Ford demonstrates greater road presence…if not, authority…with additional attention to such design detail as prominent side sculpturing, a bolder black-mesh grille and bigger taillights.

Underneath, an all-new platform is employed which delivers greater capability and more expansive passenger (in certain areas) and cargo accommodations. Intelligent four-wheel drive with Sport mode and seven Terrain Management settings is part and parcel with the high-performance ST that I tested. It’s the most powerful Explorer ever built and delivers 400 horsepower from a 3.0-liter, twin Turbo V6 (on Regular fuel)…via a 10-speed automatic transmission and 20-inch wheels. There is a 21-inch option.

A 10-percent stiffer, performance-tuned suspension is also included, as is a recalibrated electric-assist steering system. While the effort to up its athleticism is appreciated, it comes at a price…in addition to its $54,740 base cost. The upgraded engine has a tendency to growl on occasion, road irregularities do get transmitted into the cockpit a bit more and at almost 5,000 portly pounds, the ST’s not quite as responsive as its chassis specifications might imply.

That’s also because it’s a bigger vehicle, from a hip and shoulder room perspective, which is not necessarily to my liking. Conversely, from the inside looking out, I didn’t get the feeling that the 2020 Explorer was all that open, nor airy, either. Perhaps it’s because the one I had included all-black leather-trimmed, Sport upholstery…which sure was sumptuous, though.

Of course, it’s festooned with all the latest and greatest info-tainment offerings. According to Ford, “Passengers in all three rows will enjoy FordPass Connect, a standard feature that serves up 4G LTE Wi-Fi for up to 10 mobile devices with a compatible wireless subscription service. FordPass Connect gives drivers remote access to their Explorer, allowing them to use their smartphone to lock, unlock, locate and start the vehicle, as well as monitor key vehicle diagnostics. The Explorer features an available 10.1-inch touch screen mounted in portrait configuration on the center stack. Navigation maps can fill the entire screen for easy viewing, or split the space with audio information, with quicker, more responsive interaction with the updated SYNC 3 system. Standard SYNC 3’s more intuitive layout gives drivers compatibility with available features such as Apple CarPlay®, Android Auto® and Waze navigation.

A wireless charging pad is available that allows customers to recharge compatible mobile devices, and up to four USB ports, including new type-C outlets, charge next-generation mobile devices. Up to three 12-volt outlets and a 110-volt outlet are also available.” Whew…are you plugged in yet?

Then there’s also an abundance of safety subsystems. The Explorer comes standard with Ford Co-Pilot360™, a suite of driver-assist technologies that includes Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning and Dynamic Brake Support, Blind Spot Information System with Cross-Traffic Alert, a Lane-Keeping System and a Rearview camera with built-in lens cleaner. Other available Ford Co-Pilot360 technologies include Evasive Steering Assist, and Post-Impact Braking. And more.

Connecticut Media Group