2020 Ford Explorer ST First Review
- New ST model is sportiest Explorer ever
- Twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 engine
- 400 horsepower, 415 lb-ft of torque
- Hits 60 mph in 5.5 seconds
- Larger front and rear brakes
- Top speed: 143 mph
- Standard all-wheel drive
- On sale now, priced at $54,740 | Find a new Explorer for sale near you
Last year’s Ford Explorer Sport – with its turbocharged 3.5-liter V6, stiff suspension and optional summer tires –certainly qualified as a sporty SUV, but it pales in comparison to the new 2020 Ford Explorer ST.
The new ST variant, developed by Ford Performance, is both lighter and more powerful than the outgoing Explorer Sport. Based on the 2020 Explorer’s unibody chassis, the Explorer ST is powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 that puts out 400 horsepower and a whopping 415 lb-ft of torque. Equally significant, the suspension and brakes have been suitably upgraded to handle the extreme demands of a high-performance vehicle that weighs 4,700 pounds and has a top speed of 143 mph.
You’re forgiven if you think of the ST as a new Explorer that has been Raptorized, because that’s sort of what happened here. After all, the new 2020 Ford Explorer ST blasts to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and can cover the quarter mile in less than 14 ticks.
How much does the Ford Explorer ST cost?
The 2020 Ford Explorer ST has a starting price of $54,740. With just about every available option, it can hit $63,000. The destination fee is $1,095.
For a bit of pricing perspective, note that a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT with the 475-horsepower 6.4-liter V8 starts at $69,890. The Grand Cherokee, though, doesn’t have a third-row seat. A Dodge Durango R/T, an older design with a torquey 360-horsepower V8 and a third-row seat, starts at $43,995. At the other end of the spectrum, the 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, with its 707-horsepower supercharged Hellcat Hemi V8, starts at $86,900.
When does the Ford Explorer ST go on sale?
The sporty new 2020 Ford Explorer ST already is on sale.
Driving the Ford Explorer ST
In short, driving the new Explorer ST was a blast, an experience highlighted by plenty of thrust, more than ample stopping power, and just enough exhaust rumblings to let you know something special is going on under the hood. Although the all-wheel drive system is biased toward the rear wheels, the ST powers out of corners with an excellent composure and no apparent desire to hang out its tail. Most impressive to me, though, was the excellent body control and lack of body roll you’ll experience while cornering hard in the ST.
Ford uses stiffer springs for the ST, by 10 percent in front and 8 percent in back. This – together with adjustments to the anti-roll bars and shock absorbers – has created an ST with a firm but acceptable ride and remarkably good cornering ability, aided by sticky 21-inch Michelin tires.
What’s more, the feel through the thick rim of the ST’s leather-covered flat-bottom steering was excellent, especially in Sport mode. In this driver-selectable setting, the ST comes alive with a more responsive throttle and gearbox, not to mention a bit more rear bias and a stability control system that allows a bit more chassis slip before intervening.
The 10-speed automatic transmission, the same gearbox used in the F-150 Raptor, Ranger and Mustang, shifts crisply and quickly, but I wish the shift paddles were aluminum or magnesium instead of plastic. They work just fine but seemed a little chintzy in a $55,000 vehicle. Also notable: With the 10-speed gearbox, downshifting by one gear doesn’t do much to slow the ST for an upcoming corner. Rather, you’ll sometimes have to grab three or four downshifts under braking to get any meaningful engine deceleration.
Ford Explorer ST engine and transmission
The twin-turbo 3.0-liter Ecoboost V6 used in the Explorer ST is a gem. It’s basically the same 365-horsepower engine used in the new Explorer Platinum, with exhaust manifolds integrated into the aluminum heads. But thanks to reduced exhaust backpressure, is able to reach a magical 400 horsepower. The 10-speed automatic transmission, co-developed with GM, is the same automatic found in all other 2020 Ford Explorers.
Neat little detail: To help cope with all the extra heat from the powerful engine, and give the ST sustained high performance (not just speed for a couple of test laps at place like Virginia International Raceway), Ford fits the ST’s radiator with a massive 650-watt cooling fan instead of the stock 500-watt unit.
Ford Explorer ST fuel economy
Ford hasn’t yet announced official EPA fuel economy for the Explorer ST. The Explorer Platinum, though, which has a 365-horspower version of the ST’s engine, is rated by the EPA at 18 mpg City/24 mg Highway/20 mpg Combined. The Explorer ST should come in very close to that, possibly a tad worse.
How many people does the Ford Explorer ST seat?
The 2020 Ford Explorer ST seats six people in its three rows of seats. The center row is a pair of captain’s chairs. The base Ford Explorer, fitted with a center bench seat, is the only new Explorer that seats seven.
How much can the 2020 Ford Explorer ST tow?
The 2020 Ford Explorer ST, with its powerful 400-horspower engine, can tow a 5,600-pound trailer. While that’s the best for a new 2020 Explorer, a 2019 Dodge Durango fitted with the 3.6-liter V6 can tow a 6,200-pound trailer.
Ford Explorer ST interior
The interior of the 2020 Ford Explorer ST is highlighted by a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, heated and vented leather seating surfaces embossed with the ST logo, massaging front seats, a heated steering wheel, power-folding third-row seats and a voice-activated navigation system. When the ST is equipped with the $995 Premium Technology Package, its center stack is capped by a 10.1-inch LCD capacitive touch screen with pinch-to-zoom capability. If you see what looks like an iPad mounted vertically to the dash of the Explorer ST you’re considering, you’ll know it has the Premium Technology Package.
Overall room in the first two rows of the ST’s seats is excellent. The third row, however, is a bit tight for average adults. Behind the third-row of seats, there’s 36.4 cubic feet of cargo room, which expands to 56.5 cubic feet when that last row of seats is folded forward. Given the new Explorer’s multilink rear suspension, the load floor of the Hybrid’s cargo area is a bit higher than you might expect, but the ST does have a false load floor that can be raised to reveal a compartment that would be perfect for, say, damp towels after a day at the beach.
Neat detail: The drink holders integrated into the armrests of the Explorer’s rear doors are not circular, as most are. Rather, they are squared off. All the better to hold juice boxes, say Mom and Dad.
Ford Explorer ST infotainment
Sync 3, which features an 8-inch LCD touch screen with swipe capability, is standard on all 2020 Explorers, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. Additionally, FordPass Connect provides 4G LTE Wi-Fi access to the vehicle. Other standard infotainment hardware on the 2020 Explorer ST includes Sirius satellite radio, a Bang & Olufsen premium audio system and dual second-row USB charging ports. A voice-activated touchscreen navigation system, part of the ST’s Co-Pilot360 Assist+ system, is also standard.
Notable ST features
Sport Mode When Sport is engaged via the rotary selector dial on the Explorer ST’s center console, the electric-assist steering tightens, the gas pedal responds more crisply, the transmission holds gears longer (for better acceleration) and an enhanced engine note resonates throughout the ST’s cabin. In Sport, the Explorer ST really comes alive.
Active Park Assist 2.0 With this new driver-assist system, the Explorer ST will take control of its steering wheel, gas pedal and gearshift to automatically park the vehicle in an available parallel or perpendicular spot. It’s eerie how well this works with the simple touch of a button.
Reverse Brake Assist With this other new system, radar and ultrasonic sensors are used to detect objects in the ST’s path while backing up. If an object is detected, it will apply the Explorer’s brakes automatically to prevent a collision.
Notable ST packages
High Performance Package This $1,595 package includes 21-inch aluminum alloy wheels, larger brake rotors, high-performance brake pads and red-painted brake calipers.
Premium Technology Package This $995 package, available only on the ST and Platinum models, includes multi-contour massaging front seats, the 10.1-inch vertical touch screen atop the center stack, and a 980-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system with 14 speakers.
Ford Explorer ST warranty
The 2020 Ford Explorer ST has a basic warranty of three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. Its powertrain warranty is good for five years or 60,0000 miles.
Ford Explorer ST vs. Dodge Durango R/T
These are both powerful three-row unibody SUVs, but that’s where the similarity ends. The new Ford Explorer ST, with its turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine and lithe handling manners, is all about blending good power with totally entertaining back-road manners. The Durango R/T, on the other hand, with its naturally aspirated 360-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8, is more of a rumbly brute blessed with plenty of good, old-fashioned trailer-pulling torque.
Ford Explorer ST vs Ford Edge ST
In a battle between Ford’s new SUV STs, we’ll give the Explorer ST the edge. We like how its rear-biased chassis puts the power down better than the front-biased arrangement of the Edge ST, which has a transversely mounted powertrain. While both these STs are well equipped and well-tuned, the 3-row Explorer ST has a tighter, better-put-together feel than the 2-row Edge ST. Then again, a vehicle that costs $12,00 more than an Edge ST should have a tighter feel.
Ford Explorer ST key specs
Twin-turbo 3.0-liter liter V6
415 lb-ft of torque
10-speed automatic transmission
Curb weight: 4,701 pounds
Length: 198.8 inches
Wheelbase: 119.1 inches
Width: (with mirrors): 89.3 inches
Height: 70.2 inches
Ground clearance: 8.3 inches
First-row headroom: 40.7 inches
Second-row headroom: 40.5 inches
Third-row headroom: 38.9 inches
Cargo volume behind third row: 18.2 cubic feet
Cargo volume behind second row: 47.9 cubic feet
Cargo volume behind first row: 87.8 cubic feet
Total passenger volume: 152.7 cubic feet
Lift-in height: 3171 inches
Maximum towing capacity: 5,600 pounds
Final assembly: Chicago
Is the Ford Explorer ST right for me?
If you like vehicles with wide-ranging capabilities, then yes, the 2020 Ford Explorer ST fits the bill. Drive it in a mellow fashion, and it’s just like a standard Explorer with a slightly firmer ride. But when you put it in Sport mode and open the throttle more liberally, be prepared to hang on. The ST is super quick, able to blast up mountain passes with ease while possessing enough chassis chops to joyfully tackle the twisty sections on the other side.
All the while, the ST remains an Explorer, with all the versatility that entails. Tow your boat to the river. Take the gang to the soccer game. Help your brother move. The new Explorer ST can do it all while boasting an underlying power that will force even the most stoic driver to grin.
Ready to buy? Search for a 2020 Ford Explorer ST at local dealerships