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The Top Gear USA car review:Ford Explorer
For:Drives, handles and stops better than ever before â€“ on and off-road. Improved materials and tech
Against:Hybrid offers little benefit. Prices climb quickly for the high-spec models, so be careful with the configurator
What is it?
This 2020 model year Explorer is the sixth generation of the storied SUV. Without wanting to ruin the punchline, itâ€™s also the best Explorer Ford has made. Along with the Jeep Grand Cherokee it helped kickstart the whole SUV craze back in 1991, when it replaced the Bronco II. It sold upwards of 400,000 units a year at its peak in 1994 as the US dumped wagons and sedans in favor of the hi-rise lifestyleÂ truck.
As competition from all sides has increased, those heady numbers have declined substantially, but still more than 250,000 are sold each year, including more than 30,000 police interceptor units. So itâ€™s still one of the most important and profitable vehicles in the Ford line-up. But it was not one of the best. Based on a stretched version of the Volvo S80â€™s ageing front-wheel drive platform, its performance and interior were fast becoming subÂ par.
This sixth gen vehicle seeks to address all of those shortcomings and add a whole new level of all-round comfort, flexibility and performance. Central to this is an all-new rear-drive unibody platform using the engine longitudinally. One that features the first use of its Modular Hybrid transmissionÂ driveline.
This simple sounding but no doubt fiendishly complicated set-up sandwiches a 44bhp electric motor between the 335bhp V6 gas-powered engine and the automatic 10-speed transmission. Its mission is more to add performance, adding bottom end torque and throttle response, than aiding economy. Expect to see a version of it in the upcoming Bronco and hybrid F-150 pick-upÂ too, beforeÂ long.
Other engines in the range include a 300bhp in-line four, plus two versions of the 3.0-litreÂ twin-turbo V6. A 365bhp unit fitted in the Platinum variant. And the full-house 400bhp version in the Explorer ST. This is the second time Ford has used the hallowed ST tag on an SUV. We expect it to be a lot better than the last time the company used it to spice up the end-of-lifeÂ Edge.
Even though the platform is all new, the 2020 Explorerâ€™s design is still instantly recognisable, with the steeply forward-raked C-pillar and trademark trapezoidal Ford company grille. The interior has been completely rethought with varying degrees of success depending on which seat you areÂ occupying.