Review: 2020 Ford Explorer XLT

The 6th generation Ford Explorer had a rough birth. There were production problems from the factory where it was built and any 2020 Ford Explorers that were delivered to dealerships, had to get repairs before being sold to customers. But Ford eventually sorted everything out and now the question is, where does the 2020 Ford Explorer XLT stand among other 3-row SUVs?

2020 Ford Explorer XLT


Engine – There are a few engine options with the new Explorer. They include a 3.0L twin-turbocharged V6, a 3.3L V6 hybrid, or a 2.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder as equipped in this demo vehicle. It is a little surprising to find a 4-cylinder under the hood of a 2,000 kg 3-row SUV but this engine packs a pretty good punch. It produces 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque which is similar to other 3-row SUVs in this class with naturally aspirated V6 engines. It does need to rev a bit to 3,500 rpms to reach its peak torque figure but behind the steering wheel, it doesn’t feel like it has any problems merging into traffic onto a highway.

However, putting a small engine with a surprisingly high rpm peak torque figure for a turbocharged engine means that fuel economy is not going to be all that great. On paper it does seem to get good fuel economy numbers at 8.7 L/100km (27 mpg) on a highway and 11.6 L/100km (20.3 mpg) in a city. But in the real world, I found it hard to reach those targets. The best combined fuel economy rating I was able to achieve was 12.5 L/100km (18.8 mpg) over a 500 km driving distance.

Transmission – The engine is mated to a 10-speed automatic and it is the only transmission available with all engine options It’s the same one that was co-developed with General Motors and is found in other Ford & Lincoln vehicles. In GM vehicles, this transmission is brilliant. In other Ford vehicles, it’s Ok. But for some reason in the 2020 Ford Explorer XLT with this 2.3L engine the transmission is awful. It’s inconsistent because sometimes the shifts are smooth while other times they’re rough. It also has a hard time deciding what gear it wants to be in. But worst of all, there are one or two instances that I felt during a downshift where the shifts felt as though something broke in the transmission. It’s odd that this transmission is so bad in the Explorer whereas in other Ford vehicles like the Ranger, it’s Ok. Hopefully it’s something as simple as just a software update to fix the rough shifts.

Braking – Despite the 2,000 kg heft of the Explorer, the brakes do a great job of bringing the SUV to a stop. The brake pedal is easy to modulate making for smooth stops. Automatic emergency braking is standard and is part of the Ford Co-Pilot360 package which also includes blind spot monitoring, pre-collision assist, auto high beam lights, and lane keep assist.

2020 Ford Explorer XLT

Handling – One of the highlights of the new 2020 Ford Explorer XLT is the updated chassis that it sits on. It is now a rear-wheel-drive biased chassis which not only improves the driving dynamics but also the towing figures. With this 2.3L EcoBoost engine, the Explorer can tow 5,300 lbs with the trailering package.

But when you’re not towing anything, the new Explorer drives really well around corners. It feels composed with a direct steering response. To use an oxymoron, the Explorer feels pretty light on its wheels around a twisty mountain road even though it weighs 2 tonnes. 

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2020 Ford Explorer XLT


Ride Comfort – The new chassis also provides excellent ride comfort. The new Explorer is not available with air suspension or adaptive dampers but the tuning of the standard shocks is well done. Bumps and road imperfections are well absorbed and do not translate into the cabin. 

The seats are also very good at providing a sufficient amount of comfort whether on long family trips or daily commutes into a city. They are plush and although the seats are not covered in real leather, this ActiveX seating material, as Ford calls it, feels soft to the touch. 

2020 Ford Explorer XLT

Interior Space – The 2020 Ford Explorer is one of the larger 3-row SUVs on the market. As per usual, front occupants have the most amount of leg and head room and can adjust their seats to their liking. Even with the front seats in their lowest position, you still sit quite high giving you good visibility around the Explorer. It feels like an “old school” body on frame SUV.

Second row occupants also have good amounts of space with standard captain’s chairs or optional bench seats. As for the third row, it’s a bit bigger than other 3-row SUVs in this class. Granted, it’s not a place for tall adults like myself at 6’4” but adults and kids under 5’10”-ish should be reasonably comfortable for journeys.

The Explorer has 516 L (18.2 cu-ft) of cargo with the 3rd row seats up. Fold them down and cargo capacity increases to 1,357 L (47.9 cu-ft). Fold the 2nd row and maximum cargo capacity is 2,487 L (87.8 cu-ft). 

Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – During my time with the 2020 Ford Explorer XLT, I did not notice any rattles or odd vibrations from the cabin and interior trim. However, the predominant sound that did intrude into the cabin was the sound of the 2.3L engine. It is a loud engine. Whether it’s accelerating, cruising down a highway, or just idling at a stop light, this engine is noisy and it’s not a pleasant noise either.

2020 Ford Explorer XLT

Odds and Ends

Gadgets – As mentioned earlier, the 2020 Explorer comes standard with advanced safety and driver aids. It can also be equipped with more advanced driver aids such as intelligent adaptive cruise control which can adjust the set speed depending on the prevailing speed signs without any driver intervention. It can also be equipped with evasive steering assist when it thinks a collision is imminent. These features are part of the Co-Pilot360+ package.

Of course the new Explorer can also be equipped with every piece of tech that is found on other 3-row SUVs. These include a power liftgate, panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, self park assist, a tablet style 10.1-inch touchscreen, wireless phone charging, power folding 3rd row seats, and even massaging front seats.

But all of these features do add up. The base XLT trim starts at $45,199 CAD ($32, 765 USD for base trim, $38,925 USD for XLT trim) however it can quickly jump to $64,599 CAD ($58,250 USD) – before options – for the top Platinum trim. This particular Explorer XLT is equipped with the Co-Pilot360+, panoramic sunroof, cold weather package, trailering package, and the 202A package. It is nice that you can spec up a base Explorer with features from more top spec trim levels but the price also increases as this one costs $53,149 CAD ($48,770 USD). But one thing that Ford knows how to do well is to offer discounts and promotions which does make the pricing more reasonable.

2020 Ford Explorer XLT

Interior Design – Ford’s engineers put quite a bit of thought into the redesigned interior. The dashboard and controls are very well laid out and are where you’d expect them to be. Climate controls have their own dedicated buttons as does the radio with volume and tuning knobs. There are also quite a few storage bins and places to put your phone. Granted, certain regions have laws that prohibit having a phone within easy reach but in regions that don’t have those types of laws, the Explorer’s interior is very accommodating for small items & phones. There are also a few clever design touches like the square cup holders in the rear seats. Why square? Because kids usually drink out of juice boxes which are square. Front occupants have round cup holders for their morning cup of joe. 

But unfortunately it’s not all good news because there are some flaws with the interior. There is quite a bit of plastics use but worse still are the panel gaps in some areas. Around the touchscreen and radio controls the panels have quite sizeable gaps and don’t quite align perfectly. 

Exterior Design – The new 2020 Explorer is easily recognizable as an American SUV. It has bold looks with a fairly large grille although not quite as massive as the one found on the Hyundai Palisade. It also comes standard with LED headlights but they are not quite as bright at night as one would expect from LED headlamps. Around back, the 2020 Explorer receives new taillights and the exhaust pipes are now hidden behind the bumper. Thankfully the design of the rear is similar to the last generation so you can still spot an undercover police Explorer from quite a distance 😉


The 2020 Ford Explorer XLT is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand it is a comfortable and really well driving 3-row SUV. On the other, the engine, transmission, and some interior pieces are a let down. At the time that I’m writing this, I have not yet driven a V6 powered Explorer so I can’t comment on how those engines compare to the base 2.3L. But for now, I can’t in all good consciousness recommend the base 2.3L Ford Explorer. The engine is too loud, inefficient, and the transmission will drive you crazy. The pricing is Ok so long as you stay away from the higher spec trim. The Toyota Highlander, Hyundai Palisade / Kia Telluride, or Honda Pilot are all good competitors to really consider over this base Ford Explorer. This 2020 Explorer XLT just feels incomplete and a few more hours in the R&D department could have probably made things better.

Thank you to Ford Canada for providing the vehicle.

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