2020 Ford Explorer: Cop car vs Family car

The fine men and women of law enforcement around my region have been using Ford Explorers, or Police Interceptor Utility to be more precise, for some time. But I’m beginning to see more and of the sixth-generation Explorer, the 2020 model year, in law enforcement duty. And I am sad to report that it is getting harder and harder to tell Johnny Law apart from Kelly, the helicopter mom of three, as both of them use basically the same damn generic SUV.

This is further compounded by the fact that cop cars look less and less like cop cars. LED lighting technology allows for smaller, but brighter, lights to be neatly integrated into cop cars. Stealth markings on police cars don’t make things easier, either. But looking at an unmarked Police Interceptor Utility and a civilian Explorer XLT, one difference is painfully obvious – the grill!

Show me them grilles…

The grill on the Police Interceptor Utility is black. Unlike on the civilian vehicle, the fake part of the grill is completely covered up in fake mesh. There is only a square opening in the middle, directly in front of the radiators. There is no fluff on cop car grill, likely made that way to reduce repair/replacement costs and perhaps provide additional equipment mounting locations for things such as small emergency LED lights.

That grill, as seen in the above pictures is pretty hideous. It’s just a square hole in a black cover. It’s so bad that in their press photos, Ford covered up the grill with a brush guard and took each picture at an angle, and then further retouched it.

There are a few other differences between the Police Interceptor Utility and the base XLT:

  • The most notable difference is that the Police Interceptor Utility is wearing black 18-inch steel wheels.
  • The body is also completely devoid of any chrome trim.
  • Missing roof rack rails are another feature that can allow quick cop car identification, especially in a rearview mirror. But don’t mistake a light bar for cross-bars.
  • The door handles are black.
  • Headlight bezels are black.
  • There are no fog lights, which are present on all but the most base civilian Explorers.

But here is the tricky part – Ford did not finish effing with us there. Enter the Explorer ST. The sporty ST also has a black grill, but it has fog lights. It also has black wheels but they are 20-inch and made of aluminum alloy. It also has black headlights bezels, black trim, and black door handles. And its body is also completely devoid of any chrome trim. Curses! Now you really won’t know if you got the Sheriff tailgating you or some wanna-be car-enthusiast who thinks his three-row SUV can somehow be sporty.

Look at this face

It gets even worse. Aside from the Police Interceptor Utility and the various civilian models, there is one more kind of Explorer – the commercial version. And this version is a mix of Police Interceptor Utility and XLT looks. That makes it most difficult to tell apart from the cop cars. The commercial Explorer features:

  • Black grill, but it’s an XLT grill and not the hole-in-the-grill fake cop car grill.
  • The headlight bezels are black.
  • Black door handles.
  • The trim is black too.
  • No roof rack rails.
  • No fog lights.
  • Aluminum wheels, similar to those on the XLT model.

The others

Other models of the 2020 Explorer, specifically the Limited and Platinum, are adorned with big bright grills, chrome trimmings, and other shiny bits. They all ride on big shiny wheels, too. They all have roof racks and the door handles are color-matched to the body. And they all have fog lights.

Things get tricky at night, too. All models of the Explorer have the same headlight shapes and they all use LED as the light source. Higher trims of civilian Explores have fancy adaptive headlamps with automatic high-beams. So don’t dismiss an Explorer as a not-cop just because it’s got fancy blue-ish headlights and not dim halogens.

The truly messed up part is that I have seen police use the commercial and the XLT versions of the Explorer, too. Perhaps those were detectives or department chiefs. Perhaps that was the vehicle that the department got the best deal on. Whatever the case, one can no longer be on a lookout for a typical cop vehicle like the Crown Vic was. Here’s hoping that this article makes it easier to distinguish Johnny from Kelly.

Photos: CarGurus.com and Ford

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18 responses to “2020 Ford Explorer: Cop car vs Family car”

  1. Zentropy Avatar

    I had read somewhere that the standard Police Interceptor engine was the V6 hybrid, but that the 400-hp EcoBoost V6 (used in the ST) was an option. That begs the question of whether the PI Explorer can be purchased by civilians– a cheaper way to get the high-output engine. I wouldn’t mind doing without chrome jewelry, leather interior, and whatnot in order to get the EcoBoost with interceptor tuning, stiffer springs, bigger brakes, etc. I’m assuming it can be purchased only through fleet sales?

    1. Scoutdude Avatar

      The base engine in the Police Interceptor Utility is a basic V6, The Hybrid is a ~$3300 option while the EcoBoost is a ~$4000 option. AWD is standard on all versions. There is an interior upgrade package, which gives you carpet and a cloth back seat that matches the front, instead of the vinyl. Badge delete, IE no police interceptor badge on the tailgate and no INTERCEPTOR on the hood of the EcoBoost is a no cost option. I don’t know if Ford specifically prohibits sales to civilians like GM used to, but even back then there were dealers that would order one for a civilian and you can sometimes find a demo unit that doesn’t have many miles.

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        I’m not sure where I read about the 3.3-hybrid being the base PI engine, but I would have thought it would have otherwise been the EcoBoost 2.3L four, as in the regular Explorer. I find it strange that it would come standard with an engine that’s not even available in the civilian version.

        I think it’s ridiculous that you have to pay $55k just to get the 3.0L EcoBoost V6. I rarely buy high-tier trim levels in cars, because there’s usually a mid/low-tier level that has all of the inherent goodness of the vehicle without the costly (and what I typically find frivolous) optional luxuries. I’m interested in the Explorer now that it’s returned to a RWD platform, but it frustrates me that the EB V6 is pushed up to the top trims only.

    2. Maymar Avatar

      I’m certain I saw a brand new Taurus Interceptor offered for sale at a local Ford dealer several years ago, so I assume it’s possible, especially if some department cancels a deal and the dealer has excess units. That said, in that case, I’d still be shocked to find one with the Ecoboost, figuring the other powertrains are enough for typical patrol duty. I don’t think the take rate was great on the prior gen either.

  2. Sjalabais Avatar

    The chicken coop grille is an odd choice. How much can really be saved here? Surprised it doesn’t come with sealed beams.

  3. Fuhrman16 Avatar

    The big takeaway I’m getting here is how utterly pointless these massive grills are on cars these days when the actual air opening a rather quite small.

    1. Zentropy Avatar

      Most of the air the cars need comes from the lower grille or underneath. The upper grille is still functional, but largely cosmetic.

    2. caltemus Avatar

      China loves big grilles to indicate how much the car cost. Way-too-big grilles are here to stay

      1. Oak Tree Avatar
        Oak Tree

        Well, maybe for a year or two. Personal new vehicle purchasing is way way down lately.

  4. Scoutdude Avatar

    At this point at least they are not offering a SAP Street Appearance Package on the 2020, but they do offer a no cost badge delete.

    There are a couple of spots on the nearest freeway that the state patrol uses to meet their quota. There is an unmarked Gold and Grey that I regularly see enhancing revenue. They get a lot from those that aren’t familiar with their hiding spots. The last few days of the month there are usually 2 or 3 marked units that join in the fun.

    1. Troggy Avatar

      How difficult are their hiding places to spot? According to my knowledge of American car chase movies, they are always behind the billboard.

      That’s about all I know.

      1. Scoutdude Avatar

        Depends on which direction. To get east bounders they have two on ramps they sit on and there is some nice tree cover. Then there is the spot where they used to store sand for sanding the near by pass. To get West bounders their primary place is just sitting on the right shoulder, just around a corner, where there is a nice retaining wall blocking your view until it is too late. They also have a spot when there are 4 or 5 working the area where one sits on the overpass with others on the on ramp waiting for the next mark to be called out.

  5. dead_elvis, inc. Avatar
    dead_elvis, inc.

    It’s Karen, not Kelly, and she’s gonna need to speak with your manager.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      How far she’s come from when she was Kitty with the MG.

  6. Tiller188 Avatar

    Cop shocks and cop tires are all very well, but with the Ecoboost, will it run good on regular gas?

  7. HuntRhymesWith Avatar

    Just a few years ago I was negotiating Friday rush hour gridlock on my motorcycle. On my left pulled up a crown vic, signalling right into my lane. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it was the early 1990s variant with the narrow headlights, and it had LED turn signals that were blinking way too fast. “Not a cop” I thought, “they have newer cars and wouldn’t use crappy Autozone LED turn signals”. So I filtered through some cars to the front of the light. About 10 seconds later the blue and reds lit up. He had got me with LIDAR down the block, and now had me for “illegal riding between lanes”. So I’d say, unless you see a 5 year old in a car seat in the back, assume it’s Johnny not Kelly.

  8. Mike Larrson Avatar
    Mike Larrson

    I just purchased a 2021 Explorer ST which is black with 21 inch black wheels.
    No wonder the traffic stays so far back! Haha

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