2020 Ford Explorer Platinum: Doesn’t Make The Podium

When Ford as a company declared that they were getting out of the car business and would concentrate on crossovers, SUVs, trucks, and vans, with the exception of the Mustang, the rollout of an iconic nameplate for its next-generation should be ultra important.

The Setup

The Explorer is one of two or three vehicles that really brought the SUV and crossover to the mainstream. Now it takes its place as a replacement for what was the full-sized car segment, not only for Ford but in the market place in general. Taurus and Crown Vic are gone. Want a full-sized family sedan, you won’t find it at The Blue Oval. Nor under the Lincoln brand for much longer as the Continental is not long for this world.

With this latest generation of Explorer, everything needed to be spot on, especially when you consider how crowded and congested this market segment is. Kia, Toyota, Hyundai, Dodge, Chevrolet, Subaru, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen all have entries here. To stand out, you really need to have all of your “I’s” dotted and your “T’s” crossed.

I had the chance to spend a week with a Platinum edition Explorer. You would think that at this trim level this would be the best that Ford has to present to the market. Consider as well an MSRP of $61,330 as delivered, and your expectations are set quite high.

From a styling perspective, the Explorer looks good, though it breaks no new ground. It’s an evolution from the previous generation. Thankfully its dimensions haven’t grown much as this is a large vehicle, to begin with.

Where “Things” Don’t Measure Up

Once you step inside, that is where things begin to fall short. To cut right to the point, while the materials are fine, there is nothing “premium” here that qualifies for a Platinum trim label. If this were the XLT, sure, it would be as I would expect. It doesn’t fall as short as say Chevrolet’s interior, not by a long shot. Explorer just doesn’t measure up to the three that do make the podium, and I’ll get to those shortly.

The instrument cluster deserves some mention. While I’m not the biggest fan of the big screen IP’s that have become de rigueur, this one has potential that was not well executed. The colors and contrast are good, the brightness is good, there is some styling with graphics that are nice. However, when it comes down to what you see as you are driving, there is (a) a ton of underutilized place and (b) a lack of customization to get some or all of the information you’d like to have. Spend 15 minutes in a Volkswagen or Audi that has a similarly styled instrument panel and Ford’s shortcomings are obvious.

Next, are the infotainment screen and system. Yes, it’s nicely sized, but it looks and feels cheap. As in Amazon Kindle Fire feeling like an iPad Pro compared to the Ford display. It is dreadfully slow, not only in boot up but in execution. Try to scroll through radio stations, terrestrial or satellite and the system is fifteen stations behind. When you get in and start the vehicle you never know what audio will start. Maybe you were listening to SiriusXM and then switched to Bluetooth on your phone for a podcast or Spotify. You may get AM radio instead of on your next startup. On more than one occasion my phone wouldn’t connect at all through Bluetooth.

Once connected the B&O system is actually quite good. Those who have read other reviews from me will know that I’m quite particular about the quality of audio systems in vehicles, and from a sound quality standpoint, this one is better than most.

The downside of all this is that the Explorer is actually quite good on the road. It is quiet, it rides well, and for as big as it is, it is not difficult to park. I do wish however that the images for the parking cameras were larger. Given the large tablet screen, the graphic with the sensor warnings was as large or larger than the actual images from the camera. There were a couple of tights spots I had to get in and out of that could have been easier and faster with a larger image from the parking cameras. Looking out over the hood, being as tall as it is, it is a little difficult to judge close proximities visually.

Power

The 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine and the ten-speed transmission worked quite well together. There was plenty of low-end torque to get you moving, and rolling down the highway at 80 mph, the engine was turning very few RPMs, 1,400 if I recall correctly. Yet if you needed to get around someone, it dropped three or four gears quickly and didn’t miss a beat.

EPA fuel economy is rated 18 city, 24 highway and 20 combined. I saw just about 16 in the city and 23 on the highway. That said EPA numbers are right in line with the likes of Toyota, Honda, Kia/Hyundai and Volkswagen.

Even though the Explorer is a rear drive based platform when it comes to towing there isn’t that much difference. As an example, this AWD 3.0 EcoBoost is rated at 5,600 pounds for towing, a Telluride is 5,000.

Final Thoughts

When it comes across the finish line, the Ford Explorer is good, but it doesn’t make the podium. It is beat out by the outgoing Toyota Highlander in third and then a tie for first and second between the Hyundai Palisade (I rate second) and the Kia Telluride as the winner. The difference between the Kia and the Hyundai is all which you like better in interior and exterior styling and finishes. All three offer better interiors, better fit and finish and better value for money. Where the Ford stickers for a touch over $60K, you’d be very hard-pressed to price the Kia, Hyundai or Toyota at over $50K. That $10,000 difference buys a lot of gas, insurance and probably a vacation or two with your family. In the end, the Ford isn’t bad, it’s just that several others are better for less money.

15 Comments

  1. Every review I’ve read on the new Explorer suggests that it’s much more competitive (and meets/exceeds expectations) at the XLT trim level. This makes sense to me, because I’ve always generally felt that I was better off shopping for a higher base vehicle than for a higher trim. There’s a pretty quick downturn in the diminishing returns on this Ford, one that might not even make the Limited model worth it, much less the Platinum.

    1. I have 1,200 miles on an XLT with the “base” 2.3 EcoBoost. The only thing I’m missing is the heated seats. I find it to be an excellent value proposition. As others have mentioned, the power, ride, and handling are all excellent.

      I’ll even go so far as to say that I disagree with the criticisms of the interior. A lot of things are subjective, but the solid feel of the metal, shifter, terrain control, and radio knobs are top notch. Same for the temperature control rockers. I haven’t had any glitches in the touchscreen like Eric mentions.

      1. I’m interested now that it’s back on a RWD platform, and the only trim level I would consider is the XLT. Not living near either of the Earth’s poles, I’ve never felt a need for heated seats, so my guess is your Explorer might very well be similar to what I would spec. I’m not even sure I would want AWD. People have pampered themselves completely out of reasonably priced cars. I realize a review is most valuable when it samples as many available options as possible, but this trim at this price is just ridiculous, and is nothing I would even remotely consider purchasing.

        I haven’t used Ford’s infotainment systems recently, but I prefer buttons and dials and honestly wish the touchscreens could be option-deleted. They’re fine for a mobile phone that requires an infinitely-variable interface, but when driving I want to keep my eyes on the road and let muscle memory take care of the dashboard interactions.

        1. The only thing I use the touchscreen for is to change the station on the radio. Well, and to use the back up camera but that doesn’t involve touching anything besides the aforementioned nice shifter.

  2. That central touch screen looks like the sort of wonky Rube Goldberg sort of setup my Dad would use to nail a tablet to his dashboard.

  3. They are already taking $10k off MSRP on the Limited models, so the pricing discussion is only so relevant here. The base model Aviator seems a decent value.

    1. I have to base everything on MSRP, as different times and locations can affect any discounts. Did you see if Telluride, Palisade or Highlander also had discounts?

      1. Fair point, for sure. I think the Kia/Hyundai MSRP is closer to earth more philosophically than what the Big 3 generally do. Doesn’t look like there are much of any discounts being advertised locally on Tellurides anyway, but their top trim versions come reasonably close on price to a discounted Limited Exploder.

    1. All I see is the photos, and it looks fine to me (I like the two-tone). I can’t make a call on leather quality without touching it.

  4. You had the car for a week, and you developed no driving impressions? No mention of how it drives at all seems like a glaring omission in a review of a common consumer vehicle. Is this hooniverse or autoblog?

  5. You had the car for a week, and you developed no driving impressions? No mention of how it drives at all seems like a glaring omission in a review of a common consumer vehicle. Is this hooniverse or autoblog?

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