2020 Ford Explorer ST First Drive Review: Sporty, Smart, and Savvy

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Written by Jimmy Dinsmore | June 30, 2019
2020 Ford Explorer ST First Drive Review: Sporty, Smart, and Savvy

    2020 Ford Explorer ST

  • Engine: 3.0-liter Ecoboost V6
  • Horsepower: 400
  • Torque (lb-ft.): 415
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic
  • Drive Configuration: AWD
  • 0-to-60 Time (secs): 5.5
  • Top Speed (mph): 143
  • City/Hwy/Combined MPG: TBD
  • Curb Weight (lb): 4701
  • Wheelbase (in): 119.1
  • Total Length (in): 199.3
  • Width (in): 78.9
  • Base Price (USD): $54,740
  • Price as Tested (USD): $59,520

Driving should be a fun experience. This includes SUVs and the families who drive them. Thank goodness Ford recognizes this and has introduced an ST trim for the 2020 Ford Explorer. The popular full-size SUV was turned over to Ford Performance who created a truly sporty version of this SUV for the first time starting in the 2020 model year.

I was able to go exploring in the new Explorer ST in the mountains of Utah. And I was blown away by this SUV’s performance. Sure, the 3.0-liter V6 Ecoboost engine puts out impressive power at 400 hp and 415 lb.-ft. of torque, but beyond that it still drives like that comfortable, steady Explorer you’ve known for years, just with incredible performance and power. Ford engineers claim the ST Explorer can reach track speeds of 143 mph, and 0-to-60 time is estimated at just 5.5 seconds. I can’t vouch for that, but I did experience how well it handled going up and down elevations without hesitation.

The quick-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission was impressive. Four-wheel drive is standard, but you can switch traction control modes based upon road and weather conditions, and the system is rear-wheel biased instead of front-wheel biased, for a sportier feel. Engage sport mode on the turn-knob transmission located on the center console and the driving experience is boosted even further. Goosebumps will surely ensure with a tighter steering system and more aggressive acceleration. One of our skilled Ford Performance driving coaches had us switch to Sport Mode when descending a steep mountain road and it held the gear longer. I was hoping for a little more engine growl from a performance-oriented SUV, but the dual exhaust offered just enough engine noise coming in to placate me.

The Explorer ST stands out from the rest of its family. Just as the Edge ST has special badging and looks, so too does the Explorer with a black mesh grille and liftgate appliqué. The skid plates show off that this is not a normal Explorer. There’s also a black roof rack for more adventure and exploring. The sharpest exterior feature is the sprawling EXPLORER name across the hood, right above the special ST grille. It really stands out. As I made my way from Park City, to the Great Salt Lake, I had several onlookers inquire about this SUV, what year it was, and if it was new or a special edition. That speaks volumes as to the success of the design and styling of the Explorer ST.

The ST badging and concept is prevalent inside the 2020 Explorer. The flat-bottomed (heated) steering wheel feels good and is fitting of a performance vehicle. The ST logo is centered in the steering wheel, and the ST logo is also stitched into the seats as well. The sport bucket seats are comfortable. Generally I don’t like sport bucket seats, but they’re quite good and made my exploration through Utah quite comfortable and supportive. Ford Performance badging is on the door sills so that you know this is a special Explorer.

The optional 12.3-inch touchscreen can be intrusive. It’s like having an iPad vertically placed right in the middle of the dashboard. Personally, I found it nice and it ran my Apple CarPlay perfectly so I could have an awesome playlist running off my phone along with navigation. It made for an enjoyable day trip through the greater Salt Lake area. In addition, the Sync 3 system is intuitive, and the touchscreen is very responsive.

During the Ford Performance School we got to experience some of the safety features on the Explorer, including Active Park Assist. This system essentially is autonomous parallel parking, where it will search for an open spot, and then after you follow instructions, will angle and park the SUV perfectly in (and out) of that spot. For those who aren’t expert parallel parkers, it takes the stress out of parking a big SUV.

The internal space in the ST is the same as the rest of the Explorer trims, so you can enjoy all the perks of the performance, without having to sacrifice legroom, head room or storage space. With all three rows in use, you get a sedan-like 18.2 cubic feet of cargo volume. With the third row folded, you get a respectable 47.9 cubic feet, and with both second and third rows folded, there’s a cavernous 87.8 cubic feet.

Any consumer who purchases the 2020 Explorer ST gets to experience what it truly means to own a performance SUV at the Ford Performance Driving Program in Park City, Utah. Consumers just have to fly themselves out, and Ford covers the rest, including their hotel stay. I was able to experience this in person and can vouch that it is so much fun, but also shows off what this SUV can do, and you will undoubtedly leave as a better driver too. That beautiful backdrop of Park City adds to the allure of the ST Driving School.

This experience had been available for owners who had bought the ST version of the Fiesta or Focus, but now it’s part of the ST SUV experience with the 2019 Ford Edge ST and the 2020 Explorer ST.

Ford is serious about their performance, and has a rich history with their car line. However, with Ford getting out of the sedan market soon in the US, it was only natural to offer more Sport Technologies (ST) offerings for their SUV line. Thankfully, both the Edge ST and the new Explorer ST will keep the Ford Performance tradition going on the SUV line.

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