Is the new SUV better or worse?

First introduced in 1990, the Ford Explorer quickly became a sales success and evolved into America’s all-time best-selling SUV. In January 2019, Ford launched the sixth-generation model to replace the ageing, eight-year-old, fifth-gen SUV with a more capable, comfortable, sportier, and roomier vehicle. Is the new Explorer a massive departure from its predecessor? Does it have more and better tech? Is Ford offering more powerful engines with enhanced fuel economy? Find out all about that in the new vs. old Explorer comparison below.

Exterior

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The old Explorer is almost as boxy as the Expedition and the front fascia is a mix of rectangular features

The fifth-generation Explorer looks somewhat generic. It’s almost as boxy as the Expedition and the front fascia is a mix of rectangular features. That’s not to say it isn’t an appealing design. The honeycomb grille, the angled headlamps, and the C-shaped daytime running lights give the front fascia an imposing stance.

The old Explorer looks utilitarian from the sides. It’s on par with most midsize SUVs, but the beefed-up wheel arches and the angled C-pillars set it apart from the pack. Around back, things are rather simple. Unlike most automakers, Ford went with a one-piece taillights design, so the tailgate remains clean and reminds me of pickup trucks. The big chrome strip that stretches between the taillights and the chrome diffuser-like element give the Explorer a premium look.

2019 Ford Explorer vs 2020 Ford Explorer
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The front grille grew larger on the new SUV. It's especially taller now, but the center section also extends farther toward the sides

The sixth-gen SUV is obviously an evolution of the old design. It’s a classic approach as Ford knows not to mess up a design that works. So it simply made a sportier version of the old design language. The front grille grew larger. It’s especially taller now, but the center section also extends farther toward the sides. The headlamps are longer and slimmer, as well as swept-back toward the fenders. The bumper retains the C-shaped elements of the old model. However, now it’s the side vents that are shaped like the letter C, while the daytime running lights are thin strips inside them. The lower bumper looks a bit more elegant than before.

Onto the sides, we can notice the same beefed-up wheel arches, blacked-out A- and B-pillars, and body-colored and angled C-pillars. But the side sills are different, featuring a small hump that "eats" into the lower doors and thin chrome trim. It doesn’t make much of a difference really, but it’s one of those features that promote a "premium look." But the new Explorer stands out thanks to a more sloping roofline, smaller quarter windows, and a shorter front overhang. It’s indeed a bit sportier and a bit more stylish than its predecessor.

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Ford crafted a bigger roof spoiler and a fancier diffuser-like element shaped around the exhaust pipes

The rear end of the new Explorer is extremely familiar. The taillights and the trapezoidal license plate recess have the same shape, but they’re slightly bigger. The bumper remains sturdy and the tailgate wide. On the slip side, Ford crafted a bigger roof spoiler and a fancier diffuser-like element shaped around the exhaust pipes. The quad-outlet layout on the Platinum model looks really hot.

Size-wise, the new Explorer is only narrowly larger. At 198.8 inches long, it’s just 1.7 inches longer than the old model, while its width is the same at 78.9 inches. Height is similar too, with the new SUV just a half-inch shorter. It’s the wheelbase that increased by a notable 6.5 inches thanks to the new platform and the shorter front overhang.

All specs are in inches unless otherwise noted
2019 Ford Explorer 2020 Ford Explorer
Wheelbase 112.8 119.1
Length 198.7 198.8
Height 70 69.9 (70.2 on Platinum trim)
Width - Excluding Mirrors 78.9 78.9
Width - Including Mirrors 90.2 89.3
Width - Mirrors Folded 82.5 82.7
Front Track 67 66.9
Rear Track 67 66.9
Front Overhang 39.1 33.7
Rear Overhang 46.8 46
Approach Angle (degrees) 15.6 20.1 (21.0 on Platinum)
Departure Angle (degrees) 20.9 22.0 (22.3 on Platinum)
Ramp Breakover Angle (degrees) 16.9 17.7 (17.7 on Platinum)
Minimum Running Ground Clearance 7.8 7.9 (8.2 on Platinum)

Interior

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The old Explorer is far from spectacular design-wise, but it's not inferior to other midsize SUVs from the era

The best iteration of the fifth-gen Explorer arrived in 2016, when Ford introduced the mid-cycle facelift. The cabin remained very similar design-wise, but Ford added a new infotainment display and got rid of the annoying touch-sensitive controls. The tall center stack still included various controls underneath the display, so it still was somewhat cluttered.

The old Explorer is far from spectacular design-wise, but it’s not inferior to other midsize SUVs from the era. I guess it’s of the "nothing to write home about" variety. But it did have a digital instrument cluster, reduced NVH levels, and a ton of premium features in the Platinum trim. This expensive model came with leather-wrapped seats with quilted stitching and micro perforation, a leather dashboard, console armrests, and upper door trim, aluminum and leather inserts, and a leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel. The previous Explorer was the first Ford to feature a 10-inch instrument cluster and 500-watt Sony audio system.

Not surprisingly, the new Explorer boasts a fancier cabin. The dashboard now features a two-tier design that’s interesting to say the least. The split up is more noticeable in the center stack area, as the lower section extends a bit more toward the center console. This design allows for a big 10.1-inch display to sit on the stack in a tablet-style position.

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The new 12.3-inch instrument cluster changes its background appearance based on the selected driving mode

It’s worth noting that this screen is optional, with the standard unit on the lower priced trims measuring eight inches. But it’s an important upgrade as the smaller display on the new Explorer was optional on the old SUV. It’s flanked by redesigned A/C vents, while the A/C controls below have a modern design and feature ambient lighting. Authentic wood trim adorns the dashboard on the passenger side and from the display toward the instrument cluster.

The latter also grew larger. Now boasting a 12.3-inch diagonal, it changes its background appearance based on the selected driving mode and features 3D graphics. All surfaces look better in the redesigned SUV. The plastics seem softer and the fit and finish better, although the previous Explorer also had a solid, well-built interior. As usual, the Platinum trim comes with all the premium goodies. For the 2020 model year, it adds a standard twin-panel moonroof, leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dashboard, and door and front console armrests.

All specs are in inches unless otherwise noted
2019 Ford Explorer 2020 Ford Explorer
Head Room - First Row 41.4 40.7
Head Room - Second Row 40.6 40.5
Head Room - Third Row 37.8 38.9
Maximum Leg Room - First Row 42.9 43
Leg Room - Second Row 39.5 39
Leg Room - Third Row 33.3 32.2
Hip Room - First Row 57.3 59.2
Hip Room - Second Row 56.8 59.1
Hip Room - Third Row 40.7 40.9
Shoulder Room - First Row 61.5 61.8
Shoulder Room - Second Row 61 61.9
Shoulder Room - Third Row 50.8 54.6

Passenger and luggage room

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When it comes to headroom, the new Explorer is actually a bit inferior to the old model

New-generation models usually offer a bit more space than their predecessors, but not all dimensions account for improvements.

When it comes to headroom, the new Explorer is actually a bit inferior to the old model. First-row headroom, for instance, decreased from 41.4 to 40.7 inches, while second-row headroom fell from 40.6 to 40.5 inches. However, third-row headroom increased from 37.8 to 38.9 inches.

Thankfully, the 2020 Explorer comes with more hip room. Although the new SUV isn’t wider than the old model, the redesigned interior adds a few inches. First-row hip room is up from 57.3 to 59.2 inches, while second-row hip room improved from 56.8 to 59.1 inches. Third-row hip room increased as well, from 40.7 to 40.9 inches.

2019 Ford Explorer vs 2020 Ford Explorer
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The new Explorer offers marginally more legroom in the front and a bit less for second- and third-row passengers

The same goes for shoulder room, which increased by 0.3 inches in the first row, 0.9 inches in the second row, and 3.8 inches in the third row. Actual dimensions are 61.8, 61.9, and 54.6 inches, respectively.

Moving over to legroom, arguably the most important figure for passenger comfort, the new Explorer offers marginally more in the front and a bit less for second- and third-row passengers. Specifically, front-seat legroom increased from 42.9 to 43 inches, but second-row legroom decreased from 39.5 to 39 inches. Likewise, third-row passengers get a bit less, from 33.3 down to 32.3 inches.

2019 Ford Explorer vs 2020 Ford Explorer
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The new Explorer features a notably larger trunk

What about cargo room? Fortunately, the new Explorer features a notably larger trunk. There is a catch though, you get more room behind the second- and front-row seats. The small trunk behind the third-row seats offers a bit less room than the old model. Specifically, cargo room is down from 21 to 18.2 cubic feet. For some reason, the Explorer lost almost two cubic feet here.

But fold or remove the third-row seats and the Explorer can swallow up to 47.9 cubic feet of luggage, up from 43.9 in the previous SUV. Load the SUV up to the front row seatbacks and you get 87.8 cubic feet of room, a 6.1-cubic-foot increase over the old model.

2019 Ford Explorer 2020 Ford Explorer
Maximum Seating 7 7
Passenger Volume 151.5 cubic-feet 152.7 cubic-feet
Cargo Behind 3rd Row 21 cubic-feet 18.2 cubic-feet
Cargo Behind 2nd Row 43.9 cubic-feet 47.9 cubic-feet
Cargo Behind 3rd Row 81.7 cubic-feet 87.8 cubic-feet

Technology

The fifth-gen Explorer is a well-equipped SUV, even in standard trim

While a new-generation car may look worse or offer less passenger room compared to its predecessor, it always features better technology.

The fifth-gen Explorer is a well-equipped SUV, even in standard trim. Standard features include a rear-view camera with washer, AM/FM and MP3 with six speakers, media hub with USB port, and a SYNC infotainment system. The AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability and the SOS Post-Crash Alert System were also standard.

The more expensive Limited model added a Forward Sensing System, Intelligent Access with Push-Button Start, remote start, a Reverse Sensing System, SYNC3, garage door opener, and front-view camera. Limited also came with a 12-speaker Sony audio system, FordPass Connect, SiriusXM Satellite, voice-activated navigation, Wi-Fi hotspot, and a perimeter alarm.

The range-topping Platinum model came with extras like adaptive cruise control with collision warning, and a premium Sony audio system with Clear Phase and Live Acoustics.

2019 Ford Explorer vs 2020 Ford Explorer
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The Co-Pilot360 package of driver-assist features comes standard on the 2020 Explorer

Tech info for the new Explorer is still scant, but Ford did release a few specs. And the cool thing is that the Co-Pilot360 package of driver-assist features comes standard. The bundle includes Blind Spot Information System with cross-traffic alert, Lane-Keeping System, hill start assist, rearview camera with built-in lens washer, auto headlamps with auto high-beams, Pre-Collision Assist with automatic emergency braking and Pedestrian Detection, forward collision warning and dynamic brake support, and post-impact braking.

Select the optional Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ and you get everything above plus adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and lane-centering, speed sign recognition, evasive steering assist, voice-activated touch screen navigation with pinch-to-zoom capability, and SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link. The options list also includes Active Park Assist 2.0, reverse brake assist, 360-degree camera with front split view, adaptive cruise control with speed sign recognition, hill descent control, and Blind Spot Information System with trailer tow coverage.

Drivetrain and Performance

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The big news here is that the new Explorer has a rear-wheel driven architecture

The previous Explorer goes out of production with three engines. The base unit is the old and familiar 3.5-liter V-6. This powerplant cranks out 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission. Both FWD and 4WD configurations are available.

Next up, Ford offers the 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that also motivates the Mustang. Rated at 280 horsepower, it’s not as powerful as the V-6, but it delivers notably more torque at 310 pound-feet. Also paired to a six-speed automatic, it’s available in either FWD or 4WD configurations.

2019 Ford Explorer vs 2020 Ford Explorer
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The updated 2.3-liter EcoBoost generates 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque

The range-topping engine is also a 3.5-liter V-6, but in EcoBoost format. Powered by a pair of turbochargers, it delivers a solid 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of twist through the same six-speed automatic transmission. This engine is restricted to an all-wheel-drive system though.

Moving over to the new SUV, the big news is that it now has a rear-wheel driven architecture. This layout not only gives it a sportier ride, but also returns superior towing capacity, which we will discuss below.

2019 Ford Explorer vs 2020 Ford Explorer Drivetrain High Resolution
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Replacing the old 3.5-liter, the new 3.0-liter V-6 cranks out 365 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque

The new Explorer is available with only two engines. The naturally aspirated V-6 was discontinued, so it’s the 2.3-liter EcoBoost that acts as a base drivertrain now. Offered in the entry-level, XLT, and Limited trims, it generates 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. That’s an extra 30 horsepower over the old engine. It’s optionally available with Ford’s updated four-wheel-drive system, but there’s bigger news in the gearbox department, as FoMoCo replaced the six-speed automatic with a 10-speed unit.

The second engine, offered with the Platinum trim only, is a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6. Replacing the previous 3.5-liter, this mill cranks out 365 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. While output is similar to the old engine, torque is up by 30 pound-feet. The V-6 mates to the same 10-speed gearbox, but is offered with 4WD only.

2020 Ford Explorer Base, XLT, Limited 2020 Ford Explorer Platinum 2019 Ford Explorer 2019 Ford Explorer 2019 Ford Explorer
Engine 2.3-liter EcoBoost® I-4 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 3.5L Ti-VCT V6 2.3L EcoBoost® I-4 3.5L EcoBoost® V6
Compression ratio 10.0:1 9.5:1 10.8: 1 9.5: 1 10.0: 1
Horsepower 300 365 290 HP @ 6,500 RPM 280 @ 5,600 RPM 365 @ 5,500 RPM
Torque 310 LB-FT 380 LB-FT 255 LB-FT @ 4,000 RPM 310 LB-FT @ 3000 RPM 350 LB-FT @ 3,500 RPM
Fuel delivery Direct injection Direct injection Sequential multi-port electronic fuel injection Direct Injection Direct Injection
MPG TBA TBA 17city/24hwy/20comb 19city/27hwy/22comb 16city/27hwy/22comb

Towing and Fuel Economy

2019 Ford Explorer vs 2020 Ford Explorer
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The 2020 Explorer can tow up to 5,600 pounds with the V-6 and up to 5,300 pounds with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost

Towing capacity is up by a significant margin thanks to the new engines and updated 4WD system. While the previous Explorer with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost was able to pull 3,000 pounds, the new version equipped with the Trailer Tow Package can tow up to 5,300 pounds. That’s a massive upgrade compared to the old 2.3-liter SUV, but it’s also an improvement over the old V-6 models, rated at 5,000 pounds. The new V-6 Explorer tows up to 5,600 pounds, a 12-percent improvement over the previous range-topping model.

Fuel economy ratings for the new SUV aren’t yet available, but it should bring some improvements. The old 2.3 EcoBoost returns 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, while the old EcoBoost V-6 provides 16 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. The new four-cylinder will probably add an extra mpg to both ratings, while the 3.0-liter V-6 could return up to 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

Final Thoughts

2019 Ford Explorer vs 2020 Ford Explorer
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Needless to say, the new Explorer is a big improvement over its predecessor overall. Sure, Ford has some explaining to do for the small decrease in passenger space and trunk space behind the third-row seas, but apart from that, the 2020 Explorer looks really solid. It looks fresh inside and out, it boasts loads of modern tech that put it above the competition, and the engines deliver a bit more power and will tow heavier trailers. What’s more, the new Explorer looks very competitive against rivals from other brands as well.

Further reading

2019 Ford Explorer vs 2020 Ford Explorer
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Read our full review on the 2020 Ford Explorer.

2019 Ford Explorer vs 2020 Ford Explorer High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Read our full review on the 2019 Ford Explorer.

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