2020 Ford Explorer branches out with sporty ST, efficiency-focused hybrid models

With Ford eliminating most cars from its United States lineup, the automaker’s SUVs and crossovers will have to take on more roles. So the recently unveiled 2020 Ford Explorer will get two new variants: A sporty ST and a more fuel-efficient hybrid. Both models will debut at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show and go on sale this summer.

The ST badge was previously reserved for performance cars like the Focus ST and Fiesta ST, but now Ford is applying it to utility vehicles. Car enthusiasts consider it sacrilege, but it makes good business sense given the popularity of SUVs and crossovers. The first ST-badged utility vehicle, the Edge ST, left us wanting more — will the Explorer will be an improvement?

The Explorer ST boasts a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6, which Ford claims will produce 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to get the Explorer up tp 143 mph, according to Ford. The V6 is coupled to a 10-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. It also gets a driver-selectable sport mode, optional performance brakes, and sporty styling cues inside and out.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Explorer hybrid uses a 3.3-liter V6 with electric assist. The powertrain is shared with Ford’s Explorer-based Police Interceptor Utility cop car, and produces 318 hp in the civilian Explorer, according to Ford. Like other Explorer variants, the hybrid uses a 10-speed automatic transmission. The lithium-ion battery pack is built into the chassis below the second-row seats to preserve passenger and cargo space, Ford said.

What does that mean when it comes to gas mileage? Ford won’t say yet, only offering that the rear-wheel drive Explorer hybrid (all-wheel drive will likely be offered as an option) will travel 500 miles between fill-ups. Actual mpg figures will be published later in the year.

The 2020 Explorer ST and hybrid show how committed Ford is to its no-cars strategy. If you want to make a vehicle sporty or more fuel efficient, starting with a big, heavy, crossover like the Explorer isn’t the best idea. But Ford now needs these vehicles to be all things to all people. For an example of a no-compromises performance car, see the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 that will debut alongside the Explorer ST and hybrid in Detroit.

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