At a glance it may appear that the current Explorer isn’t much different than its predecessor, but there were some major improvements made with its complete redesign for 2020. Handling is now agile and the cabin remains quiet and spacious, especially the third row. But it also took a step back in many ways. It has a clunky transmission, noisy engine, and stiff-edged ride, which combine to leave it with a road-test score among three-row midsized SUVs. Further, some comparably equipped rivals, such as the Hyundai Palisade and Subaru Ascent, cost thousands less.
The Explorer's rear-drive-based platform (most competitors are front-drive-based) contributes to its newfound handling chops and improved tow rating—5,300 pounds on our test vehicle. Our all-wheel-drive Explorer proved adept through corners, with responsive steering and firm suspension that gave drivers confidence. Ride quality is less compliant than many rivals, though, and it transmits frequent jiggles into the cabin.
The 300-horsepower turbocharged engine has plenty of oomph to get the Explorer up to speed quickly, yet, at 21 mpg overall, this four-cylinder doesn't have a fuel economy advantage over some of its smoother V6 competitors. Low-speed shifts from the 10-speed automatic transmission are noticeably rough, and the engine sounds raspy when accelerating—both missteps that make the Explorer seem unrefined.