Have you driven a Ford lately? No seriously. And I’m not talking about a Mustang or F-150 pick-up, which have a bigger following than Taylor Swift on Twitter.
I know, I know. Since Ford decided it was no longer going to build sedans – whoa, you didn’t hear? – the pickings have been slimmer than TP choices at Publix.
Yes, the latest cute-ute Escape is getting plenty of two-thumbs ups. Ditto the honking Expedition. But the rest? Meh.
Then along comes this 2020 Explorer for me to, er, explore. Talk about a surprise and delight. This thing has had a bigger makeover than Adele.
You can sum it up in two words: New. Everything.
That includes a switch from a front-wheel-drive architecture – that’s ‘chassis’ in layman-speak – to rear-wheel drive. Which is huge in helping improve the way the SUV drives.
Alas, while every single body panel is changed, the re-design is probably not enough for your neighbors to be totally sure you’ve bought a 2020 Explorer and not a 2019.
Me? I love this evolved new design. Love the new front-end with its bolder grille and bigger headlamps. Love the more contoured lines along the side. Love the overall sleeker look.
Because it’s a Ford, this new Explorer offers more model choices than Amazon’s home page. From the base $32,765 Explorer, there’s an XLT, a Limited, a Platinum, and a sporty ST with 400-horseys to choose from.
We’re sampling the flagship, all-bells-and whistles Platinum all-wheel drive model here, with the highly-rated 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 under the hood, and a rather ambitious $58,250 base sticker.
Start adding bon-bons, like a tech package with big-screen navigation, metallic paint and must-have 21-inch rims, don’t expect much change from $62-grand.
This, however, is one heckuva lot of sport-ute, with one heckuva lot of luxury for the money.
Climb aboard and settle in to super-comfy, massaging and cooled front seats. They’re trimmed in Coach-quality leather that’s double-stitched and elegantly perforated. Nice.
Splashed across the dash is lovely, open-pore timber veneer complimented by brushed, metal-look trim. Fit, finish and soft-touch feel are all first-rate.
Love toons? You’re going to love the available Bang & Olufsen 980-watt, 14-speaker system sound system.
One of the big changes that comes with this sixth-gen Explorer is the extra interior width. Now there’s a ton of shoulder room in both the front and middle-row seats.
The middle row on our tester was made up of twin captain’s chairs with fold-down armrests and plenty of adjustment. Opt for a bench if you need the extra pew.
Yet despite the new Explorer’s re-designed body, the third-row seats are marginal at best. The bottom cushion is just too low, pushing your knees up into your chest. Even youngsters will likely whine.
But it’s out on the road where this flashy Ford really shines.
Under that redesigned hood is Ford’s latest 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 packing a muscley 365-hp and coupled to a new, rapid-shifting, 10-speed automatic.
This feisty combo can punch the 200-pound-lighter Explorer off the line quicker than Usain Bolt out of the blocks. Man, this thing feels fast.
Some might be disappointed by the throaty, snarly roar of the V6; others might think of it as sporty. For this Premium-spec model, to me it sounds just too gruff.
But when you whip it around an Interstate on-ramp, or along a twisty back-road, you’ll feel just how sporty and agile Ford’s mid-size sport-ute has become.
Throw-in precise and nicely-weighted steering, tight, taut suspension and plenty of grip at each corner, and this new Explorer is one fun, responsive ride.
The big question mark, however, concerns that eye-watering $60-grand sticker.
Tough to justify when, for pretty much the same price, you can drive off in a new Lincoln Aviator, the Explorer’s more prestigious, more distinctive-looking sibling.
But for many buyers, only a Ford will do. And this all-new Explorer is going to have plenty of appeal.