2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid Review: Staying Under Ten

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2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid | Photo: AJAC

We spent an entire week in Alberta with the 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid for the AJAC’s annual EcoRun event.

We’ve recently had a chance to drive the entire 2020 Ford Explorer lineup in Portland Oregon. All-new from the ground up, and riding on Ford’s rear-wheel drive CD6 architecture, which also underpins the 2020 Lincoln Aviator, the sixth-generation Explorer presents itself through four different trim levels and powertrains.

For the first time since the very first Explorer day viewed back in 1991, a hybrid model is now added to the line-up. While we had a chance to take a quick glimpse at the thing during our first drive in Portland, we didn’t have the time to properly asses its fuel-saving pretentions out in the open.

We just spent the entire week in Alberta for the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC)’s eighth annual EcoRun event, where Ford brought an Explorer hybrid so we could test out its real-world fuel economy. This is our verdict.


No Compromise

2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid | Photo: William Clavey

One of Ford’s promises, when it added an electrified powertrain to its three-row midsize SUV, was that it had to remain just as capable as the rest of the Explorer line-up. At the moment, not many carmakers offer a hybrid powertrain in this segment. Except for the Toyota Highlander hybrid, this is currently an unoccupied space.

Powered by a 3.3-litre naturally aspirated V6 that’s coupled to a tiny electric motor embedded inside the ten-speed automatic transmission, the 2020 Ford Explorer hybrid, which is only available on the Limited trim level, cranks out 318 horsepower. Towing is rated at a comfortable 2,267 kg (5,000 pounds) when conveniently equipped.

This is not a plug-in hybrid setup, but more of an autonomous self-regenerative system that acts primarily as a way to reduce fuel consumption. Ford remains tight-lipped about the system’s specifications but claims a lithium-ion battery pack is lodged underneath the second-row seats. The vehicle will drive in full electric mode up to speeds of approximately 60 km/h, or when coasting to save fuel. Just like an electric car, regenerative braking helps recharge the battery while decelerating.

In Canada, all Explorer hybrids come standard with all-wheel drive, and contrary to the Toyota Highlander hybrid which utilizes its rear-mounted electric motor to assist the front wheels, Ford’s system allows the vehicle to retain a conventional driveshaft and differential setup, meaning it can send full power to both axles at all times. Pricing for the 2020 Ford Explorer hybrid kicks off at $57,199 before freight and destination.


On the Road

2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid | Photo: Ford

Aesthetically nothing distinguishes an Explorer hybrid from the rest of the lineup, except for the subtle “Hybrid” designation on its rear hatch. It’s the same inside, where a comfortable and spacious interior wins points over its rivals. However, material quality remains subpar, with painstakingly hard plastics that don’t belong in a near $60,000 vehicle.

The hybrid’s dashboard design is just as horrific with its mashup of intersecting lines, curves and edges. Our tester had the standard 8-inch infotainment interface and not the 10.1-inch portrait-style setup found in the Explorer Platinum and ST models. The hybrid gets specific menus to monitor fuel consumption and technology in action as the hybrid system shifts from gasoline to electric propulsion.

Ford hasn’t released official fuel consumption numbers for its Explorer hybrid, but during EcoRun, on a 150-km trek, we averaged a solid 8L/100 km rating, placing it in the same ballpark as some gasoline-powered midsize sedans.

On the road, there’s very little indication that this Explorer relies on two different energy sources. Like its petrol-powered brothers, its rear-wheel drive architecture ensures a nice, solid and well-planted feel on the road, with a German-like composure and observable fluidity in the way it handles. We’re also fans of the ten-speed gearbox, which always seems to anticipate our next move. While sometimes slow to react, it quickly adapts to your driving habits, ready to hand over the right cog for the task.

Acceleration in the Explorer hybrid is ok at best, considering its 4,300-pound curb weight, and transitions from gasoline to electric are seamless, with a quiet operation and a downright clever regenerative system that rewards its driver for good driving habits by giving them “bonus electric kilometers”.  That said, when solicited, the naturally aspirated V6 can get loud, occasionally sounding overstressed, especially during uphill accelerations.


Conclusion

2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid | Photo: Ford

We’ve already shared our thoughts regarding the 2020 Ford Explorer and Explorer ST, and we’re not hiding the fact that we’re pleased with Ford’s latest people hauler. While plagued with mediocre cabin materials and a relatively high price tag, it remains an attractive offer due to its wide variety of configurations, drivetrain options and towing ratings.

As for the hybrid, it’s a serious kick in the private parts of the also all-new for 2020 Toyota Highlander hybrid.  Toyota is no longer dominating that space.

The only problem we’re seeing with Ford’s electrified Explo, is its abnormally high price tag and not so stellar reliability record, two elements that could prove a hard sell for consumers cross-shopping from a Toyota dealership.


2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid Photo Gallery

2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid | Photo: AJAC
2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid | Photo: AJAC
2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid | Photo: William Clavey
2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid | Photo: William Clavey
2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid | Photo: William Clavey
2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid | Photo: William Clavey

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