What It Is: The sportiest variant of the next-generation version of the Ford Explorer. Don’t be surprised if the Explorer’s engineers opt to return to model’s pre-2011 longitudinal layout, sending power to the rear axle in two-wheel-drive form, while all-wheel drive will remain available throughout the model line.
Regardless of the next-generation Explorer’s favored drive wheels, we’re all but certain the new crossover will make better use of its available interior space relative to the present model. Currently the Explorer suffers from thick sills that intrude into the cabin and push the crossover’s three rows of seats toward the center of the interior.
Why it Matters: As one of Ford’s top-selling models, the Explorer is key to keeping the lights on at the Dearborn, Michigan–based automaker. With the exception of the F-150 pickup truck and the Escape compact crossover, no other Ford model moved as much metal as did the Explorer in 2017. With such high financial stakes on the line, you can be sure Ford doesn’t want to mess up the good thing that is the Explorer.
Platform: The latest Explorer is rumored to rest on the brand’s new CD6 modular platform, which is said to accommodate front-, rear-, and all-wheel-drive powertrain setups. Expect the Explorer to rely on a heavier use of mixed materials to shed weight relative to the current model, with more aluminum used throughout the chassis. The body, however, likely will continue to be made largely of steel.
Despite using the body of current Explorer, this camouflaged mule appears to be wider and feature a noticeably longer hood and an increased dash-to-axle ratio—a tantalizing indication the new Explorer’s engine will be mounted longitudinally and come standard with rear-wheel drive.
Powertrain: While the basic Explorer is likely to use a version of the current crossover’s turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four in lesser models, expect higher-end variants to feature the brand’s twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6. This mule appears to be an even sportier model, as indicated by its chunky split-spoke wheels and dual-exhaust outlets, and we anticipate it will bear the ST name, which also is featured on sporty variants of the Fiesta, the Focus, and the updated 2019 Edge. Look for an Explorer ST to come equipped with the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 that currently sits under the hood of the Explorer Sport, a trim we anticipate that the ST will replace. While the engine is rated at 365 horsepower in the Explorer Sport, we expect the bent-six to add a handful of additional ponies into its stable, bringing total horsepower closer to 400. All-wheel drive is all but guaranteed to come standard with the big engine, as is a 10-speed automatic transmission.
Competition: Dodge Durango SRT, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Estimated Arrival and Price: Look for the new Explorer to show its face in early 2019, possibly at the Detroit auto show, with sales following shortly thereafter. Pricing should start in the low $30,000 range, with the sportier ST coming in closer to $50,000 before options.