2020 Ford Explorer Rumored to be Rear-Wheel Drive with ST and Hybrid Variants

None of this information is official, but a lot of it makes sense.

Artyom Geodakyan\TASS via Getty Images

A new report from The Truth About Cars has a lot to say about the sixth-generation Ford Explorer. We’d like to start by saying that everything you’re about to read about the 2020 Ford Explorer is a rumor from TTAC’s “Blue Oval sources” and in no way confirmed by Ford. We reached out to Ford asking about the validity of this report and were told that the brand "won't speculate on future product plans."

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into the juicy rumors. If these rumors are to be believed, the Ford Explorer is switching from front- to rear-wheel drive like it was in its first four generations from 1991 to 2010 model years. All-wheel drive will still be available, but there will reportedly be no more Explorers with sideways engines starting in 2019 for the 2020 model year.

The new Explorer will be built in the Chicago Assembly Plant on Ford’s upcoming modular CD6 platform which can accommodate front-, rear-, or all-wheel drive. The report in TTAC says a lot about an unnamed “Lincoln counterpart” complementing the new Explorer. With Lincoln’s new penchant for real names rather than alphanumeric jumbles, perhaps the Lincoln Aviator name will return as the new Explorer’s luxury stablemate just like it was in the 2000s.

You might be wondering why on earth Ford would change things up with the Explorer considering it just had its best sales year since 2004 moving 271,131 units in 2017. One possible reason is for police departments. The Ford Police Interceptor Utility has become America’s favorite police vehicle with 12 percent of all Explorers sold in 2017 going to police departments. Rear-wheel drive is traditionally the standard for cop cars and an RWD Explorer could take a bite out of the police market share held by the Dodge Charger.

Another possible reason for the rear-wheel-drive switch is the likelihood that Explorer buyers who live in snowy climates where RWD is not ideal probably often opt for the all-wheel-drive anyway. There was a five-year streak between 1998 and 2002 when rear- or four-wheel drive Explorers sold more than 400,000 units per year so the front-wheel-drive variant of the Explorer probably won’t be missed too badly.

But we’re just getting started with the rumors. We haven’t even talked about engines, yet. Rumor has it the new Explorer will have four engine options: the 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo-four found in the current model, the 3.3-liter Cyclone V-6 currently available as the entry-level F-150 engine, a hybrid option, and a high-performance 3.0-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 which currently makes 400-horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque in the Lincoln Continental and MKZ. You know where this is going.

The EcoBoost V-6 will reportedly power a Ford Explorer ST. This might have sounded like a stretch a few weeks ago, but the Ford Edge ST just debuted at the Detroit Auto Show telling us that performance SUVs are a thing now at Ford. Sure, we already have a 365-hp Explorer Sport, but an ST version will likely replace it with more performance tuning and a more distinct appearance package just like the Edge ST did with the Edge Sport.

As for the Lincoln sibling, it will reportedly only be available with the EcoBoost V-6 and a plug-in hybrid variant of the same engine that’s supposed to get better electric range than the current Ford Energi models. We can’t help but wonder if the new hybrid Lincoln will have a performance benefit over the standard one.

Again, we cannot stress enough that everything you just read regarding the next-gen Explorer and its Lincoln counterpart is rumor and not official news from Ford. However, all of it sounds pretty realistic to us. A hybrid Explorer lines up with Ford’s plans to add more electricity to its lineup and an Explorer ST makes perfect sense now that we have an Edge ST. As for the rear-wheel-drive switch, we wouldn’t be too surprised if Ford introduced a new front-wheel-drive crossover to replace the current Explorer since SUVs are crushing sedans and hatchbacks in sales in the U.S. We’ll let you know as soon as we hear anything official about the sixth-generation Ford Explorer.