Old vs. New: How Much Better Is The 2020 Ford Explorer Than The Original?

SUVs have really moved on since the early 1990s

The Explorer has been in production nearly 30 years.

Back in 1990, Ford introduced not just an SUV, but a sales phenomenon with the first-generation Explorer. The brand needed an SUV larger than the diminutive Bronco II — something to compete against the likes of the Chevrolet S-10 Blazer and Jeep Cherokee. Now, almost 30 years later, the 2020 Ford Explorer kicks off the model’s sixth generation. In that time, it’s undergone some drastic changes, but how does it compare to the old model? In this video, Andre takes a look around the special Jurassic Park Explorer.

Ford has built six generations of its iconic SUV since 1991. [Photo: Ford]

How does the old model compare?

We wanted to see just how different things were for the Ford Explorer back when it was first introduced. Back in 1991, the car came with a 4.0-liter Cologne overhead valve V6 engine putting out 155 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque. The engine came mated to either a four-speed Ford A4LD automatic transmission, or a Mazda M5OD manual transmission. Rear-wheel drive was standard fare, and selectable four-wheel drive with a proper low-range transfer case was an option. Ford upgraded the power output to 160 horsepower in 1993.

Of course, power figures have moved on by leaps and bounds in the 2020 Ford Explorer. Even the base 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine manages 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Step up to the top-dog Explorer ST, and you get a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 with 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque. All Explorer models come mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Compared to the first generation’s 14 City / 19 Highway / 16 Combined mpg figure, the base Explorer manages much better as well, at 20 City / 27 Highway / 23 Combined mpg figure with the all-wheel drive version.

The 2020 Ford Explorer is physically much larger than the original model as well. The new model offers three-rows, while the first model only had two. That said, the old car was a comfortable family hauler with ample head room and leg room in both rows.

2020 Ford Explorer pricing revealed

Huge difference in technology

In 1991, the Ford Explorer was extremely basic by modern standards, as you’d expect. It had a tape deck, manually adjustable climate control, manually adjustable seats and that four-speed automatic transmission. You did not get any airbags, nor were there any traction control or driver assist systems at the time. You did get power windows and power locks, however.

The 2020 Ford Explorer is hugely advanced compared to the early 1990s. In this latest model, you get a 12.3-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. You get Ford Co-Pilot 360, which includes technologies like Reverse Brake Assist, adaptive cruise control, Active Park Assist 2.0, a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) and lane keep assist.

New for this generation, the 2020 Ford Explorer also introduces a hybrid variant. Paired up to a 3.3-liter V6 engine, the hybrid system should offer even better fuel economy than the original 1991 model could even dream about.

By the numbers: 2020 Explorer (Base) vs. 1991 XLT

1991 Ford Explorer2020 Ford Explorer
Launch date:March 1990Summer 2019
Base price:$17,560 (XL)
(Adjusted to 2019 USD: $32,375)
Engine:4.0L Cologne V62.3L EcoBoost I4
Horsepower:155 hp300 hp
Torque:220 lb-ft310 lb-ft
Transmission:4-speed automatic
5-speed manual
10-speed automatic
Fuel Economy
14 / 19 / 16 mpg20 / 27 / 23 mpg
Wheelbase:111.9 in.119.1 in.
Length:184.3 in.198.8 in.
Width:70.2 in.78.9 in.
Height:67.3 in.69.9 in.
Cargo Capacity (seats folded):81.6 cu. ft.87.8 cu. ft.