Ford redesigned the Explorer for the 2020 model year. For the sixth-generation model, Ford adjusted the Explorer to be an edgier, sexier kid-hauler that parents would want to buy. The crossover received sharper lines, a souped-up ST performance trim, and a new rear-wheel-drive-based chassis. The revamp appeared to work at first. Gear Patrol gave the new Explorer a glowing review.
Then Ford stumbled on the product launch. A Detroit Free Press investigation revealed myriad problems with the new Explorer, ranging from missing badges to defects in the chassis. Ford had to yank some Explorers off the line and send them from Chicago to Detroit for fixing. Delays in getting units to dealerships were substantial.
Ford is, no doubt, already resolving those initial hiccups. But reading about poor quality control never inspires confidence, especially when it’s your family car. So if you’re looking for an alternative that captures the Explorer’s family-hauling essence and provides some savings, check out the Chrysler Pacifica.
The Explorer and Pacifica are broadly similar. Both cars put out about 300 horsepower (ignoring the peppier Explorer ST). The Explorer does so more efficiently with a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and a 10-speed automatic, but the Pacifica, which uses Fiat Chrysler’s oft-employed 3.6-liter V6 and a nine-speed automatic, won’t sound like it’s working as hard as the turbo four. Both earn praise for handling like smaller cars, and both offer a hybrid variant.
The Explorer is rear-wheel-drive, with an option for all-wheel-drive; the Pacifica is strictly front-wheel-drive. The Ford is more capable off-road, obviously, and edges out the Pacifica on towing capacity — 5,300 lbs to 3,600. But most pavement-dwelling buyers won’t notice all that much difference in the day to day.
Families need space, and the Pacifica offers more of it. That’s true in the cabin, where it beats the Explorer, offering 165 cubic feet. to the Ford’s 152.7. That’s true in cargo storage, too, where the Pacifica and its Stow-N-Go foldaway rear seats offer up to 145 cubic feet of storage behind the front seats to the Explorer’s 87.8. The Pacifica can accommodate up to eight passengers, compared to the Explorer’s seven.
The Explorer achieves an edgier look, with a bold feature line running down the length of the side around the door handle line and a roof that tapers toward the rear of the car. Chrysler employs similar tricks to give the Pacifica a crisper look as well. The Pacifica lacks a sporty package that adds visual panache the way the Explorer ST does, but it can provide a somewhat racy look with the new Red S appearance package.
The Explorer is pricey for a mainstream three-row SUV. The base model comes in starting at $36,675, a bit north of many competitors. That’s also more than $3,000 above the base Pacifica, which starts at $33,495. But those numbers sell the differential short. The top-shelf Pacifica Limited and its elegant interior start at $44,445, while the top-of-the-line Explorer Platinum starts at $58,340.
(Also, for 2020, Chrysler is rebranding the lower Pacifica trims as the Voyager, starting at the far lower price of $26,985.)
So, if you’re willing to go minivan — a life decision that is not as bad as you think — you can save $10,000 or more versus the Explorer, and get more space and convenience features in the process. And you’ll still be driving a family car with a cool name.
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