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Test Drive: The Explorer ST is Ford's family hauling hot rod

Test Drive: The Explorer ST is Ford's family hauling hot rod

(Jason Bell)

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Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

Accelerating from 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds is a time that's usually reserved for performance cars like the Audi S4, BMW M235i, Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG and Subaru WRX. Well, surprise, surprise: the 2024 Ford Explorer ST is also part of that special club.

That's right, a 4,853-pound three-row family hauling all-wheel drive SUV can send it as hard as a Mercedes-Benz AMG with a hand-built engine. That's pretty cool, and a rather exciting way to go about the daily carpool, soccer practice and piano lesson routes and routines.

When Ford handed me the keys to the Explorer ST, I was excited — and very curious about its ability to deliver on its promises of practicality and thrills. With a small family of my own, I was especially keen to know how it would perform its kid hauling and daily driving duties over a week of testing — and if its ST tuning would provide the driving enjoyment I yearn for as a car enthusiast.

Spoiler alert: It delivers both very well.

Car and Driver gave the 2024 Explorer a 7.5/10 rating. If a hot road SUV is what you're after, and you don't want to spend $80,000 or more, the Explorer ST is one of the last names in town to provide such a mix of compelling personalities for the price. Here are a few things I really loved about my time with it.

Test Drive: The Explorer ST is Ford's family hauling hot rod
Photo: Jason Bell

Power and performance

As if it wasn't obvious, the Explorer ST is all about power and performance. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo engine, while sounding out a somewhat muted engine and exhaust tone, produces an absolute gut punch of 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque.

Being a brand new model, I didn't test its wide-open acceleration, but even at half-throttle, the ST puts the hammer down with authority. It's pretty thrilling, once the 10-speed transmission decides what it's doing, and far quicker than anything else in the segment at this price point.

Test Drive: The Explorer ST is Ford's family hauling hot rod
Photo: Jason Bell

The same could be said for the suspension. The ST rides on slightly stiffer springs than the standard Explorer, and while its comfort level is perfectly acceptable and compliant over rougher roads, it does verge on being too stiff in some specific driving scenarios. It's certainly not a deal breaker, but some might question if it needs to be this stiff, even in normal mode.

Daniel Pund of Car and Driver noted the ST's heavy handling and ride dynamics when he wrote, "On the road, the ST's ride is not objectionable, but there's no denying that the vehicle's sporting intentions and big wheels give it a heavy-footed feeling."

As part of the optional $995 Street Pack the ST gets larger brake rotors, and boy, they feel powerful. Some might bemoan the lack of true Brembo brakes on such a performance trim as this, but these felt plenty powerful during my week of testing. Part of that could be due to this generation of Explorer's improved balance and weight distribution. For this generation, Ford reverted to a rear-wheel drive bias platform and mounted the turbo six motor longitudinally, which keeps more of the weight behind the front axle. The result is an SUV that feels planted and much more eager to play than most of the competition.

Handling is likewise aggressive and enthusiast-oriented, even in Normal mode. It's almost too heavily weighted, though, and feels a bit unnecessary in something that will be mainly used for shuttling pre-teens around in their overly scheduled lives.

Test Drive: The Explorer ST is Ford's family hauling hot rod
Photo: Jason Bell

Coupled with its potent power plant, the ST is an undeniably sporty and even surprisingly aggressive package. Oh, and in case you're curious, we averaged about 17 mpg in our week of testing.

Test Drive: The Explorer ST is Ford's family hauling hot rod
Photo: Jason Bell

Muscular, sporty styling

The current generation Explorer has been around for a few years and while its styling has definitely become familiar, the car still looks as good as it did when it was revealed in January 2019. In fact, it's still probably one of the more muscular and athletic-looking SUVs for sale today. Its short overhangs, sloped roof, wide grille and taut, sculpted lines are a recipe for elegance that will look great for years to come.

Adding to its sporty appearance are black 21-inch wheels, red-painted brake calipers in the front and rear, the aforementioned larger brake rotors and an overall black and red color scheme. It looks especially sharp when finished in Ford's stunning Rapid Red paint, as our tester was. Overall, it's a great-looking SUV that communicates its intentions from afar.

Test Drive: The Explorer ST is Ford's family hauling hot rod
Photo: Jason Bell

Comfortable, practical and versatile

As with any three-row mid-size SUV, practicality and versatility are must-haves. In those departments, the ST did not disappoint. As with other Ford products, like the Mustang Mach-E tested last year, the seats are excellent. They're truly accommodating for any body type — as is the knee, shoulder and headroom in the front — and strike just the right balance of support without being too firm.

Test Drive: The Explorer ST is Ford's family hauling hot rod
Photo: Jason Bell

The same can be said for the second-row captain's chairs. Where things get a bit tricky is the third row. While not the tightest we've experienced, it's also not the most comfortable or spacious, and there's only room for two. However, It is usable for most kids and even some adults and leaves just enough cargo space open for smaller grocery runs. Lay the third row flat and cargo space is plentiful.

Test Drive: The Explorer ST is Ford's family hauling hot rod
Photo: Jason Bell

In general, the interior is a comfortable and attractive place to spend time. It's well-appointed in its materials, buttons and screens, and feels well put together. My only major head-scratching moment was the vertically mounted infotainment screen. The backup camera view is small and it seems like there should be a 360-degree camera on a vehicle costing $62,000.

Final thoughts

The 2024 Ford Explorer ST is one of the few options under $80,000 that answers the question of "what do I drive if I want a Mustang but need a family hauler." The Explorer ST is potent, thrilling and will seriously rip all the way to your kid's dance recital. It's a ton of fun, even if it is a little more serious than expected.

The test vehicle priced out at $62,105 and included the ST High Package and the ST Street Pack, in addition to other nice options like a twin panel moonroof. It's a bit pricey, but if a serious performance SUV is what you're after, the Explorer ST is definitely worth a good look. Or, as Emme Hall of CNET wrote, "If you want a bit more oomph in your otherwise lovely midsize SUV, it's a recipe you're sure to like."

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Jason Bell


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