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An Early Drive of the 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid … Sort Of

We got behind the wheel, albeit briefly, of Ford’s brand-new 2020 Explorer Hybrid. Sort of …

The Dearborn-based automaker is building a brand-new Police Interceptor Utility vehicle, one specifically tailored to the unique requirements of law enforcement. This pursuit-rated SUV may look like a 2020 Ford Explorer, and to be fair, it is based on the civilian model, but it’s been tweaked and tuned in so many ways engineers are hesitant to even mention these two models in the same sentence.

The suspension, brakes, transmission, interior, and even structure have all been heavily altered. For starters, the Police Interceptor Utility features some 160 pounds of additional structural material in the backend to help protect officers in rear-end collisions, which are all too frequent during traffic stops. This vehicle is designed to meet Ford’s 75-mile-an-hour rear-end crash test, supposedly the most stringent in the business.

For unimpeachable stopping power, this SUV’s brakes have been overhauled. It gains larger rotors, calipers, and pads. The tires are also special, mounted to unique steel wheels.

Helping it shrug off that extra weight and perform better in difficult maneuvers is a retuned suspension. The springs, shocks and stabilizer bars have been altered for police duty. The stability control system and this vehicle’s various driver aids have been re-tuned to help officers perform PIT maneuvers (pushing a fleeing vehicle’s rear sideways to help end a chase) or similar operations.

The transmission calibration has a pursuit mode that automatically engages when it senses heavy throttle demands, holding lower gears for faster acceleration. During such maneuvers, this vehicle will also charge the battery as much as possible.

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Keeping temperatures under control, the Police Interceptor Utility also features extra cooling capacity for the engine oil and transmission fluid. Its third-row seat has been eliminated and the rear load floor strengthened to support up to 800 pounds of gear.

Inside, the Explorer’s premium interior has been replaced by one constructed almost entirely of utilitarian but hard-wearing plastic. The floors are a rubber material for easy cleaning. Push-button starting is gone, replaced by an old-fashioned twist-key ignition.

As for the front seats, they’re trimmed in a coarse-feeling fabric that’s undoubtedly super durable. They also lack any real bolstering, which is ideal for officers since they wear bulky utility belts.

Another important feature the Police Interceptor Utility has gained compared to the civilian-issue Explorer is a column-mounted shifter. Moving the gear-selector here is not only mechanically satisfying, it frees up loads of space between the front seats, which is where radios, computers, ticket printers and other essential hardware can mount.

But why is Ford offering a hybrid powertrain in this vehicle? There are two main reasons, and the first is fuel saving. Cop cars spend hours a day idling, burning loads of fuel going nowhere. Officers have to run their engines to power all the electronic equipment each vehicle is fitted with. The Police Interceptor Utility hybrid’s powertrain features a lithium-ion battery pack that stores enough juice to run much of this equipment, meaning less idling and a dramatic reduction in wasted gasoline.

At $2.75 per gallon, Ford folks estimate the 2020 hybrid model could save agencies around $3,500 per year per vehicle compared to a 2018 Police Interceptor Utility fitted with all-wheel drive and a 3.7-liter V6. Naturally, as gas prices increase, so do the potential savings. The hybrid’s combined fuel-economy rating is also significantly higher, hitting 24 miles per gallon compared to just 17.

Another benefit of putting hybrid technology in police vehicles is added performance. These models are fitted with a 3.3-liter gasoline V6 that’s matched to a 10-speed automatic transmission. An electric motor bolted to the torque converter provides up to 44 additional horses, plus regenerative braking and the ability to run solely on electricity. Total system power should measure 318 with torque clocking in at 322 pound-feet.

We got an exceedingly brief opportunity to sample Ford’s 2020 Police Interceptor Utility vehicle, and in the process get an early feel for what the upcoming Explorer Hybrid will feel like. My test was limited to just two laps around a very simple and fairly short autocross course.

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Taking off from a standstill showed the Police Interceptor Utility wasn’t as quick as expected. It moved well, emitting a husky V6 snarl at the tachometer needle swept toward redline, but the speed it provided was by no means breathtaking.

The hybrid system undoubtedly worked overtime to keep pace with my extended wide-open-throttle demands, but you’d never know it. The technology seemed entirely smooth and utterly transparent.

When it came time to slow down, the Police Interceptor Utility’s brakes did the deed with enthusiasm. The upgraded binders are quite touchy, with more bite than a starving crocodile. Overall, they give you the impression this vehicle has immense stopping power.

As explained above, take this brief driving report with more than just a grain of salt. This law enforcement-focused vehicle and the Explorer on which it’s based have a laundry list of differences. The civilian version will likely drive better and feel much more refined.

The Ford Police Interceptor Utility will be offered to law-enforcement agencies in three flavors. The standard version of this vehicle is the hybrid, but municipalities can also get one with just the 3.3-liter gasoline engine for around $3,500 less. A more powerful 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 is also on the menu for an additional $700 more than the hybrid model.

This vehicle goes on sale in the summer. Estimated pricing is around $41,000. Currently, the automaker has about 8,000 orders on the books including about 1,100 for the hybrid.

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