In intensive, segment-spanning head-to-head testing for Cars.com’s 2020 3-Row SUV Challenge, the Ford Explorer finished dead center at No. 4 out of seven competitors — but when it comes to crashworthiness, it’s among the very best. The redesigned-for-2020 Explorer has been named a Top Safety Pick Plus, the highest award given by the insurance-industry-backed crash-safety advocates at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, while its Ford luxury-division counterpart, the Lincoln Aviator, earns a Top Safety Pick nod.
Both the Explorer and Aviator initially fell short of qualifying for either the top-tier Top Safety Pick Plus or one-step-down Top Safety Pick honor after failing to receive the requisite rating of good in the stringent driver-side small overlap front crash test. That test simulates what happens when the vehicle strikes, for example, a tree or telephone pole.
“In that test, intrusion into the footwell elevated the risk of injury to the driver’s left leg,” IIHS recounted in a statement. “Ford modified the left and right front subframe in vehicles built after May 2020, and the Explorer performed better in a new evaluation.”
Both the Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus designations require scores of good on the driver-side small overlap front test, along with five additional collision-performance evaluations: passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints and seats. That’s in addition to an advanced or superior rating for both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian crash-prevention technology. The final component of awards criteria is headlights, which must be rated acceptable or good on at least one of a model’s trim levels for the lower Top Safety Pick, and acceptable or good across all trims for Plus.
Collision Avoidance and Headlights
Both the Explorer and Aviator earned superior ratings for their standard front crash prevention systems, as well as for both vehicles’ optional systems, in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations (on a scale of superior, advanced and basic). Where the cross-brand sibling SUVs diverged was with their headlights: The Explorer earned acceptable ratings for both its sets of available headlights, securing its Plus status, while the Aviator’s curve-adapted LED projectors were rated good, but its base headlights managed just a marginal rating (on a scale of good, acceptable, marginal and poor).
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Ranked Against Rivals
Among contemporary-model competitors from Cars.com’s 3-Row SUV Challenge, the Explorer is without equal. Although the Subaru Ascent earns a Top Safety Pick Plus in its 2021 form, it is sans Plus for 2020. The Hyundai Palisade and parent company platform mate the Kia Telluride also both earn Top Safety Pick awards for the 2020 model year, as does the Honda Pilot. Meanwhile, the Chevrolet Traverse and Volkswagen Atlas are without either accolade.
The Aviator’s Top Safety Pick status, meanwhile, places it roughly mid-pack among fellow model-year 2020 luxury SUVs of its ilk. The Acura MDX falls short of an IIHS award, while the Infiniti QX60 earns a Top Safety Pick, and the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and Volvo XC90 all managed Top Safety Pick Plus.
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