What’s old is new again. Sources tell Ford Authority that the 2022 edition of the Explorer ST will attempt to justify its sporting pretensions by making its currently standard all-wheel-drive an option, and coming with rear-wheel-drive off the shelf.
I remember the original Explorer, which was nothing more than a Ranger with a wagon-style body — literally a grown-up Bronco II. That was rear-wheel-drive, with optional four-wheel-drive, transfer case and all, because it was a truck. Today SUVs bear little resemblance to truck except for their sky-high price tags, and being big, bloated, and way more car than you actually need. And now, all of a sudden, rear-wheel-drive is back, because it’s sporty.
I have fond memories of the Focus ST press car I had for a week. I parked my Subaru BRZ, (a genuine rear-wheel-drive sports car), drove the ST exclusively, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This was in spite of the focus being “wrong wheel drive,” powering the front wheels. It handled well. It stopped well. It had more than enough power. In fact, the only reason I ended up replacing my BRZ with a WRX is because the Subaru dealer hooked me up with a great deal to keep me in a Subaru instead of jumping ship to Ford. I would’ve been happy owning a Focus ST. I definitely would’ve enjoyed its interior more.
To the Explorer ST, I say, “You, sir, are no ST.” I understand that since Ford has axed all their cars except the Mustang from American shores, they have to have something sporty to offer the masses. But the Explorer will never bring a smile to my face the way that Focus ST did. It’s a big lumbering SUV, and nothing can offset the bulk that comes with it. As the great philosopher Montgomery Scott said, “Ye canna change the laws of physics.”
So I find it ironic that Ford feels the need to offer a rear-wheel-drive version of the Explorer ST to scream, “Look! It really is a real performance car, really!” Then again, I also find it ironic that so many manufacturers are going back to rear-wheel-drive for performance applications after insisting on the safety and economy of front-wheel-drive layouts for years. BMW and Mercedes, who practically invented the sport sedan segment, never left rear-wheel-drive behind in the first place.