Ford adds more Sport to Explorer sport ute
"The Explorer Sport really is noticeably more than just a few badges slapped on the exterior and floor mats to go along with a slightly more powerful engine."
SANTA MONICA, Calif. - Ford is taking the word “Sport” very seriously with newest version of its 2013 Explorer SUV. Luckily, the result is a vehicle that’s a lot of fun to drive.
Despite my own admitted preconceptions of the vehicle before sitting behind the steering wheel, the Explorer Sport really is noticeably more than just a few badges slapped on the exterior and floor mats to go along with a slightly more powerful engine.
Ford kicked off the sport utility vehicle segment in 1990 with the original Explorer, but with the popularity it wrought, competitors naturally followed. With rising gas prices and plenty of competition, the Explorer eventual became what some would describe as “just another gas guzzling SUV.”
With its 2011 redesign, the Explorer leapt back into the SUV fray with a much sleeker model that had a renewed focus on fuel efficiency. Customers reacted positively and sales went up, and according to Ford, 51% of its Explorer sales are conquest sales - customers moving to Ford after owning a vehicle from another car company.
Customers have been showing plenty of hunger for the return of a V8-powered Explorer, and while they still don’t have that option for the 2013 model year, the Sport model houses a 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost powerplant, with twin turbochargers that help pump out a very healthy 365-horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. By comparison, the last V8-equipped Explorer, from the 2010 model year, produced 292-horsepower and 315 lb.-ft. of torque.
The Explorer Sport may weigh a shade less than 5,000 lbs, but acceleration is brisk even with three adults sitting inside to push it over the two-and-a-half ton mark, especially when you take advantage of the standard paddle shifters that sit behind the steering wheel. The Explorer shifts quickly from one gear to the next in automatic mode, but I still prefer controlling when it shifts, in order to take advantage of the peak torque that comes on at just 1,500 rpm.
Ford representatives give plenty of stats to prove the Explorer Sport really has been tuned to be a performance SUV – 37% increase in lateral stiffness, 27% increase in braking, unique 3.16 to 1 final drive ratio - but you won’t need those numbers to show to the average Joe or Jane Driver just how different this vehicle is compared to non-Sport models.
The vehicle is stiffer than other Explorers, and it’s instantly apparent. Steering is tight and responsive, and this Explorer feels poised to answer the call of the driver that has a hankering for speed. That said, it’s still a very comfortable vehicle that soaks up road imperfections. I only wish this version was equipped with more supportive front seats.
This is still a large SUV equipped with three rows of seating, so handling, while clearly better than the non-Sport Explorer, isn’t what you’d find with a tiny coupe.
Body roll is evident when you push hard around twisty roads; if I were to transport a family of youngsters in this Explorer, I’d be more worried about upset stomachs than I would the vehicle tipping over (especially since standard Curve Control can automatically slow the vehicle by 10 mph if a curve is being taken too fast).
Of course, an Explorer wouldn’t be an Explorer without the ability to take that family to the cottage in comfort, and as sporty as this variant is, Ford has made no secret there’s still a strong focus on luxury. It’s the priciest Explorer, but the list of standard equipment mirrors that fact. Options such as a fore/aft sliding second row bench (one side of it, at least) and a handsome two-tone brown/black leather seat with upscale stitching add to the usefulness and luxury.
Towing capacity, meanwhile, is a generous 5,000 lbs., and this four-wheel drive-only model comes with Ford’s Terrain Management System, which adjusts the vehicle’s capabilities depending on the weather and road conditions on the fly with the turn of a knob.
Ford has itself an Explorer that legitimately stands out from its siblings known as Base, XLT, and Limited. You’ll be paying a hefty price, but it checks off several boxes - fast, fun, luxurious, offroad-capable - in the process. Still, if you’re coming from a luxury SUV such as the Range Rover Sport - one of the competitors according to Ford - it’s a steal.
2013 Ford Explorer
Trim levels available: Sport
Models: 4-door sedan; 5-door SUV
MSRP range: $48,299
Notable options: trailer hitch receiver; power moonroof; rear seat fore/aft adjustment
Configuration: front engine/ all-wheel drive
Available engines: 3.5L V6 (365 hp/350 lb.-ft.)
Available transmissions: 6-spd automatic w/ sequential shift
Fuel economy ratings (L/100km): 13.2 city; 8.8 hwy
Warranties: 3 years/ 60,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 100,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Dodge Durango R/T; Range Rover Sport
Strengths: acceleration; quiet interior; standard features
Weaknesses: front seats need more support; Explorer wording on hood