More than just some bodywork and a badge, when tacking on the word Sport to the end of the Explorer’s nameplate, Ford also dropped in its twin-turbo 3.5L EcoBoost engine making a six-second SUV a reality.
|1. New for 2013 the Explorer Sport features a 365 hp twin turbo V6 and all-wheel drive.
2. Fuel economy for this three-row SUV is EPA rated at 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined.
3. Pricing starts at $40,780 an $11,680 increase over the base V6 Explorer.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: this is the same, big, 4,500 lb-plus SUV you remember from 2011. It still looks modern for an SUV, mating sophisticated styling with the boxy, utilitarian look from the Explorer’s past.
The Sport model adds a noticeable visual flare, emphasized thanks to our tester’s ‘White Platinum Tri-Coat’ paint job. The grille, A-pillar and wheels are all blacked out, while the headlights and taillights get a sinister tint to them. Other great “Easter eggs” include the word “Sport” etched on the wheels, while the cars name can also be seen in the projector headlights.
Inside you’ll find a combination of technology and luxury. The MyFord touch system is present here, though unfortunately not complemented with redundant tactile HVAC and audio controls, like we saw in the C-Max. The seats are comfy and provide a nice, commanding view of the road ahead. Along with MyFord touch, the Explorer Sport has a pair of customizable digital screens that sandwich the speedometer. Our tester also came sporting a 390-watt Sony branded stereo that can flood every inch of the car with whatever tunes you have in mind.
To help pilot the big Explorer, Ford outfitted it with a slew of sensors, including blind-spot assist, rear-view camera and parking sensors, as well as adaptive cruise control. There are very few interior bits that are exclusive to the Sport model, but as the highest priced trim level of the SUV, priced at $40,780, it features almost every option and feature available.
A sport model it may be, but it still checks off all the boxes on the utility vehicle spec sheet. It’s comfy, quiet and fairly spacious, provided you’re not sitting in the third row.
Cargo room is a decent 21 cu-ft, with almost 44 cu-ft when you drop the third row seats. As for towing, the unibody crossover claims a solid 5,000 lbs.
Paddle shifters are one of the exclusive bits for the Sport model, providing additional control over the quick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission and hinting at this Explorer’s performance. With 365 hp it’s plenty swift and thanks to 350 lb-ft of torque available as low a 3,500 rpm it feels like going fast all the time.
Rated at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, despite it begging for lead-footed driving we managed an 18 mpg average, just as the EPA says it should.
The Explorer Sport is significantly stiffer, thanks to a sport-tuned suspension and those big 20-inch rims with low profile tires. Body roll, however, isn’t as dialed out as one might expect in a sport trim model.
While the electric steering lacks much in the way of feedback, it also doesn’t wrestle the wheel out of your hands when torque steer tries to take over.
Not a true performance SUV like the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 or one of the absurdly expensive German ‘utes, the Explorer Sport isn’t ideally suited to off road driving either with a lower front lip that inhibits ground-clearance. Even though it has an intelligent 4WD system with different settings for varying conditions (like sand, mud, or snow) it doesn't feature a truly locked 4x4 mode like the Jeep Grand Cherokee or Nissan Pathfinder, making the Explorer’s true off-roading capability questionable.
It also doesn’t cost like those machines. At $45,550 the loaded up Explorer Sport is still roughly $15,000 off of a base SRT Grand Cherokee, and the V6 Porsche Cayenne is still $4,000 more, and down some 50 hp. A unique package, it’s a budget alternative to some of those European offerings without the price tag.
With perhaps its only true rival being the Dodge Durango R/T, the Explorer Sport is faster and more efficient, though more expensive than the Dodge. There is, however, one other competitor and one that questions the need for the Explorer Sport in Ford’s lineup: the AWD-equipped and EcoBoost-powered Flex. It has the same tech, power and convenience features, for just about the same price, while we found it to be a smoother ride and a bit more sporting too.
With the Flex’s somewhat questionable styling, however, the Explorer Sport may have its drawbacks but is likely to have broader appeal for that niche group of buyers looking to haul their family, while also hauling ass.