Ford’s Explorer Gets Sporty

2013 Ford Explorer Sport.

There are two different kinds of Ford Explorer. The “old” kind, which spent nearly 20 years as a truck-like family vehicle and had its share of misfortune (the famous tire failure and rollover issue of 2000). Then there’s the “new” Explorer, which came out a couple of years ago and is built more like a car for a nice ride and more efficiency.

Now, there’s a new version of the new Explorer that takes its name from a variation of the old Explorer. The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport adds some extra performance to the family-size SUV. It’s nothing like the old Explorer Sport, and that’s a good thing.

When the second generation Explorer was really hitting its stride in the mid-1990s, Ford figured there might be some buyers who wanted a 2-door version of the vehicle, recalling the truly “sporty” SUVs like its own Bronco, which had faded away. It was also priced as a kind of entry-level SUV, before the smaller Escape debuted.

Was it truly sporty? Well, in a take-it-off-the-road-to-go-fishing-or-hunting kind of way, yes. Its shorter wheelbase was more capable of going out into the rough stuff. But as far as a street-driven passenger vehicle, no. That same shorter wheelbase made it a bit more tippy and less composed when going around corners or making emergency maneuvers.

It’s a whole new ballgame for the Explorer now, and the Sport really does pack some on-road sportiness. Ford would like shoppers to compare it to the high-performance SUVs out of Europe, or the ones from crosstown rival Chrysler, the Durango, and Grand Cherokee with their 5.7 liter Hemi V8 engines.

No V8 under the Explorer’s hood, but it does get the turbocharged 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6 that’s also used in the Taurus SHO sedan. Making 365 horsepower and mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, the idea behind using a turbocharged V6 is that it can produce acceleration when needed, but can also be fuel efficient when cruising along sedately.

The official EPA estimates are 16 city and 22 highway, which is really nothing to write home about. Sure, compared to the Chrysler siblings and the Range Rover Sport (with a supercharged V8), the Explorer Sport gets a few more miles per gallon in both measurement cycles. But those vehicles are real neck-snappers when you stomp on the gas, whereas the Ford just gets up and goes a little quicker than the regular Explorer.

Handling is better than the regular model too, thanks in part to huge 20” aluminum wheel wearing fairly grippy tires. Since Ford knows that this Explorer will likely be used in all kinds of conditions, the tires are of the all-season variety, rather than strictly performance tires. Still, this rather heavy three-row crossover SUV corners pretty well considering its heft.

The exterior gets some other distinctive touches to go along with the big wheels, all adding to the “sport” in the vehicle’s name. Likewise inside, Ford took cues from designer accessories, citing Balenciaga and Prada houses as influences on the look. The leather seats in the front and middle rows of my test vehicle were quite striking and very comfortable.

And of course, there’s technology too. Ford has a really slick optional system to warn you if a vehicle is about to cross your path as you’re backing out of a parking space, which is really handy for a vehicle of this size. Other options are adaptive cruise control, rain sensing wipers, and even remote starting via the keyfob.

Ford is marketing this as a premium vehicle, and it commands a premium price. The top of the sticker will read $40,720, or nearly $10,000 more than the entry price for a Ford Explorer V6 with all wheel drive. (AWD is standard on the Sport.) Considering the upgrade of the engine, the wheels and the interior, it’s actually priced pretty reasonably.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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