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Motoring: Ford offers its first Explorer Sport
The Ford Explorer Sport is the first-ever performance version of the Explorer and it joins the lineup for 2013 with added twin-turbo power, sport suspension handling, bigger brakes and with plenty of distinctive designer sporting cues inside and out.
This is just the latest in a series of twists and turns that have marked Ford Explorer history since the sport ute first debuted as a Ranger pickup-based SUV back in 1990.
At the time, it was a gutsy gamble by Ford, the Explorer replacing the Bronco II, a compact derivative of Ford’s original and venerable workhorse.
And since that day more than 20 years ago, the Explorer has evolved through five generations of model changes and milestones.
One of the more recent bold steps was the shift from traditional truck-based ladder-and-frame construction to a new unibody version for 2011, a crossover change designed to renew the lineup’s fortunes with reduced weight, tamed ride and handling, and significant improvements to fuel economy.
The Explorer lineup starts simply enough with a front-wheel drive (FWD) base model ($29,999) powered by a 290 hp 3.5-litre Twin independent Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT) V6 engine. This modern V6 is a capable engine with a fuel economy rating of 12.2/8.2L/100km (city/hwy).
The base Explorer version also comes fairly well-equipped with a standard six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission and a long list of included features, a content level that swells accordingly as one progresses up the trim level ladder to XLT ($36,099), Limited ($41,399) and Sport ($48,299) models.
Customers exploring some of those trim levels have other choices to make as well.
They can also opt for an intelligent 4WD system ($3,000) that offers a Terrain Management System operated through a console-mounted dial with four driving settings —Mud/Rut, Snow/Gravel/Grass, Sand and Normal modes with the added feature of a Hill Descent Control that regulates your speed down steep inclines.
And the Explorer lineup also offers an econo engine choice, a 2.0-litre 240 hp Turbocharged Direct Injection EcoBoost four-cylinder engine ($1,000) with roughly equivalent power compared to the base V6 (less horsepower but more torque), making its muscle honestly on regular octane fuel and probably saving customers a couple of litres of gas per 100km.
The 2.0-litre EcoBoost is rated at 10.4/7.0L/100km (city/highway) and is only available in FWD configuration.
But tested here, however, the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport comes standard with a third engine choice in the lineup, a more powerful and trim-exclusive 3.5-litre Twin-Turbocharged Direct Injection EcoBoost V6 engine that makes 365 hp at 5500 rpm and 350 lb/ft of torque at 3500 rpm.
Ford claims a two second reduction in 0-100 km/h times, somewhere in the six-second range, and they have aimed the Explorer Sport squarely at performance SUV rivals like the Dodge Durango R/T and Range Rover Sport.
Ford has also done a fair bit of EcoBoost boasting about making that extra power with negligible impact on fuel economy, citing 13.2/8.8L/100km (city/highway) Transport Canada numbers.
Well, your mileage may vary, as they say.
The EPA rating in the USA is slightly more down to earth, at 14.7/10.7L/100km (city/highway) and when I picked up the Explorer Sport, I noted a 14.6L/100km average for the previous driver.
After limited testing and only 200 km of admittedly mostly city driving, I refilled the tank with 31.5 litres of fuel for a 15.8L/100km (combined) average. I might need a rematch with more highway miles to investigate Ford’s mileage claims further.
But there are no doubts about the power levels, with the twin-turbo EcoBoost engine pulling the Explorer’s 2,232 kg (4,921 lb) curb weight up to speed handily.
Balancing the extra power, the chassis also has been specially reinforced, making Explorer Sport stiffer and improving its handling while bigger brakes make for shorter stopping distances and better performance while towing.
Complementing the handling package, the Explorer Sport’s electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) has been tweaked for improved feel. Paddle-shifters have been added to the six-speed SelectShift Automatic transmission. The Sport also comes complete with the Intelligent 4WD with Terrain Management System.
And, not surprising considering its position as the top trim of the Explorer line, the Sport’s all-inclusive list of other standard features includes Dual-Zone Electronic Automatic Temperature Control, heated front row seats including a 10-way power driver’s seat with power recline and lumbar, six-way power passenger seat with recline and lumbar, a rear view camera, SYNC with MyFord Touch driver connect technology, a 12-speaker Sony Premium Audio System with HD Radio and more items, too many to list here.
Upscale options include second-row bucket seats, a dual head restraint DVD entertainment system, voice activated navigation, a dual-panel moonroof and Ford’s award-winning, industry-first inflatable rear seat belts.
All of that content is complimented by three-row seating dressed in Charcoal Black leather trim. Customers can choose to add contrasting Sienna inserts that mirror the two-tones currently seen in leather accessories from design houses Balenciaga and Prada.
And, in keeping with that high society fashion sense, Explorer Sport separates itself from the herd further with unique steering wheel stitching, “technical-styled” instrument and door panel appliqués, unique Sport-logo floor mats and illuminated scuff plates.
Outside, you’ll find more styling cues to differentiate it from other models in the lineup.
The Explorer Sport stands on unique 20-inch painted and machined wheels. The bodywork features blacked-out headlamp and tail lamp treatments, black roof rack rails, sideview mirror skullcaps and a special liftgate appliqué.
A low-gloss Sterling Gray mesh grille sets a background for ebony high-gloss bars. The black front lower fascia features a functional opening for additional cooling.
And Explorer logotype in billet-like black on the leading edge of the hood adds a bold identity statement while more subtle Sport and EcoBoost badges at the rear finish the liftgate.
The Explorer Sport comes in a limited palette of metallic paint finishes - White Platinum Metallic Tri-Coat, Tuxedo Black Metallic, Ingot Silver Metallic and Ruby Red Metallic Clearcoat, as tested here.
It’s a handsome vehicle, boldly styled with enough unique attributes to set it apart and catch the eye.
To sum it all up, with the new 2013 Explorer Sport model, Ford offers a high-performance crossover-style SUV with three-row access and passenger utility enhanced with satisfying power and plenty of premium fittings, a worthy top-trim addition to crown the Explorer lineup.
At a glance
BODY STYLE: high-performance SUV.
DRIVE METHOD: front engine, four-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 3.5-litre twin turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine (365 hp, 350 lb/ft of torque).
FUEL ECONOMY: 13.2/8.8L/100km (city/hwy).
CARGO CAPACITY: 594 litres behind third row; 1,240 litres behind second row; 2285 litres behind first row
PRICE: $48299. As tested $53,529 includes Dual Panel Moonroof ($1,750), Adaptive Cruise/Collision Warning ($1,500), Class III Trailer Tow Pkg. ($500), Voice Activated Navigation ($700), Rear Inflatable Seat Belts ($250), Ruby Red Metallic ($300).