2013 Ford Explorer Sport first drive
An Explorer for the road
Santa Monica, Calif. — I've got a bone to pick with automotive marketers that misuse words, and there probably isn't a better example of this than "sport." Lithe and powerful sports cars — they're cool. Sport utility vehicles? That's pushing it, but there are a few that can handle well enough to earn their category name. But, say, a Dodge Grand Caravan Sport? You've got to be kidding me.
Which brings us to the Ford Explorer, which for 2013 gains an all new Sport model — what are we to make of it?
A splash of black
It looks the part. It's a handsome machine sporting chiseled, inset windows and plenty of neat detailing in the form of Explorer logos stamped into the mirrors, and the headlamp surrounds. The Sport model trades much of the regular model's chrome for black gloss, which coats the grille, the tailgate, and the roof rack. It's a cohesive package that works with the blacked-out front and rear pillars. At 20 inches across with black painted inserts and a machined face, the wheels are cool, too.
It's less overtly sporty on the inside. Here you'll find the same seats as other Explorers, but with perforated two-tone leather in a brown/black combination that apes a Prada sneaker. The typical red stitching is a more subdued tan, and all the materials you're likely to touch with either your fingertips or your elbows is soft.
New for 2013 is a split second-row bench of which the smaller portion slides to give third-row riders extra space. And while Ford has shrunk the dead-pedal, it's too awkward a space for ideal comfort. At least a power tilt and telescoping steering column makes finding the right driving position easy.
Power to the people
This is all well and good, but on the Sport-o-Meter, we've scarcely scratched the level of decals 'n stripes. But it's what you don't see that counts. In speaking with chief engineer Bill Gubbings, the Explorer Sport was built from Ford's experience in developing the Interceptor Utility, the pursuit-rated police version. It's got more durable innards, like a special cooler for the all-wheel-drive system, and the brakes have been uprated to beefier rotors with new pads. Additional stiffness comes courtesy of a strut tower brace and a spar that stretches across the transmission tunnel. Combined, they boost bending rigidity by some 20 per cent.
But where the Explorer is likely to impress is in the motor department. Over the past three generations a V8 engine has been a staple in the Explorer's product range until the current model, which did away with it for fuel economy purposes. And while you still can't buy one, Ford has fitted the next best thing — a twin-turbocharged and direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 good for 365 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. That it's showed up in the Explorer should be no surprise — every other vehicle to share its platform, including the Taurus SHO, Flex, and their Lincoln equivalents feature it.
Coupled with a six-speed automatic, standard all-wheel drive, and a shorter axle ratio, the Sport slashes a full two seconds off the V6's 0-100 km/h time, and even more off the economy-biased 2.0-litre's funereal pace. Despite the upgrade, its tow rating is low — just 5,000 lbs., much less than a Durango R/T or a Range Rover Sport, the two ends of the SUV spectrum Ford is targeting.