2003 Ford Explorer Sport XLTView Vehicle Profile
2013 Ford Explorer: American power, Euro precision
Brawny-engined SUV stays fleet of feet with new suspension
I was almost taken by surprise, but when I first glanced at the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport, I liked what I saw.
The reason for my initial reluctance to show affection for this latest iteration of Ford’s popular SUV is that I just cannot associate the word sport with anything truckish — the middle word in SUV is utility, after all.
But it looks good. Besides, the Explorer’s truckishness was toned down somewhat when it was redesigned in 2011, when it got more streamlined and went from a body-on-frame platform to a unibody design. The base, non-AWD model also changed from a rear-driver to front-wheel-drive.
Regardless, I find the ruby red finish of my test vehicle especially attractive. Exterior trim has been blacked out and the standard 20-inch wheels are handsomely painted gloss black with machined highlights.
At $48,299, the Sport is at the top end of Explorer pricing, which starts at $30,000 for the base front-drive model, although it’s not just the athletic styling that sets the Sport apart.
Under the hood is the same 3.5 L twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 that powers the Taurus SHO and turns out the same 365 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s a significant jump from the 290 hp/255 lb.-ft. of the standard Explorer 3.5 L V6.
Power output is comparable to the 5.7 L Hemi V8 in the Dodge Durango R/T and Jeep Grand Cherokee (360 hp) and the 5.0 L V8 in the Range Rover Sport (375 hp), although the EcoBoost V6 has the fuel economy advantage on those, bettering the most fuel-efficient eight-cylinder by about 2.5 L/100 km, claiming 13.2 L/100 km city and 8.8 L/100 km highway.
The engine drives all four wheels in a 50/50 front-to-rear split (35- to 40-per-cent rear bias on other Explorers) through a six-speed automatic. The more powerful engine can pull taller gearing (final drive ratio is now 3.16:1 from 3.39), which contributes to the improved fuel economy while reducing revs on the highway for a smoother, quieter ride. Despite the added power, maximum towing capacity hasn’t changed at 2,268 kg (5,000 lb).
Ford’s terrain management system is part of the standard drivetrain package, allowing you to select one of four driving modes through a console-mounted dial. It controls how power is distributed to the wheels to enhance traction in varying on- and off-road conditions, and also includes hill descent assist.
Also part of the Sport package is a fortified chassis. Suspension settings are firmer, wheels are a half-inch wider at 9 inches, a sturdier strut-tower bar is used and there’s an additional under-body cross-brace.
These changes, along with electric power steering, have transformed the Explorer’s dynamics, and it almost feels European in its demeanour. It is well-mannered, quiet and tight on the road. Its suspension is sporty-firm without transferring unwanted harshness into the cabin, and feedback through the controls is refreshingly communicative.
It remains quite level through turns, and also incorporates torque vectoring using the brakes (which now use larger-diameter front discs) to assist cornering.
The added power is certainly welcome and is especially strong in the bottom end; stomp on the gas pedal from a stop and it’ll sink you into the seat. Passing power is also impressive, and the transmission shifts smoothly and efficiently.
Although the interior doesn’t astonish with ultra-lavish trim finishes or an abundance of frills, it is a balanced blend of sporty styling, convenience and luxury-level comfort. A few distinguishing styling touches include contrasting stitching on the steering wheel and seats, as well as contrasting aluminum-tone panels on the dash and door panels (although they’re plastic), and Sport badging.
There’s three-row seating for seven, power-adjustable front seats that are heated and cooled, automatic dual-zone climate control, a power-adjustable steering wheel and pedals, paddle shifters, rear-view camera, push-button start and a few other convenience features. For 2013, new available features include a heated steering wheel, lane departure warning, automatic high beams and a passenger knee airbag.
An eight-inch touchscreen uses the latest version of MyFord Touch, which has been simplified and is supposed to respond faster than previous versions. You can either use the touchscreen or voice control to operate various functions, including the Sony sound system, navigation system, climate control and a slew of other things.
There were too many different menus to scroll through and learn during my brief test drive, so I used the screen mostly to display the navigation map. I adjusted the climate controls using the soft-touch buttons on the panel located below the screen, though even this required that I focus on the screen to spot the small temperature display off to one corner when in map mode.
I would prefer having a set of dials or buttons to control basic vehicle functions, even if they are redundant. That way, I could choose to use the touchscreen or not, and their tactile feedback would let me know what I was doing without having to take my eyes off the road.
Ultimately, I just didn’t spend enough time in the seat to get acquainted with this version of MyFord Touch and a longer test drive will be needed before I can pass judgment on it.
The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport, available in November, is a modest, yet sensible, evolution of the U.S.-made SUV, with more power and improved handling over its non-Sport stablemates.
It is not so sporty that it impedes on comfort or practicality, but is sporty enough to be engaging. It strikes a decent middle ground between more expensive European luxury sport SUVs and more utilitarian truck-like U.S. models, both in price and performance.
2013 Ford Explorer Sport
ENGINE: 3.5 L turbocharged EcoBoost V6
POWER/TORQUE: 365 hp/350 lb.-ft.
FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km (claimed): 13.2 city; 8.8 highway
COMPETITION: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango R/T, Mercedes-Benz ML350, Range Rover Sport
WHAT’S BEST: Power, styling and road manners comparable to upscale European SUVs at a lower price; best-in-class fuel economy.
WHAT’S WORST: Towing capacity not increased despite added power.
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Is it a mid-size SUV or full-size crossover?
Used Ford Explorer Sport All Used Vehicles
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