I don’t think there is an official segment called Performance SUV, but if there were, the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport would certainly qualify. I loved the Explorer I reviewed in 2011, but this new Sport takes it to a whole new level.
The love affair starts when you see the exterior of the Sport. It has a large black and mesh unique grill that just screams TOUGH at you. The 20” wheels with glossy black inlays and wide tires look awesome. The lines on all Explorers are sleek and modern, but the Sport just looks fast. In fact, it is fast; especially considering it weighs 4500 pounds. Under the hood, the Sport comes with the often-praised 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 engine that has become so popular in the Ford F150. It puts out 365-horses and 350 lb-ft of torque that is courtesy of twin-turbos. The turbos are there for you when you want to do 0-to-60 in six seconds in this large 7-passenger SUV. Drive it normally, and you have a normal six cylinder.
My tester this week is 4-wheel drive and has a 6-speed automatic transmission that you can shift from paddles on the steering wheel. This transmission shifts quickly and smoothly and allows the Explorer Sport to gain a lot of momentum when heavily accelerating. There is a slight turbo lag when you floor it from a dead stop, but the 2nd and 3rd gear acceleration is strong and sure.
A huge change for this model is the handling. Generally, you don’t expect large SUVs to handle well and corner with precision, but this rig just does. Ford changed the steering and added some chassis bracing for stability and it did the trick. The ride is much improved too, and the Sport takes bumps like a champ.
This 4-wheel drive system comes with Ford’s Terrain Management System, which it shares with Land Rover. With this system, you get hill descent and hill start assist, which is easily operated from controls near the center transmission shifter.
Open any door and you will see a plush, stitched-leather interior that is rich and soft. The steering wheel is also stitched and looks and feels terrific with controls for audio and cruise control. Also a nice touch, the tilt wheel is power operated. The Explorer I have has 2nd row bucket seats, which makes it really easy to get to the famous Ford fold flat 3rd row seating. The 390-watt 12-speaker Sony sound system is wonderful. Pretty much everything comes standard on this package including voice-activated navigation system. The MyFord Touch and Sync systems work flawlessly, and will give you real-time traffic, weather, and sports scores. You get blind spot monitoring, push button start, remote start, ambient lighting, power liftgate, and rear view camera.
I have the adaptive cruise control and collision warning system on this one, and it has the trailer tow package that will give you 5000 pounds of towing capacity and the Explorer comes standard with a trailer sway control system.
One cool feature I have not had before is second row inflatable seat belts. The inflated belt helps distribute crash-force energy across more of the occupant's torso than a traditional belt, which helps reduce the risk of injury, while providing support to the head and neck. In the event of a frontal or side crash, the inflatable safety belts hold the passenger in the appropriate seating position, helping to reduce risk of injury. These safety belts are compatible with child safety seats.
The Explorer Sport is fun to drive, well thought out, and will appeal to both men and women of all ages. Ford did this one right. What I liked most: Ride and handling and the great interior.
What I would change: It would be great if the slight turbo lag was eliminated.
MSRP: $40,720 base price, $48,280 as tested.
Fuel Economy: 16 in town, 22 on the highway. I am getting 18 and 23 when trying.
Warranty: 3 year/36000 bumper-to-bumper, 5 year/60,000 on the powertrain, with roadside assistance.
2013 Explorer Sport in a few words: A great SUV is now better.