Like the rest of the line, the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport is based on the unibody D4 platform. When the Explorer transitioned to it from its traditional body-on-frame chassis for the 2011 model year, it was a radical change. Despite this, the Explorer Sport does not have all the efficiency and packaging advantages you might expect of a contemporary crossover.
One thing the Explorer Sport does is rectify the crossover's power deficit with a 75 hp and 95 lb-ft infusion of vigor courtesy of its twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. The 365-hp/350-lb-ft power plant gets the 4888-lb crossover up to speed swiftly and smoothly, a trait manifested in its respectable 5.7-second 0-60 time and 14.4-second quarter-mile run at 95.2 mph. Our only gripe with the otherwise excellent powertrain is the steep ratio drop-off between second and third gears. The first two speeds are relatively short and make the turbocharged V-6 rev up more than expected before it drops off when it shifts to third. On the upside, midrange torque was most noticeable in third and higher gears. An eight-speed transmission would probably improve both responsiveness and fuel economy.
Although Ford touts the efficiency of its EcoBoost engine offerings, there's no overcoming the laws of physics. The combination of a 365-hp engine, almost 5000 lb of vehicle, and the eager right foot of enthusiastic journalists yielded just 14 mpg observed, well below the EPA ratings of 16 city, 22 highway.
"Sport" models can sometimes be overdone in the styling department, but we think Ford got the balance of aggression and restraint about right on the Explorer. A blacked-out grille, raised black lettering on the hood, and tough-looking 20-inch wheels give it just enough attitude without screaming "trying too hard." We also liked the look of the two-tone leather seating surfaces, but as some other passengers noted, the seats had minimal lateral support and bolstering, a bit of a letdown considering the rest of the appearance and performance enhancements.
We had some minor frustrations with the MyFord Touch system, one a known compatibility issue and the other an unexplained snafu. Whether it's an issue on Sync's or Apple's part, the system is not able to send and receive voice texts on an iPhone like it's able to on Android and Blackberry devices. The hands-free system would accept Siri voice inputs for outgoing texts, but required pushing the button on the handset. The second incident was when the radio volume froze at a low level and using the steering wheel controls, the central adjustment knob, and even turning the system off and on couldn't restore the function. A vehicle shutoff and restart fixed the issue.
The Explorer Sport never exactly feels small, but out of the confines of a garage or parking lot, it's not a lumbering, flat-footed dimwit. The more aggressive rolling stock and suspension tuning over the standard Explorer gives it a satisfyingly firm, yet comfortable ride, and confident cornering during spirited driving. We're not sure if we'd rank its athleticism quite up there with the Grand Cherokee SRT or Range Rover Sport, but it is also much more wallet-friendly than either of those high-performance SUVs.
If you're looking for the ultimate high-performance SUV experience, the Explorer Sport is not it. In many ways, it's in a class of one, offering performance comparable with much more expensive models, three-row versatility, and all the same capabilities as a regular Explorer, including a 5000-lb maximum towing capacity. Personally, we're bigger fans in some ways of the Explorer's boxy lower-slung sibling, the Flex. But if you need the slightly higher towing capacity and better off-road capability of the Explorer, it's a reasonable choice, especially considering its impressive performance for the price.
|2013 Ford Explorer Sport EcoBoost 4WD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$46,995|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 6-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.5L/365-hp/350-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4888 lb (55/45%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||197.1 x 78.9 x 71.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.4 sec @ 95.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||118 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.9 sec @ 0.67 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||16/22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||211/153 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.06 lb/mile|