As has been long expected (and hoped for), the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport is the latest Ford vehicle to get EcoBoost V-6 power, finally giving prospective Explorer buyers a legitimate alternative to Chrysler's Dodge Durango R/T and Jeep Grand Cherokee with the optional Hemi engine. The Explorer Sport also promises better fuel efficiency than its Hemi-powered, three-row Chrysler competition.

The name Explorer Sport has been used before by Ford, but it previously referred to the two-door version of the SUV, not necessarily to any meaningful performance enhancements. This time around, the sport is where it counts for this Explorer, namely under the hood, in the suspension tuning, and in a reinforced chassis, enhancements that should give the Durango R/T especially a run for its money.

While specific horsepower and torque figures were not mentioned in the initial release, it's a safe bet to put them in the neighborhood of the Explorer's current platform-mates that share the same engine, the Taurus SHO, and Lincoln MKS and MKT EcoBoost. The SHO is rated at 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, while the Lincolns produce 355 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. The Durango R/T produces 360 horsepower and 390 lb-ft from its 5.7-liter naturally-aspirated Hemi V-8, but is several hundred pounds heavier than a comparable Explorer, indicating the Explorer Sport could have a slight edge in terms of acceleration. Ford also says the Explorer Sport should best the Hemi-powered Chrysler utes by 3 mpg in the city and 2 mpg highway, with a projected fuel economy of 16/22 mpg city/highway.

Beyond the hardware changes, the Sport brings trim and detail changes to signify its more sporting mission in life. On the outside, the Sport gets a unique front grille with Sterling Gray mesh contrasting with ebony high-gloss bars. In addition, the headlights and taillights get a blackout treatment, as well as the roof rails, sideview mirror "skull caps" and a black liftgate applique. The wheels are a unique 20-inch, painted and machined design, painted...what else...black. But if your taste in colors goes beyond that of Henry Ford's, not to worry, there are four available exterior colors, Ruby Red Metallic Clearcoat, White Platinum Metallic Tri-Coat, Tuxedo Black Metallic, and Ingot Silver Metallic.

In the interior, the Sport features available contrasting two-tone leather seating surfaces and steering wheel inserts. Speaking of the steering wheel, it includes paddle shifters that add an appropriately sporty touch to the driving experience promised by the engine. As in the other transverse EcoBoost V-6 applications, the exclusive transmission is a six-speed automatic mated to mandatory all-wheel drive. In the Explorer, it also includes Ford's Terrain Management System. The Sport features a 3.16 axle ratio for responsive acceleration.

Thankfully, Ford did not neglect braking when upgrading the vehicle hardware in preparation for the substantial power increase, with larger brakes all the way around. Presumably up to the same 13.86-inch front and 13.58-inch rear vented rotors as the upgraded Taurus SHO and Lincoln MKS and MKT. For reference, the 2012 Explorer's current brakes are 12.8-inch vented discs front and rear. The Sport also maintains the Explorer's maximum towing capacity of 5000 pounds when equipped with the towing package.

Other standard and optional equipment on the Sport mirrors the offerings on other Explorer models, including dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power driver's seat, six-way power passenger seat, first-row heated seats, rear-view camera, Sync with MyFord Touch, Sony premium audio with HD Radio, active park assist, blind spot information system, inflatable rear seatbelts, power folding exterior mirrors, power liftgate, adjustable pedals with memory, and intelligent access with push-button start.

Ford promises the Explorer Sport will be in dealer showrooms later in calendar 2012. No specific on-sale date was given. For those soon to be in the market for a three-row SUV that at least provides some amount of driving fun for less than the staggering sums demanded by the European brands, your number of choices just increased by one.