2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Introduction

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Introduction

The Ford Explorer has long been a family mainstay, and the backbone of the Blue Oval’s SUV lineup. Until recently, what it’s never really been associated with is performance. Enter the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport, a new-for-this-year version of the seven-passenger vehicle that aims to balance its practical nature with a little bit of flavor behind the wheel for those rare individuals seeking to squeeze whatever dynamic engagement they can out of their people mover of choice.

The fast and fun SUV segment is a small, but distinguished area of the market, with most of the major players costing tens of thousands more than the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport (BMW X5. Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG), or featuring thirsty V-8 drivetrains (Dodge Durango R/T, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT). The Explorer Sport’s twin-turbo approach to the quick crossover question is unique, and overall, one that allows the vehicle to preserve its friendly, and comfortable character without dipping too deeply into the harshly-sprung hazards that dog many of its competitors.

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Models and Prices

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport (MSRP $40,780) sits near the top of the standard Explorer’s pricing structure, and is exceeded only by the Explorer Limited in terms of standard features. The Explorer Sport comes with 20-inch rims, dual automatic climate control, the MyFord Touch interface, SYNC, a USB-capable stereo system, special sport seats, parking assistance, keyless entry and ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a power outlet for 110-volt devices. My fully-loaded test vehicle was also equipped with a dual-panel panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, and the 402A package, which installs heated and cooled leather seats, a power liftgate, a number of active safety features, and power adjustable pedals. The total MSRP of the vehicle I drove for a week came to $47,655.

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Design

What’s New:

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport makes several changes to the exterior trim of the standard Explorer.

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport has been afforded an air of menace in order to set it apart from the more pedestrian versions of the SUV. The vehicle’s rounded rectangular shape is already handsome with its short front overhang and modest rear greenhouse, and Ford’s decision to almost completely de-chrome the Explorer Sport, as well as black out its tail lights, works harmoniously with its tinted windows and dark sill plastics. Perhaps the most striking detail to be found on the outside of the crossover are its 20-inch rims, which are polished aluminum with painted black accents (almost identical to the units found on the Explorer Sport’s spiritual sibling, the Ford Taurus SHO).

Those riding inside the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport won’t notice too many design call-outs to the vehicle’s performance personality. Aside from the sport seats, which deliver perhaps a bit more bolstering than one would expect out of an SUV, the Sport’s cabin is trimmed out with a mix of pleasing plastics and fabrics that feel right for a family vehicle. In fact, one of the main differences between the Explorer Sport and some of its upscale competitors is its restrained premium feel – Ford has wisely elected to leave the luxury to Lincoln and focus instead on keeping the crossover’s price within the realm of the attainable.

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Comfort and Cargo

What’s New:

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport introduces new sport seats.

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport features the same seven-passenger, three-row seating layout as all other versions of the crossover, which means that those riding in the first and second tiers will have plenty of space to stretch out and enjoy the ride. The rear set of accommodations is a different story, for although the seat bottoms are positioned high enough to keep adults from driving their knees into their chins – not a given in the full-size class – the amount of leg room afforded by the third row was tight even for me, a man of relatively modest stature. It’s also important to remember that getting to the very back of the Explorer requires flipping down the second row, which I found to be somewhat award and at times inconvenient depending on the amount of room provided by the vehicle’s front bucket position for the tumbling process. As for the sport seats that come exclusive to the Explorer Sport’s driver and passenger, I didn’t find them to be particularly grippy, but they were certainly comfortable and a good match for the Explorer’s tall seating position.

I had ample opportunity to fold down the seats and test out the cargo capacity of the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport when I transported a set of four 18-inch tires plus two additional rims to my local garage to address a tire pressure sensor issue. The vehicle’s 80 cubic feet of space was enough to tackle my task with ease, although one rim got caught in the deep trunk behind the third row while unloading a tire above it, knocking it out of the Explorer and scuffing it on the ground. My clumsiness aside, although the SUV’s internal storage was enough for my purposes it lags behind that of other crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse and even its in-house competitor the Ford Flex. The Explorer’s taller ride height, when compared to an option like the Flex, also makes it bit more difficult to access the cargo area.

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Features and Controls

What’s New:

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport does not add any new features or controls.

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport comes with the latest version of the MyFord Touch interface, and while I had no problems with the embedded SYNC feature’s voice command and Bluetooth system, I did have a few complaints about the current implementation of Ford’s high tech infotainment design. The vehicle’s center-mounted touchscreen was fully functional and intuitive enough that even my passengers were capable of parsing its menus and making radio and climate control selections, but the capacitive switches that sat just underneath it on Ford’s gloss-black center stack were another story. While the buttons worked reasonably well, the large dial used to control volume, track selection, and tune in satellite or terrestrial radio bands was by turns maddeningly over-sensitive and frustratingly slow to respond. The former manifested itself via the way even gently brushing against the up or down arrows on the rotary controller switched radio stations, which meant caution have to be exercised in its vicinity. The latter had to do with the lag time between pushing the station up or down button and the SiriusXM tuner actually changing stations when scanning more than a few channels at a time. Multiple control pushes inevitably created a queue of commands that locked MyFord Touch into either an uninterruptible climb up or slide down the dial until it had counted off exactly how many times you had hit the button.

It’s also worth mentioning – as someone who deals with a cold winter climate year-in, year-out – that the controls for items such as heated seats should not be located on a touchscreen that one must navigate to, but should instead be simple toggles easily accessible by gloved hands. Ford is not the only company guilty of this oversight, but it is present in MyFord Touch.

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Safety and Ratings

What’s New:

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport features a new front passenger knee airbag.

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport is equipped with dual forward airbags, side impact airbags up front, a front passenger knee airbag, and side curtain airbags. Electronic stability control, traction control, and the MyKey feature, which can limit stereo volume and vehicle speed when lending out the crossover, are also included free of charge. The Explorer Sport can additionally be had with a long list of optional safety features, each of which were installed on my tester: forward collision warning, inflatable second row seatbelts (an industry first), lane departure warning and lane departure assist, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection.

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Crash-Test Ratings: The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport enjoys an overall crash test rating of five stars out of five from the NHTSA, as well as a rating of ‘Good’ in each major crash test category by the IIHS.

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Engines and Fuel Economy

What’s New:

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport introduces a twin-turbo V-6 to the Explorer lineup.

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport comes exclusively with a 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6 engine that has been tuned to provide 365 horses and 350 lb-ft of torque. The same EcoBoost mill found in both the Taurus SHO and the Ford Flex EcoBoost models, this engine is matched with a standard all-wheel drive system and a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel mileage for the motor checks in at 16-mpg city and 22-mpg on the highway, numbers that are competitive in its class given its output (and not far off from the non-turbo, all-wheel drive V-6 Explorer).

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Driving Impressions

The biggest problem with a high performance full-size SUV is that it is almost impossible to disguise its ponderous bulk. The weight of a typical large crossover makes itself known in a variety of ways, whether through slower-than-sedan acceleration, generous braking distances, or body roll associated with shifting the mass perched on a too-tall suspension. The 2013 Ford Explorer doesn’t go to extreme lengths to deny the physics associated with its impressive physique, but it still manages to deliver a driving experience that is more spirited than one might expect from a seven-passenger hauler.

From a power perspective, the EcoBoost motor under the hood of the Explorer Sport is a gift that just keeps on giving throughout the rpm range. With excellent torque available right off of the line – unfettered by turbo lag of any kind – the crossover pulls hard enough from a dig to twitch the wheel with torque steer, despite the presence of all-wheel drive. The momentary discomfort disappears once at speed, but the silkiness of the V-6’s power delivery remains and offers excellent get-up-and-go well past legal highway speeds. The six-speed autobox offers paddle shifters – and a nifty digital tachometer to go with them that appears once the Explorer Sport’s manual setting has been engaged – but there’s really no need to second-guess the well-sorted transmission programming.

The suspension system outfitted to the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport is indeed stiffer than that found in the base Explorer, but here Ford has wisely elected not to stave off the inevitable with overly harsh settings for its shocks and springs. The result is a crossover that feels lively enough to turn into a corner quickly, but not one that rattles and shakes riders like it were riding on its bump stops. Cornering capability is modest in the Explorer Sport, with plenty of lean available for those who choose to hang the SUV through a S-curve at a high rate of speed, but Ford’s recognition that absolutely no one will be taking this vehicle to the track is an honest one that improves the vehicle’s daily comfort. The tall ride height further contributes to the sensation that one is piloting a truck, and not a land missile.

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Final Thoughts

The 2013 Ford Explorer is a comfortable example of family transportation that has been given a speed-focused makeover that prioritizes its primary purpose: people moving. Yes, the Explorer Sport is quick, but it’s also extremely practical, not all that hard on gas, and quite comfortable despite its performance leanings. Piling on the options affords the vehicle an upscale feel that doesn’t go overboard with the premium gear but matches up well with the price paid, and standard all-wheel drive (which comes with the Terrain Management system for handling rougher surfaces than I asked the SUV to brave) should take some of the burden off of those dealing with harsh winter weather.

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Pros and Cons

2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review: Pros and Cons

Pros:

Stylish trim updates over base Explorer
Excellent twin-turbo power and all-wheel drive grip
Sport suspension doesn’t compromise ride comfort
Fuel mileage acceptable for such a powerful crossover
Roomy interior

Cons:

MyFord Touch interface can be awkward to use
Cargo space trumped by other full-size crossovers
It’s still not a sports car – or even a sports sedan

Ford Canada supplied the vehicle for this review

By Benjamin Hunting