Does having a family mean that a fan of horsepower and performance has to give up their sports car? Ford doesn’t think so. This week, we review the very big, and very fast, 2013 Ford Explorer Sport; a vehicle that attempts to do everything the more expensive Porsche and Mercedes-Benz SUVs can do, but not as pretentiously. It is a vehicle loaded with tech, has off-road credentials, goes like stink, and one of the best ways to take the kids on the school run.
Our test Explorer showed up in Ruby Red Metallic paint carrying a sticker price of $47,390. This includes the $4,130 option package that includes the navigation system, blind spot monitoring, power lift gate and more. It comes standard with a 3.5L EcoBoost V6 packing 365hp and 350ft/lbs of torque. Yes, that is a lot. It feels every bit as fast too.
Ford Explorer Sport Technology
Our review Ford Explorer Sport came loaded with MyFord Touch. While the system is fundamentally the same across the entire Ford and Lincoln line, there are little intricacies and interface differences with each model.
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of this particular implementation is the center knob in the middle of the controls. It can physically be rotated to adjust volume, but to turn the system off the driver taps the middle of the knob. But there is no click because it is touch-sensitive. Also, if the driver hits the white button-looking thing below “Source” nothing happens. But if the driver actually touches the word “Source” it will change stereo input.
The system has a load of inputs, and operates pretty much as expected. I enjoy the dual screens in the instrument cluster that can show useful information like song and track information or navigation information.
The Ford Explorer sport also features a Terrain Management feature. This system is controlled by a knob on the center console, and allows the driver to select from some pre-defined off-road settings. These include Mud and Rut Mode, Sand Mode, Wet Grass and Snow and Normal. Lastly, if the driver presses the button on top of the rotating knob, it will engage Hill Descent Control.
The on-board computer takes information about the terrain from the driver’s selection, and then adjusts the throttle, traction control and anti-lock braking system to provide the most control on any given surface. It does seem a bit out of place on a vehicle designed for high-speed pavement pounding.
Rounding out the cabin technology is the rear-zone climate control. The driver enables the system from the front, and then can set a desired temperature for the rear seat passengers. What is really interesting about the system is that the driver can choose whether or not the rear seat passengers can control the temperature themselves.
Also in the same area as the rear seat climate controls is a 110v regular outlet. This is great for charging a laptop or other portable device!
Ford Explorer Sport Practicality
If I were looking for a sports car to purchase, I would buy a sports car. There are plenty of them out there. But someone looking at an Explorer is looking at one because it needs to be practical. The Ford Explorer Sport does a great job in this department.
Our test unit had optional 2nd row captain’s chairs, which reduced the seating capacity of the Ford Explorer Sport to six passengers instead of seven. However, the two separate seats make it even easier to gain access to the 3rd row, and makes the rear feel more roomy.
After reading the directions on the seat (I don’t have children) I was able to easily manipulate the 3rd row seating to provide more storage space.
When folded flat and out of the way, the Ford Explorer Sport sports 43.8 cu. ft of storage. Also adding to the convenience is the height-adjustable power lift gate. If the owner parks in a low overhead garage, the owner can choose how high the gate will open.
Blind spots are minimal, but with the available blind spot monitoring system, it is even less of an issue.
Lastly, on the subject of interior space and practicality, our reviewed Ford C-Max Energi seemed to have more headroom than the Explorer.
Ford Explorer Sport Driving Dynamics
I dislike the steering wheel in this vehicle. The airbag cover is too big compared to the size of the rest of the wheel. The luxury-oriented Lincoln MKZ we tested had better grip points and a thicker wheel. However, that is the only real downside to the driving of this vehicle.
Once I got past the looks of the vehicle (which I think are superb) I wondered, “Why does a big, heavy SUV need paddle shifters?” Well, because as a driver I wanted to constantly change gears just to hear the engine growl.
Performance-oriented EcoBoost motors make a fine induction noise on throttle. The paddle-shifted automatic in this vehicle is one of the better ones I have driven. It provides crisp shifts almost immediately after the paddle is pulled. Yes, a DSG-style unit from BMW, Audi or Ferrari would shift faster, but this is still good.
Another great thing about the transmission is that it will skip gears. When I was driving along in 6th gear, I could put my foot to the floor and the computer would automatically select 3rd gear. It would do it without going through 5th and 4th first.
If I could keep my foot off the throttle, I could easily achieve 22-24mpg in mixed driving. But overall for the week I scored 16.6mpg. Shifting this car is just too fun!
It is also deceptively fast. Driving along on the Interstate at 70mph feels like 40mph in this vehicle. It almost makes highway driving boring.
Due to a large amount of rain, and my not trusting of the off-road capabilities of the Ford Explorer Sport, I ended up only doing want grass/mud off-road test. Selecting the grass setting really numbs the throttle input. Much like the Raptor we tested earlier in the year, the Ford Explorer Sport is smoother the faster it moves.
For a high-riding SUV the Ford Explorer Sport corners well. Body roll is minimal for this type of vehicle. It is by no means a sports car, but does behave pretty well when the driver asks it to.
Ford Explorer Sport Final Verdict
The Ford Explorer Sport has a way of making the driver feel like he or she is 8 years old again. A raucous noise on throttle and high performance will do that. There is a lot to love about this vehicle.
If I were to nit pick, I really wish HID headlamps were available on the Sport. Also, some of the interior pieces (specifically the sunglass holder) seemed cheaper than it should be for an as-tested $47,390. Our tester’s seats were also brown. While brown and red make sense, the abundance of black inside the cabin does not mix well with the brown. Lastly, the seats do not have enough side bolstering for this type of vehicle, and the seat coolers seemed to barely work.
None of that really matters when driving the Sport though. All that really matters is that it can haul the family and do it very quickly. Long journeys are a breeze in this vehicle. If the journey results in camping at the end, the Explorer Sport can handle the light off-roading that can come with it.
When driving the Ford Explorer Sport, it feels special. Even though it does not carry a ST, SHO or SVT badge on the bumper, it has clearly been given some special love and attention from the performance junkies at Ford. It’s every bit the better for it. Like the Raptor, all of the little bits that are different about the vehicle come together in a package that looks like an Explorer, but really isn’t.
It also has the ability to fly under the radar. Yes, it has big wheels, and in the red paint of our review unit screams for attention. But really, compared to other sporty vehicles on the road (including AMG Benzes and Porsche Cayenne models) it is as innocuous as a Ford Explorer. And when compared to those more expensive alternatives, the Ford Explorer Sport is one of the ultimate sleepers when it comes to budget vehicles.
NOTE: Vehicle provided by the Ford Motor Company for review.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jen Wall-Farrell