Forget all about that two-door Ford Explorer Sport, the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport may have two more doors than before, but it packs a lot more "sport" under the hood. The 2013 Explorer Sport is powered by the same 3.5L EcoBoost engine as the Taurus SHO and Flex EcoBoost, which means that it packs 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft. of torque under the hood. The 3.5L is mated to a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Compared to the other two engines, the Explorer offers, the turbocharged 3.5L EcoBoost generates 75 more horsepower than the naturally-aspirated 3.5L V6 and a whopping 125 more than the turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder. The news gets even better, the all-wheel-drive Explorer Sport is only slightly less fuel efficient than the 3.5L Explorer all-wheel-drive with a 16/22 mpg rating compared to 17/23.
So on paper the Explorer Sport looks like the box you should check if you want a sportier, less minivan like SUV. But does its extra "sport" compromise why most people buy three-row SUVs? We grabbed the keys to an Explorer Sport for a long weekend in Palm Springs, CA to find out. With six adults and their luggage we headed east from Los Angeles to Palm Springs for a fun weekend road trip that would see us trekking through rain, wind and 90 degree weather. Even though we hoped for a weekend full of Southern California sunshine, the unpredictable weather gave us a chance to fully test out everything that the Explorer Sport could do.
On the outside the Explorer Sport stands apart from the lesser powered Explorer models with its 20-inch black wheels, blacked out headlights and taillights and black roof rails. It also features a billet-like black "Explorer" logo on the hood and EcoBoost badges on the lift gate. Overall we all hoped that the styling of the sportiest Explorer was dialed up a notch or two. Compared to the other Explorer models we encountered over the weekend, it was hard to immediately differentiate the two.
Inside the Explorer Sport gets subtle changes like unique applique for the instrument panel, sport logos and illuminated scuff plates. Again we wished that Ford had stepped it up a notch or two. Sportier front seats and upgraded materials would have been a nice upgrade. With a price close to $50k, the interior didn't feel as special as it should have. Our tester also missed the sunroof option, which should have been standard for that price range. Materials and non-sportiness aside, the interior was comfortable for all six of us and our multiple bags/ suitcases. Our biggest gripe about the interior was the entry to the third row. Our tester had the full second row bench seat, which did not have a rolling mechanism, which meant that we had to flip the seatback forward and then flip the whole seat forward to provide access to the rear. Not very user friendly...
How does it drive? The Explorer Sport is a large SUV and with six-passengers on board, it still packed enough punch to zoom in and out of traffic on the freeway. Ford estimates that the Explorer Sport will reach 0-60 mph in a quick six seconds, which is two seconds faster than the non-turbo Explorer. Although with its upgraded suspension and 365 horsepower engine you might expect a bit more fun, just as we did. The Explorer Sport is not as sporty as the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and it would have been nice if the exhaust had a meatier sound. In a straight line, while trying to pass another vehicle on the freeway, the Explorer Sport was more than up to the task, but once the road got a bit curvy, it still felt like a large SUV with a bit of body roll. Even though the Explorer Sport's suspension and steering are behind that of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, it's still a nice improvement over the other Explorer models.
So overall if you were hoping that Ford had successfully created a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 competitor you will be disappointed, but if you were hoping for a sportier, yet still comfortable version of the Explorer, the Explorer Sport is right up your alley. With an upgraded suspendion, all that power under the hood and an average 17 mpg on our trip, the Explorer Sport mostly succeeds at adding a bit more sport to the Explorer range without any large compromises.
2013 Ford Explorer Sport:
Base Price: $40,175
Price as Tested: $46,200
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