After being introduced for 2011 and receiving improved fuel economy in 2012, the next step for the Ford Explorer was to add a little performance in 2013. Looking to go head-to-head with the Dodge Durango R/T, the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport was given improved horsepower, handling and styling - think of it as an Explorer SHO. Previously, the Explorer Sport name was applied to a two-door version of the SUV, but the 2013 model is all about performance.
“Adding an EcoBoost drivetrain to Explorer Sport delivers even more fuel efficiency and performance to the lineup,” said Bill Gubing, Explorer chief engineer. “This is our highest- performance, most capable Ford Explorer ever.”
To live up to the Sport moniker, Ford started by dropping the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 under the hood of the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport. Official power output has not been announced, but Ford says this application of the engine will be good for at least 350 horsepower. For comparison, the Taurus SHO and F-150 produce 365 hp while the Flex EcoBoost produces 355 hp, and torque varies from 350 lb-ft in the Taurus and Flex up to 420 lb-ft in the F-150. Even if the Explorer Sport is rated at 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, this would be a considerable increase over the 2012 Explorer which topped out at 290 hp with the base V-6 and 270 lb-ft of torque with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost inline-four. While this is hardly enough to take on high-performance SUVs like the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, the Explorer Sport does not compromise towing ability, off-road capability or fuel economy.
“Explorer Sport makes no compromises,” said Carl Widmann, vehicle engineering manager. “By carefully beefing the chassis and suspension, precisely calibrating the Terrain Management System and adding comfort and convenience features, we’ve delivered an SUV that delivers great dynamics and performance – while towing up to 5,000 pounds.”
In addition to the new engine, the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport will also get retuned Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS) and Terrain Management System as well as unique styling elements. These styling changes include a blacked-out treatment applied to the grille, headlights, taillights, liftgate appliqué, door mirror caps and the standard SHO-inspired, 20-inch wheels. In a similar move to the previous Flex Titanium model, the Explorer name is spelled out above Ford's iconic Blue Oval. To create a more exclusive look, the Explorer Sport will only be available in four exterior colors: Ruby Red Metallic Clearcoat, White Platinum Metallic Tri-Coat, Tuxedo Black Metallic and Ingot Silver Metallic. Inside, changes to the Sport model include a steering wheel with exclusive stitching, Sport logos stitched into the floor mats, illuminated door sill scuff plates and Charcoal Black leather that is offered with or without beige inserts for a sportier contrast.
For improved handling, the EPAS system has been recalibrated for quicker response and the chassis has been stiffened. Although Ford did not specify which chassis or suspension components have been upgraded, it is likely some of the elements of the Explorer-based Ford Police Interceptor Utility. Like the Taurus SHO, the Explorer Sport will be more engaging for drivers with the six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission and the standard steering wheel paddle shifters.
“Upgrading to Sport specification enabled us to maintain the standards of traditional Explorer capability plus delivering the highest highway fuel efficiency among gasoline-engine-powered, high-performance, three-row SUVs,” Widmann said.
The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport will go on sale later this year, and while final pricing has yet to be announced, it will be the top Explorer trim level for 2013 so expect its MSRP to start well above the $39,855 asking price for the 2013 Explorer Limited 4x4.