Few will ever mistake a three-row, seven-passenger sport-utility as a sport sedan, but that hasn’t stopped automakers from dressing them up as such. Dodge launched its Hemi-powered Durango R/T model last year, and now Ford is following suit with the new 2013 Explorer Sport.
As we predicted, the 2013 Explorer Sport receives a number of the same cosmetic touches applied to other Sport-branded Ford models. Black accents dominate the exterior: headlamp and taillamp bezels are now painted black, as are the grille bars (though, as Ford notes, the mesh insert is actually painted Sterling Grey). Explorer Sport models also receive Explorer lettering running across the hood, much like the 2013 Flex.
Mirror caps, which are usually painted body color, are now given a gloss black finish, as is the lower bodyside trim, which is frequently chrome. A tailgate trim panel, which stretches from taillamp to taillamp, is now black instead of chrome-clad. 20-inch, five-spoke aluminum wheels boast “Sport” logos, along with hub and spoke centers painted gloss black. Buyers can choose from four exterior paint colors, including Ruby Red Metallic, White Platinum Metallic, Tuxedo Black Metallic, and Ingot Silver Metallic.
Inside, the Explorer Sport boasts charcoal black leather seating, which can be ordered with contrasting Sienna inserts. Sport models gain unique steering wheel stitching, new instrument panel appliqués, floor mats with the Sport logo, and illuminated door sill plates.
Yet the Explorer Sport isn’t just about show. While other Explorer models make do with a turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 or a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6, the Explorer Sport is only offered with Ford’s twin-turbocharged, EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6. Press materials note the engine makes “at least 350 horsepower,” but fail to give a definite specification. In the 2013 Flex, that engine is good for 355 hp at 5700 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque from 1500 through 5250 rpm. In the 2013 Taurus SHO, the horsepower figure rises to 365 hp @ 5500 rpm.
Like most models boasting the EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6, the Explorer Sport is available only with all-wheel-drive. A six-speed automatic is standard, though Ford notes it swapped the transaxle’s 3.39:1 final drive gearing for the 3.16:1 ratio normally used on front-drive models. Explorer Sport models also receive a faster power steering ratio, larger disc brakes, and strut tower reinforcements, the latter allegedly helping to improve handling.
This may be a Sport model, but as is the case with anything EcoBoost related, Ford’s also quick to talk fuel economy figures. The automaker expects the 2013 Explorer Sport to attain an EPA rating of 16/22 mpg (city/highway). If so, that’s a 1-mpg drop compared to an all-wheel-drive Explorer fitted with the normally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6, but it is better than the comparable Dodge Durango R/T AWD, which is rated at 13/20 mpg.
Ford notes the 2013 Explorer Sport will serve as the “top of the Explorer line,” but isn’t ready to disclose pricing until the model goes on sale later this year. Regardless, expect it to carry a decent premium over a comparable 2013 Explorer Limited AWD, which stickers for $43,280 (including $825 in destination fees).