Photos: Kevin Miklossy
I would speculate that most responsible parents or those asked to babysit – of which I am neither – do not power out of a corner, revel in the smooth upshift of a transmission through a short straight, before a dabbing the uprated brakes and setting up for the next corner’s entry. Next turn and Ford Explorer Sport has caught up to the bike, which provides no small amount of driver satisfaction.
Shunning family hauler convention of “just enough power to keep things dull” SUVs, the Explorer lifts the Taurus SHO’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. The engine is a twin turbo’d soul that offers up 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque to the evils of acceleration. The Explorer Sport will send sonny boy’s Dangerous Book for Boys flying, with a zero-to-100kph time of approximately six seconds, and the acceleration doesn’t slack slightly till 130 kph. There’s always a remarkable amount of passing power on tap – pull out, mash the throttle, feel a squirm of torque steer as the all-wheel drive system sort out how much turn to allocate where, and pass two to three vehicles at a time. With the maximum of 350 lb.-ft of torque available at a low 3,500 RPM your children will never know the plight of turbo lag.
The Explorer Sport only comes with all-wheel drive to maximize traction. The system differed from the stock Explorer in that it’s been tuned so 50% of the power is pushed to the rear wheels, for a more sporting experience, rather than the front-wheel drive bias found in base Explorers. Should you become overly enthused, the Ford’s rather nannying stability control system will step in and exert some decorum, and even features Curve Control which will slow by 16 km/h a second through throttle reduction and 4-wheel braking.
Power is nothing without handling and the Explorer Sport gets a list of augmentations; stiffer springs and shocks, an uprated strut-tower brace, a new cross-tunnel brace ahead of the rear subframe, larger front brake rotors, 20-inch wheels some nine inches wide (a half-inch wider than the biggest available wheels on the standard Explorer), along with a solidly mounted steering rack standard to all 2013 Explorers. By the numbers, the upgrades provide 37% increase in lateral stiffness and a 27% increase in braking power. Normally those sort of upgrades correlate with a rough and jarring ride, but the Explorer Sport bucks the trend with a comfortable, bordering on soporific, ride. It’s only on shortly spaced frost heaves that the Sport becomes slightly jarring. Audi should be taking some notes for its ode to internal hemorrhaging Q7, or the shaken baby-syndrome of putting children in an X5’s rear seat. The Sport doesn’t offer the same sort of élan as these other offerings, nor does it offer the same compromises in ride.
Visually, Ford took some design notes during its ownership of Land Rover, as even casual observers commented, “It looks like a Range Rover.” This is in no way a bad thing. That restyled hood, and “EXPLORER” emblazoned in black lettering across the hood-front has much to do with the similarity along with the revised body-shape. The Sport, especially in “Gangsta’ Pool of Blood” Red, with its murdered out “black” for the restyled grille, lower body cladding, tailgate trim, headlight and taillight bezels and aluminum wheels with black-painted inserts has a nice touch of menace, suitable as a family hauler for a dubiously financed Russian oligarch whose sense of taste stops well short of the gaudy.
Inside, the Explorer is a pleasant and comfortable place to spend time. There are ample amounts of soft-touch plastic swathing the vast and spacious interior. The “sport style” heated, cooled and power-adjustable front seats are trimmed in perforated leather with contrasting stitching, and don’t go so far into the performance end of the spectrum as to eliminate those in the big and tall set — or wide and short for that matter. To better fit all sizes, the steering wheel and pedals are power adjustable. Out back, there are another two rows of roomy passenger seats, and potentially another postal code — though third row entry is reserved for the young and the flexible or possibly acrobatic. There’s a bucket load of technology too, adding value to the package including second-row seatbelt airbags, adaptive cruise control with collision warning, the voice-activated Sync system (best avoided), the touch screen-based MyFord Touch and capacitive-touch interface controlling the audio and HVAC. Of the latter three technologies the best that can be said is some progress has been made in refining human usability.
The Sport is a tightly built piece of kit inside and out, with good fit and finish, a complete resistance to our trying to invoke squeaks or rattles off-road — despite this not being the Sport’s chosen environment. The Explorer’s architecture has metamorphosed from the previous generation’s truck-based chassis to a unibody design for more usable interior space and lower weight. With that change the Explorer loses much off-road ability. Upgrade to the Sport, with it’s big, easily marred rims, low profile tires and lowered suspension, and you lose even more.
That said, the big Explorer will handily churn its way up loose gravel and stone backroads, with a handy dial-in of the Terrain Management system that adapts the AWD, throttle and brake responsiveness for at variety of surfaces. The hill descent control is hampered by the performance oriented Hankook Optima all-season tires, that tend to slide rather than grip under braking on steep gravel descents. Explorer only means limited exploration these days and that besmirches the name more than anything the mud, sand, snow or ruts selectable on the terrain management system will offer up in the wilds.
That won’t deter most buyers who will see this as a haul the kids to school and Whistler alternative to the emasculation of minivan doldrums, or a performance solution for chronic tardiness. The thing is, despite driving like a big car, the Explorer always feels big for its size. Developing a sense of the vehicle’s proportions in parking lots and off-road is a challenge we never overcame during our week with the vehicle. On tighter roads, while the approximately 2245-kg/4950-pound Sport grips to a reported 0.84g, which is good as it never feels like there’s more than inches to spare in the lane. That’s likely down to this generation of Explorer being 4 inches longer and 5 inches wider than its predecessor, but you’ll be happy for the accuracy of the steering.
Muscular and prepossessing, the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport fetishizes the “sport” element of SUV, without resorting to the pretext of a Sport button – the “Sport” is always on. In a world of bubble-children minivans, the Ford Explorer Sport offers a less emasculating option. It even does so in a relatively efficient manner, highway fuel consumption cruise missile-ing across BC from Vancouver to Osoyoos hit 10.1 L/100km (23.3 mpg), mixed use including city and off-road 11.5 L/100km (20.4 mpg), and 15.7 L/100km (15 mpg) in the city. These figures aren’t unreasonable for a 7-seater, and we aren’t noted for being strangers to the throttle.
The Sport is a comfortable 5-person hauler that eliminates minutes from the Whistler run, or occasionally carry 6 squealing passengers in a frenzied school drop-off… A unique class, the Ford Explorer Sport could be dubbed a “Family Express”, letting you introduce the kids to the pleasures of acceleration, power and torque in comfort. In our age of dour-anti speedism and bubble children this will not land you on the pages of a magazine for responsible parenting, but I doubt the kids would complain.
Note: No tires were harmed in the making of this review.
2013 Ford Explorer Sport
Base price: $48,299
As Tested: $53,529
Federal Excise Tax: $100
Destination and Delivery: $1550
Ruby red metallic tinted clearcoat paint: $300
All-weather floor mats: $100
Dual-Panel Moonroof: $1750
Adaptive cruise control collision warning with brake support: $1500
Trailer tow package Class III: $500
Voice-Activated navigation: $700
Inflatable rear-seatbelts: $250