If there’s an overworked and overused name in manufacturers’ repertoire, it has to be “Sport.”
It can apply to everything from a bare-bones, entry-level model masquerading as a performance car, to one powered by the most powerful engine the company can find. Not so long ago, any “Sport” model offered by Ford meant one without air conditioning.
Or, in the case of the Ford Explorer, it can mean a combination of fuel economy and performance, courtesy of the company’s EcoBoost V-6 engine. Ford describes the Explorer Sport as having a “greater performance feel” than its predecessor, but without the tank-draining fuel consumption that invariably accompanies it.
New for 2013, the Sport is the top of the line for the Explorer in Canada, and propelled by the EcoBoost unit that develops, according to Ford, “at least” 350 horsepower, although the company’s website says 365.
The transmission is a six-speed automatic with Ford’s Select Shift manual shift feature, and the Sport comes with 4WD with four settings: Normal, Mud/Ruts, Sand and Snow/Gravel/Grass.
Standard equipment includes a hill start assist feature and hill descent control. Towing capacity is 2,268 kilograms and the Towing Package includes a trailer hitch, various connectors and an engine oil cooler.
Perhaps this is where the “Sport” appellation comes into play, because the twin turbocharged V-6 engine is not exactly responsive. A well-tuned V-8 engine, for example, will respond much more snappily and predictably than this powerplant.
I found it to be vague off the line and it had a mind of its own when it came to reserve power and kickdown. Yes, with the pedal buried, it has all kinds of pull, but there’s a bit of a no-man’s land in between full throttle and around-town cruising and the EcoBoost engine spends far too much time there. That said, the fault could lie with the gearbox.
What about fuel economy? Ford is claiming 14.7 litres/100 km in town and 10.6 on the highway. By way of comparison, Toyota’s V-6 Highlander will deliver 12.6 city/8.7 highway, with 270 horsepower on tap. I’ve driven both, and the Highlander feels more lively to me. Toyota’s Sequoia, meanwhile, is priced almost the same as the Explorer Sport and will provide more than 380 horses with its V-8. It’s also bigger. Food for thought, if large SUVs appeal to you.
Here’s my other major complaint: the accursed MyFord Touch control screen. Man, I grew to hate this thing. Every time I wanted to perform the simplest tasks – changing radio bands, adjusting the HVAC, etc. – I had to resort to the touch screen, which sometimes wouldn’t respond right away, requiring me take my mind off the job at hand – driving the vehicle – to refocus. I spent far too much time fiddling around.
Incidentally, I’m not the only one who dislikes this setup; the U.S. Department of Transport and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration both recently issued a bulletin about the dangers of distracting controls.
Describing the situation as being an “epidemic,” both NHTSA and DOT are making guideline recommendation to auto makers to change the way they design their controls. Says NHTSA: “There’s a serious concern about in-dash controls that may be very distracting when you’re behind the wheel. These guidelines are aimed at getting auto makers to focus on safer tools in the dash that take less of your attention away from the road.”
Ford’s MyFord Touch in particular, is one of the major culprits here (along with Cadillac’s CUE) and Consumer Reports says it “stinks.” I couldn’t agree more. Especially when you factor in drivers’ unwillingness to stop texting/phoning while driving. The roads are getting more dangerous these days, and MyFord Touch isn’t helping things.
Elsewhere, the Explorer Sport provides 2,285 litres of cargo space, and you can power your cellphone or laptop via a couple of electrical ports located on the centre console – to distract you even more.
The Explorer Sport also comes with a dual-zone climate control system, heated front seats, a rear-view camera and remote start. My tester also had a few extras such as a huge moonroof ($1,750), inflatable rear seat belts ($250), and adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance systems ($1,500). Here’s something peculiar: Ford claims that the interior for the new Explorer Sport was inspired in part by fashion houses Balenciaga and Prada. Why?
If you’re getting the impression that I didn’t much care for this vehicle, you’re right. It’s too big, out of the step with the times, annoying to drive, not particularly thrifty and definitely not sporty.
2013 Ford Explorer Sport
Base Price: $48,299; as tested, $55,079
Engine: 3.5-litre, turbocharged, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 365 hp/350 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift feature
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.7 city/10.6 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Touareg, Mazda CX-9, Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse, Acura MDX
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