Friday, January 18, 2013

2013 Ford Explorer Sport

Out in the real world, the Explorer Sport suffers from the same elephantiasis as do regular Explorers, and it feels enormous from behind the wheel. The quick steering (2.8 turns lock-to-lock) provides reasonably quick turn-in, but abrupt lane-change maneuvers are met with a pronounced sashay from the rig’s posterior: The rear tires seem to take a moment to follow the fronts, leaving enough time for body roll to join the party before all four contact patches register the change in direction. Once in the new lane, the motion repeats (in the other direction, and snappier) when straightening the wheel.

Even so, the powerful engine is a willing partner when squirting in and out of traffic, but that’s assuming the Sport fits in and out of traffic. In crowded downtown Chicago—especially trundling along Lake Shore Drive’s tight lanes—the Explorer left little room to spare. On more open roads, there is ample grip during hard cornering, and provided no mid-turn corrections are required, the big Ford stays fairly planted and sticks to its intended trajectory. But the flat seat bottoms give passengers a severe case of sliding-buttocks syndrome, and the lack of lateral support on the seatbacks further discourages hard driving.

As an Explorer imbued with some additional quickness, improved body control, and more sinister looks, the Explorer Sport absolutely works. It occupies a rare space, and shoppers looking for a reasonably fuel-efficient (provided the turbos are used sparingly), luxuriously equipped three-row crossover that won’t put them to sleep should like it—especially when they consider its low-ish $41,545 base price. That sum buys a well-equipped Explorer with standard leather upholstery, power front seats, rear park assist and backup camera, and Ford’s still-flawed MyFord Touch infotainment system. Our test car arrived with a $4130 option bundle that included navigation, blind-spot monitoring, a power liftgate, pushbutton start, and Ford’s rear-seatbelt airbags. Also added was a $570 towing package with a Class III hitch.

The bottom line: If hauling people and ass are your two top priorities and you can’t swing a more-expensive option like the BMW X5M, Mercedes ML63 AMG, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, or Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, the Explorer Sport mostly satisfies.