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  • 2014 Ford Explorer Sport 4WD

    Posted on December 16th, 2013 Bob Golfen

    A performance and styling boost for the midsize SUV

    By Bob Golfen 

    The Ford Explorer Sport gets 365 turbocharged horsepower. (Ford)

    The Ford Explorer Sport boasts 365 turbocharged horsepower. (Ford)

    Ford Explorer gets a powerful dose of style and performance for 2014 with the Explorer Sport, a new take on an old name that does for the midsize SUV what the SHO did for the Taurus sedan.

    A turbocharged 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 provides the motivation for this more-aggressive Explorer, doling out 365 horsepower and adding vital spark to the workaday people hauler. Along with that comes all-wheel drive, a six-speed automatic with manual paddle shifters, stiffer suspension, quicker steering, meatier brakes and fat performance tires on 20-inch rims.

    Despite all that, the Explorer Sport turns out to be more about fast refinement than quick maneuverability. The size and weight are still formidable, and while the engine power succeeds in bringing this crossover up to speed, there is still an underlying cushiness that discourages back-road romps. Its core mission remains roomy, comfortable transportation, only now with some fun dialed in.

    Pricing starts at around $41,000, which gets you a well-equipped SUV with all that extra Sport equipment. The test vehicle included the full boat of electronic, power and safety gear including navigation and rear seatbelts equipped with airbags, bringing the bottom line to $47,390. That’s not bad considering the high level of performance and features.

    Explorer Sports styling tweaks are set off with 20-inch alloy wheels. (Ford)

    Explorer Sports styling tweaks are set off with 20-inch alloy wheels. (Ford)

    Aggressive styling tweaks 

    Explorer Sport certainly looks hot enough, with sharply honed and forward-looking design that conveys a lot more road warrior than soccer mom. Dad won’t mind his buddies seeing him shuttling the family around in this hairy beast. While borrowing some styling cues from Range Rover, the Sport adds a glowering expression to the basic Explorer style with blacked-out grille and trim with darkened headlight and taillight bezels. The alloy rims are also blackened in, and they look gigantic, giving Explorer a surprisingly racy look.

    For active-lifestyle enthusiasts, Explorer Sport provides a means for toting just about anything – bikes, kayaks, scuba gear, camping supplies, workout pals – while making you look cool at the same time.

    Explorer Sport provides plenty of space with three-row seating. (Ford)

    Explorer Sport provides plenty of space with three-row seating. (Ford)

    Ford’s turbocharged Ecoboost engines have produced a major boost, so to speak, in the automaker’s fortunes as drivers who want extra power along with decent fuel mileage flock to the new products. More F-150 pickups are sold these days with Ecoboost V6 engines than V8s. Ecoboost fours provide the fun quotient for Ford’s sport compacts, as well as the base model Explorer.

    The V6 in the test Explorer Sport performed quietly and smoothly. It really came to life as it yanked the SUV around a slower car in a fast passing maneuver on a two-lane blacktop. Handling during that move was stable and sure-footed. Cruising in the 80 mph range was effortless. Turbo lag is essentially non-existent.

    Fuel mileage for the Explorer Sport is not terribly impressive, at 16 mpg city and 22 highway, according to the EPA, although that’s expected with a curb weight of nearly 5,000 pounds and the aerodynamics of a Lego block.

    More carlike construction

    This latest generation of Explorer went the crossover route, jettisoning the former version’s body-on-frame design and solid rear axle for carlike unibody construction and independent rear suspension. The result is an Explorer that’s less like a truck and more like a minivan, triple-row seating and all. It’s bigger and handles better, it’s less susceptible to rollover crashes and it has a roomier interior. But it also lost its tough-truck appeal.

    The upgraded interior gets a full load of premium features. (Ford)

    The upgraded interior gets a full load of premium features. (Ford)

    The Sport’s interior was loaded up with all the goodies, with a clean-looking console space featuring the large video screen operated by Ford’s Sync system. We didn’t sample too much this time around, but Sync has shown quite a bit of improvement since it confounded users in its first iteration. It’s better now, but as my passenger commented, what’s wrong with having knobs for switching radio stations or adjusting the climate control? Good question. I’m sure that an owner would master this setup in due time.

    Interior space is broad and the leather seating highly comfortable and supportive. The tester had seating for six, with an optional dual-bucket-seat third row. The fit and finish was immaculate.

    Explorer Sport competes with some of the top sports SUV crossovers, including BMW X5 and Audi Q7, but at a lesser price. Performance is strong although a bit softer than one might expect from the tough-as-nails look of the Sport styling tweaks.

    Likes: Engine performance, sportier styling, roomy practicality.

    Dislikes: Non-engaging drivability, modest fuel mileage, video-interface woes.

    Quick Facts

    Make: Ford
    Model: Explorer Sport 4WD
    Year: 2014
    Base price: $40,720
    As tested: $47,390
    Engine: 3.5-liter turbocharged inline-4
    Horsepower: 365 at 5,500 rpm
    Torque: 350 at 3,500 rpm
    Transmission: Six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
    Zero to 60: 6.2 seconds.
    Wheelbase: 112.6 inches.
    Curb weight: 4,882 pounds
    Bicycle friendly: Yes.
    Off-road: Graded dirt roads, mud and snow.
    Towing: 5,000 pounds.
    Fuel economy: 16 city, 22 highway, 18 combined.

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