"It's meant to be a driving enthusiast's car that you can take anywhere," says chief engineer Bill Gubing of the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport. "It's just an awesome, fun package to drive."
We were at first skeptical that Ford had transformed the Explorer SUV into a genuinely sporty vehicle, but the Explorer Sport does have all the right ingredients. First shown publicly here in New York, it packs Ford's 350-hp EcoBoost twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6, along with a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
That EcoBoost powertrain produces 355 hp in the Flex EcoBoost and 365 hp in the Taurus SHO, but Gubing explains that packaging concerns reduced output to 350 hp the Explorer. The SUV's exhaust must bend multiple times to provide lots of ground clearance, increasing backpressure, while the intake tract is similarly constrained in the engine bay.
Building this car wasn't simply a case of bolting in a new engine, of course. The radiator had to be enlarged, and Ford added a cooling unit to the all-wheel-drive system's power transfer unit. That's because the PTU is retuned for sportier performance -- it can now direct up to 80 percent of available torque to the rear wheels, compared to just 60 percent in regular Explorer models.
The Explorer Sport shares its 13.9-inch front brakes with the 2013 Taurus SHO Performance Package. It also gets a strut-tower brace and a rear transmission tunnel brace to improve rigidity, as well as tweaked rear suspension components. Gubing says the Explorer Sport feels more athletic and has less body roll in corners than some competing sporty SUVs, a claim we're anxious to test for ourselves.
But why bother building an Explorer Sport in the first place? Eric Peterson, Ford utilities marketing manager, says that many customers of the new-for-2011 Explorer said they missed the V-8 power of previous versions of the Ford SUV. And over 12 percent of Explorer buyers came from luxury SUV brands like Audi and BMW, which often have more powerful engines.
"There was still this kind of thirst for a little bit more performance," Peterson explains. "People want more horsepower, a more dynamic driving experience than they have currently."
For more on the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport, check out our First Look here. For more on the 2012 New York International Auto Show, including videos, the latest photos, and more information, click here to visit our New York Show homepage.