Five. That’s the number of times you’ll count the word ‘sport’ plastered all over this Explorer Sport. Ford is really keen, it seems, to ram home the point that this SUV isn’t just about hauling seven adults around in comfort. The Blue Oval wants you to know you can still do that — but now, very quickly.
How quickly? Well, let’s just say the grocery run could take half the time it used to because just inches in front of you sit 365 horses waiting to be unleashed. That’s 75bhp more than the regular model. Now, for some carmakers, their interpretation of a sports package amounts to nothing more than, say, larger alloys, maybe a wing and perhaps go-faster stickers. Not Ford. Sure, the Explorer Sport adds 20in painted and machined wheels, blacked-out headlights and taillights, black roof rack rails, sideview mirror skull caps and a special grille finished with a gloss Sterling Gray mesh, which combine to make a bold statement. But it doesn’t end there. There’s more than enough go to match the show and it comes courtesy of the same motor doing business in the Taurus SHO. Yep, a 3.5-litre Ecoboost twin-turbocharged V6 lives under the bonnet. Happy days.
The Explorer, which was redesigned in 2011, is still a thoroughly modern-looking SUV that packs plenty of technology such as Ford’s Sync and MyFord Touch, which I’ll get to in a bit, and is as practical as ever. But it lacked a little when it came to driving pleasure. Now it’s as thrilling, if not as planted, as the Mustang. OK, maybe not quite as thrilling, but you get the drift, and with 475Nm of torque you may even be able to do a bit of that. I didn’t, but I was more than taken by the 0-100kph sprint of this hulking seven-seater. It accomplished this feat in just six seconds. That’s properly quick for an SUV that, remember, tips the scales at a hefty 2,232kg.
What’s more, it packs a paddle-shift six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission with a 3.16:1 final-drive ratio. This helps not only to give the muscular-looking Ford very responsive acceleration, but you’ll be pleased to know that it won’t burn a hole in your pocket, what with a claimed fuel efficiency of 10.6 litres-per-100km on the highway.
Not many consider the Explorer a true off-roader and I don’t see why because it has all-wheel-drive with Ford’s Terrain Management System and four dependable settings that’ll get you through everything from sand to snow. More importantly, it packs a sport-tuned electric steering system, chassis tunnel reinforcements and a stiffer suspension — but there’s still a fair amount of body roll.
However, the Curve Control (think of it like a brake-based torque vectoring system) will help to keep it from sliding wildly out of control if you meet some corners around these parts.
The steering feels a bit too light at lower speeds but was firmer when I drove more enthusiastically. The Explorer doesn’t feel as top-heavy as expected, considering you’ll have your head in the clouds as it sits so high, and there is a terrific amount of grip here too; the four-wheel drive system sends up to 50 per cent of the power rearward and the huge 255/50 R20 tyres get stuck in good and proper and keep the ride fairly quiet. The ride quality is very good; the big Ford rolls along smoothly and makes mincemeat of all the imperfections on the road.
The upscale-looking and spacious charcoal black leather-trimmed interior is a treat, but the front seats — which afford you a commanding view of the road below — should have been designed to offer a little more support because with such a potent motor up front, I almost fell off my chair. Two words: side bolsters.
I also like the soft-touch dash and windowsill but I am yet to master the aforementioned Sync or MyFord Touch infotainment system. I suggest you learn a few of the programmed command words and utter them as slowly and precisely as possible for it to understand you.
Maybe it’s just my cockney accent; heck, even my colleagues don’t understand me sometimes. No complaints about the audio system — the 12-speaker 390-watt Sony was crystal clear and another highlight of the neat cabin is the fact the second and third rows fold completely flat to create a whopping 1,245 litres of space.
If you are looking for a performance-orientated SUV but are priced out of a move for, say, a Range Rover HSE, then you’ve got to give this a good look. You won’t be left wanting in terms of power and the fit and finish is top-notch too. It even looks like a Rangey, what with those headlights and taillights.
Ford wants you to know that the Explorer Sport is indeed sporty but you don’t need the bling to convince you. Just hop in and mash the throttle and let the Ecoboost V6 do the talking.
You’ll find that 365bhp can be pretty persuasive.