For decades, the Ford Explorer has been a favorite of those whose SUV must be highly versatile, cost effective and appropriate for family, work and sporting duty. The range of options that can be specified and a starting price under $29,000 allows many consumers to find a competitively-priced combo that fits their needs. Now there is a top-of-the-line edition that makes a real splash.
These are not vehicles with heavy towing capacity — max for the most tow-worthy current Explorer is 5,000 pounds, the most common tow capacity for any SUVs in this category; and the 2.0L EcoBoost has a 2,000 lb. capacity. For more tow capacity, it’s going to be either a pickup truck or something that can accommodate a heavier-duty tow package. There are new towing technology features on the Explorer, however, that make this just right for a small boat or RV, a pair of jet skis or an ATV, which I’ll cover later.
For the regular Explorer, two engines are available — a 3.5-liter TI-VCT V6 with 290hp @6,500rpm and 255 lb-ft. of torque, paired with a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission and a 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4 with 240-hp @5,500rpm and 270- lb.-ft. of torque mated to a six-speed automatic. Both take regular gas. The 3.5-L has front-wheel or all-wheel drive, while only front-wheel drive is available on the EcoBoost model. Base, XLT and Limited versions are available. Fuel economy for each of these engines:
2.0-L EcoBoost 4-cylinder - 20-mpg city/28-mpg highway (Ford says this is best in class for a full-size three-row SUV )
3.5-L V6 with TI-VCT: 4-wheel drive – 17-mpg city/24-mpg highway; all-wheel drive – 17mpg city/23mpg highway
Explorer Sport is impressive addition
Added to the Explorer offering this fall, the the Sport is the top of the line with a sticker price of $40,720. A vehicle-exclusive 3.5L twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 with Ivct offers 4WD performance and fuel efficiency of 165-mpg city and 22-mpg highway. (I expect that we may see this available across other Ford vehicles, but not at this time.)
Ford says this is 3-mpg better than the current Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango, and 1-mpg more than the Range Rover Sport. I mention these numbers only for reference since every driver is different, and will experience different results. (I have a real pet peeve when it comes to pedal-to-the-medal drivers who expect to meet top fuel efficiency numbers, and complain when they don’t.)
The Explorer Sport hits a sweet-spot combination of power, usable torque, 4WD capability and class leading fuel efficiency, according to Bill Gubing, chief engineer for the Explorer, Taurus and Police Interceptor Vehicles.
Said Gubing, “From making changes to the chassis and suspension, uniquely calibrating the Terrain Management System for added power, we’re delivering…great dynamics and performance — while towing up to 5,000 pounds.”
To deliver on this promise, Ford engineers added chassis tunnel reinforcements and a solid-mounted electric power-assisted steering rack with improved pedal feel and response for both on- and off-road driving. The Sport model also has larger breaks for stronger resistance to fade and better towing performance.
The Terrain Management System has settings for optimizing power and torque for on-road touring, and under sandy, snowy, rutted mud and hill descent conditions. These changes make for a luxurious ride without harshness or fuel thirst.
Unique to the Explorer Sport are 20-inch painted and machined wheels, dramatic headlamp and taillamp treatments, black roof rack rails, side-view mirror skull caps and a lift-gate applique.Everything is announced by a special grille with low-gloss sterling gray mesh and
contrasting ebony high-gloss bars and black lower front fascia with a functional opening for more efficient cooling. The vehicle is available in four exterior colors — Ruby Red Metallic Clearcoat, White Platinum Metallic Tri-Coat, Tuxedo Black Metallic and Ingot Silver Metallic.
The interior is high end all the way with charcoal black leather trimmed heated and cooled seating available with or without sienna brown leather inserts. The brown accents which are visually striking are also repeated elsewhere on the two-tone interior. Topstitching is also used to highlight the upscale appearance on the seating and steering wheel.
There are a range of other features including dual-zone electronic automatic temperature control, 10-way power driver’s seat with power recline and lumbar adjust, six-way power front passenger seat with recline and lumbar adjust, the much-improved MyFord Touch driver connect technology and a Sony Premium Audio System with HD Radio and 12 speakers. These are all included in the Sport.
As to other choices, there are plenty of those too (some being options): adaptive cruise control (which I highly recommend when it is available, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, inflatable rear seat belts, PowerFold mirrors, rain sensing wipers, intelligent access with push button start, remote start, power tilt and telescoping steering column, adjustable pedals with memory, dual-panel moon roof, power lift gate and a Class III trailer-towing package. If you buy it all, the price rises to $49,125 plus delivery. This still puts it below other luxury entries in this category.
The driving experience
I had a chance to get some first impressions last month when Ford made the new Explorer Sport available to journalists. It doesn’t disappoint and I must say that it gets special points for both the exterior and interior styling. The 2013 Explorer is fine at all of its price points, but the luxury treatment and inclusion of the most popular options into a highly desirable package makes this a vehicle to put on the list for drivers who want it all, including very acceptable fuel efficiency.
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