Last week when we drove the new police version of the Ford Explorer, we asked whether the civilian car handled as well as its law enforcement counterpart. The answer then was no, but it seems like that could be subject to change with the arrival of the just-announced 2013 Ford Explorer Sport, which hits showrooms later in 2012.The Explorer Sport nameplate isn't new; it was last used on short-wheelbase, two-door versions of the first- and second-generation Explorer. This 2013 model, which retains the standard 4-door bodystyle of the current Explorer, is an entirely different animal, though.
Today, the Sport moniker speaks directly to the SUV's performance-driving potential. In addition to a retuned suspension and stiffened chassis (key elements that make the Police Interceptor variant genuinely entertaining to throw around), the Explorer Sport's engine bay undergoes the equivalent of a P90X training program.
Ford's 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 gets dropped in, where it will produce, at minimum, 350 horsepower. The added muscle gets channeled to the ground via six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. All-wheel-drive with driver-controlled settings for different terrain types (sand, snow, mud, and hill descent) is standard, as are upgraded brakes to better handle the new crossover's added underhood punch. Fuel economy is estimated to come in at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, better than comparable V8 engines, but still nothing terribly special overall. Figure on seeing an average fuel economy number in the mid to upper teens. (We've observed that firsthand in a Ford Flex equipped with the same engine.)
As the range-topper, the Explorer Sport is basically loaded when it comes to features, technology and amenities. Outside, a blacked out mesh grille and model-specific 20-inch wheels are the easy "tells" that the turbo V6 resides underhood. Pricing is still TBA, as is the exact release timetable ("later this year" could mean anything).
We asked Ford if this model's arrival signals that the EcoBoost six-cylinder will also find its way into the Police Interceptor Utility, but were told that the 3.7-liter non-tubo V6 (also available in the regular Explorer) remains the sole engine for the patrol version. We expect to see the Explorer Sport in person at next week's New York International Auto Show.