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2013 Ford Explorer Sport – NYC First Test Drive

Can America compete with the best of the European auto manufacturers when it comes to luxury sport utility vehicles that emphasize the Sport aspect of the SUV badge? The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport seeks to answer that question with a definitive “yes.” With the Range Rover Sport HSE as the primary target, Ford’s attack takes a three-pronged approach: price, performance, and fuel-efficiency.

2013 Ford Explorer Sport - front view - NYC

Ford brought the 2013 Explorer Sport to New York City this week for an event to make its point with the media. We drove a squadron of Explorer Sports from the Chelsea area of Manhattan to the tony suburbs of Connecticut and back. Starting out in Chelsea has a certain irony when it comes to Sport Utility Vehicles, specifically those from the United Kingdom, where they’re known (not-so-affectionately) as "Chelsea Tractors."

Ford’s designers have done their work well. If the Explorer Sport wore no badges, it could easily be mistaken as an European model. I took off in a semi-murdered out cruiser with New York Times automotive journalist, Jim Motavelli driving. We promptly got stuck in traffic on the West Side Highway. Once traffic cleared up, Jim took full advantage of the twisty roads and blasted up the highways and back roads to the mid-point, where we stopped for lunch before switching seats for the drive back to Manhattan.

The ride and drive made it perfectly clear. Ford has delivered bang for the buck. This beast just might be the best-handling, most well-rounded three-row SUV that I’ve ever driven … at any price. For most Americans, price matters. You can buy a vehicle for its marquee or you can buy it for the performance it delivers.

The Explorer Sport burns more rubber and less gasoline than the Range Rover Sport HSE. And for a whole lot less money.

Lets look at the tape …

  Range Rover HSE Ford Explorer Sport
MSRP (base) $60,895 $40,720
Engine 5.0L V8 3.5L Turbo V6
Horsepower 375 365
Torque 375 350
0-60 MPH (est.) 7.2 6.0
Weight 5540 4,921
MPG City 13 16
MPG Highway 18 22

First up: pricing. The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport starts at $40,720, while the Range Rover Sport HSE lumbers in at $60,895. Having owned Land Rover for the period between 2000 and 2008, Ford clearly understands the storied British marquee’s DNA. With a drive train that’s been leveraged across a line of high-production vehicles, Ford has an insurmountable advantage.

Twenty Thousand Dollars = A Large Bucket of Clams.

Next up: performance and fuel efficiency. The Range Rover Sport HSE is equipped with a 5.0-liter V8 engine that produces a very healthy 375 horsepower (HP) and 375 foot-pounds of torque. Range Rover states that it will run the 0-60 mile per hour (MPH) sprint in 7.2 seconds, with fuel economy estimates of 13 city / 18 highway. The Ford Explorer Sport, by contrast, is fitted with a 3.5-liter turbocharged/direct injected V6 engine that covers the 0-60 MPH run in 6.0 seconds, while landing EPA estimates of 16 city / 22 highway. (The Explorer Sport’s EcoBoost V6 is the same engine found in the Taurus SHO and Lincoln MKS.)

2013 Ford Explorer Sport - side view

So how does the less powerful Explorer Sport outrun the Range Rover Sport HSE? It’s all about power-to-weight and engine responsiveness. The Explorer has a 600+ pound advantage at the scales and twin-turbos providing a flat torque curve that peaks at 1700 revolutions per minute (RPM).

Now I’m not a big fan of big SUVs, but I know full well that they have their place. (Hey, we still own one, and it’s paid for, never mind that it has over 170K on the clock and is in dire need of repair.) I took New Jersey Transit into Manhattan for this event, shelling out $29.50 for the privilege of riding the train. If I was traveling with a posse of six, we would have had to shell out $177 in train fare. I eked 23.3 MPG out of the Explorer Sport on my leg of the voyage from Connecticut to Manhattan, without much effort. If we took an Explorer Sport, the same trip would cost roughly $20 in gasoline (at current prices), in addition to tolls and parking.

As I walked from the train platform back to this week’s test car (a 2013 Mitsubishi Evolution MR), a few things crossed my mind. I counted the vehicles parked along the way. Imports out numbered domestics by a ratio of 44-to-5. The vast majority of those imports were high-end luxury models. Now I’m not going to come out and say something as bold as "a fool and his money are soon parted," but if there was an episode of Pinks that pitted a stock Explorer Sport against a Range Rover HSE …

To their credit, Ford’s engineers didn’t target the all-out-beastiness of the (quite awesome in its own right) Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT/8, deciding instead to go for a more European approach. But I couldn’t help but compare the incredibly awesome EVO MR against the Explorer Sport. I fully expect that a certain percentage of owners will take it to the next level, adding aftermarket goodies like Brembo brakes, BBS wheels, Bilstein shocks, Eibach Springs, a Magnaflow exhaust, and an engine tune to their Explorer Sports.

Chelsea Tractors in Chelsea

A stage rally classification for SUVs? Stranger things have happened …

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