Among those changes is a new solid mount for its electric power steering rack, a move designed to take some of the slop out of the system and deliver more accurate direction changes (the Sport also receives its own unique boost tuning to add both quickness and heft). In addition, engineers have gone over the Explorer's suspension and steering, fitting new ball- and steering joints, with the goal of increased stiffness so that shock and bushing tuning can be more finely adjusted. The result, say Ford officials, is a better controlled vehicle – one that allows for greater performance differentiation model to model (Sport versus XLT, say) through simple tuning of the vehicle's compliant bits.
The Sport isn't just an engine upgrade and appearance modifications – there are meaningful tweaks across the entire vehicle.
To be clear, the Explorer Sport stops well short of a full-on performance model like the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 – Ford itself suggests likely competitors include the 5.7-liter Grand Cherokee and its Dodge Durango R/T. Even so, the Sport isn't just an engine upgrade and appearance modifications – there are meaningful tweaks across the entire vehicle, including everything from a 3.16:1 final drive ratio to a water-cooled Power Take Off faceplate cooler that keeps the standard all-wheel-drive system at proper operating temps when it's being worked harder by those 350 pound-feet.
Apparently Ford has learned its lesson based on feedback it received from the launch of the 2010 Taurus SHO (a vehicle that shares much of this CUV's architecture and drivetrain). Like the updated-for-2013 SHO, the Explorer Sport has received a brake upgrade, moving from 13.1-inch rotors to 13.8 inches. In addition, the discs themselves are thicker, leading to a 22-percent increase in stopping power. That's good news, because Ford says the Sport knocks a full two seconds off the 0-60 time of other models, but it declined to cite a hard number.
Ford says the Sport knocks a full two seconds off the 0-60 time of other models.
Other Sport-specific hardware changes include a throatier dual exhaust with large polished tips, a reworked Terrain Management System to take advantage of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine's extra torque in all conditions, as well as larger shock tower braces and a new cross tunnel brace for added rigidity.
Ford says it sold 135,000 Explorers last year, and fully 50 percent of those were conquest buyers. Of that percentage, 12 percent were luxury brand converts, so Ford is clearly betting that the 2013 Sport's augmented performance and style can yield even more higher-end transaction prices.