The Ford Explorer's popularity has always vexed me. There was a time in the late 1990s that it seemed to be everywhere — much like the Kardashians today. Back then, I didn't get the appeal of the Explorer. Thanks to a well-received redesign in 2011, the Explorer started to add worth to its celebrated weight. Now, with the advent of the Explorer Sport model, I get it.
The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport showcases a powerful new engine and sleek styling while incorporating some family-friendly attributes and top safety ratings. I'm no longer confused; this three-row crossover should be popular.
A family-friendly crossover that's fun to drive makes me giddy. The twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 engine on the Explorer Sport accelerates with enthusiasm and puts out 365 horsepower. Passing on the highway is gleeful, even when going uphill. The Explorer Sport is a lot more agile around corners and in tight parking lots than its exterior would imply. Driving it actually makes the daily grind enjoyable. All this power doesn't come cheap, though. The 2013 Explorer has a starting price of $29,995, including an $895 destination charge. The Explorer Sport trim starts at $41,675, but my test car came in at $47,390. Yikes.
The Explorer Sport's looks might seem familiar. The smoldering stance, blacked-out pillars that create a floating roof effect and the way the Explorer name stretches across the hood reminded me of something. The Explorer Sport aims high and emulates the famed Land Rover Range Rover with some success. Even the selector knob's icons on the Terrain Management System, which allows you to choose from four drive modes to match the road conditions, look like those that a Rover features.
Despite the good looks and saucy engine, things like black plastic, which covers much of the interior, and the MyFord Touch system that doesn't respond well to anyone's touch reminds that this is a not a $100,000 crossover. At this price, not everything can be Rover-esque.
Nonetheless, the downfalls are few, and there are plenty of other attributes that stand out. My test car featured the available six-passenger seating configuration, which puts captain's chairs instead of a bench in the second row. This opens up a narrow walkway that enables children to get to the third row without having to catapult themselves over the seats. You may lose one passenger spot with this option, but you gain a multitude of convenience. Besides, we still had the extra space needed for our carpool days.
A third set of lower Latch anchors in the third row and an impressive 21.0 cubic feet of cargo volume behind that third row also enhance family life in the car. Just be warned that visibility out the rear window can be tricky, particularly with a child-safety seat installed in the third row or the rear head restraints in use.
Finally, the Explorer is a safety superstar. With a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Top Safety Pick status under its belt from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it provides some peace of mind. Available rear inflatable seat belts for the outboard second-row seats and a blind spot warning system make it even more attractive. Overall, thanks to the Sport trim, I'm no longer befuddled by the Explorer's celebrity. Now if I could just figure out why the Kardashians are so celebrated.