2014 Ford Explorer Sport

When the Explorer switched from a traditional body-on-frame configuration to an efficient unibody setup for the latest generation, one of the elements lost in the transition was the old model's optional V8. To plug the gap left by the eight-cylinder at the top of its three-row crossover's powertrain lineup, Ford recently introduced an EcoBoost V6-powered Explorer Sport model.

Setting the Sport apart from its less powerful siblings and signaling its more powerful motor are a number of stygian aesthetic upgrades. These include blacked-out headlamps and tailamps, a black lower front fascia with a functional air intake and a sterling grey mesh grille with contrasting black bars. Black trim is also applied to the roof rack, side mirrors and liftgate, while unique painted and machined 20-inch alloy wheels complete the look.

The Sport's twin-turbocharged and direct-injected 3.5-liter "EcoBoost" V6 is good for 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a six-speed automatic unit with paddle shifters, while the crossover also features Ford's Terrain Management light-duty off road control system to make the best use of its standard all-wheel-drive system. For those looking to schlep around a boat or trailer, the Explorer Sport provides a 5,000 lbs. towing capacity.

The EPA rates the crossover at 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.

A faster steering ratio along with upgraded anti-roll bars, shocks and suspension bushings are included to help the crossover's handling keep pace with the extra power, while larger brakes bring the action to a quick halt.

Inside, contrasting black/red seats are available, while special steering wheel stitching makes the tiller stand out. A few additional design touches include revised appliques and illuminated scuff plates. The interior is otherwise unchanged, meaning it retains the high material quality, spacious first two rows and slightly cramped third row of the standard Explorer.

All Explorer Sports come standard with SYNC, Ford's Bluetooth-based connectivity system that allows smartphone users to place calls and stream music by using voice commands or steering wheel-mounted buttons. It can also read incoming texts aloud to help the driver keep his or her eyes on the road, and allows the use of Ford-approved apps like The Wall Street Journal news and Pandora radio.

The Explorer Sport also features MyFord Touch, an infotainment system that builds on SYNC by letting users control everything from navigation to climate control to the sound system with voice commands. MyFord Touch also replaces conventional sound system knobs and buttons with a center-mounted eight-inch touchscreen, dual 4.2-inch displays in the instrument cluster and touch-sensitive controls in the center stack. Many consumers report that the system is a "love it or hate it" item, so those interested in the Explorer Sport are advised to try before they buy.

Standard and Optional Features
As the range-topping model in the Explorer lineup, the Sport comes well-equipped with a wealth of standard content. Leather upholstery, heated and power-adjustable front seats, a 12-speaker Sony sound system with two USB ports, an SD card reader and audio/video input jacks, SYNC with MyFord Touch, dual-zone automatic climate control, Ford's MyKey system and a rearview camera.

Those in search of more features can select the catchily-named equipment group 402A, which adds a voice-activated navigation system with Sirius XM TravelLink, perforated leather-trimmed upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a power liftgate, adjustable pedals with memory, memory seats, ambient lighting, a power tilt/telescoping steering column, power-folding mirros, a 110V outlet, intelligent access with push-button start and a remote start system. Also included is a blind sport information system with cross traffic alert and industry-first rear safety belts.

A number of stand-alone options are also available, with highlights including adaptive cruise control, a dual-panel moonroof, a trailer-tow package and a rear entertainment system with dual seven-inch LCD screens and two DVD players.

Occupant Safety
All Explorer Sport models come standard with dual front, side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems, electronic brakeforce distribution and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Key Competitors
While there are numerous three-row crossovers that can compete with the Explorer Sport on the basis of power, the only model with a similar price is the Hemi-equipped Dodge Durango. Others, like the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, are far more expensive, while those closer in price, such as fully-loaded examples of the Honda Pilot and Toyota 4Runner, feature motors with significantly less grunt.