Ford is keen for you to know its Ex­plorer Sport is sporty… the 365bhp should help.

Ford’s Ex­plorer SUV might be prac­ti­cal but, as wheels’ Im­ran Ma­lik dis­cov­ers, there is plenty of grunt un­der that shiny bon­net

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

Five. That’s the num­ber of times you’ll count the word ‘sport’ plas­tered all over this Ex­plorer Sport. Ford is re­ally keen, it seems, to ram home the point that this SUV isn’t just about haul­ing seven adults around in com­fort. The Blue Oval wants you to know you can still do that – but now very quickly.

How quickly? Well, let’s just say that the gro­cery run could take about half the time it used to be­cause just in front of you sit 365 an­gry horses wait­ing to be un­leashed – that’s 75bhp more than the reg­u­lar model.

Now, for some car­mak­ers, their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a sports pack­age amounts to noth­ing more than, say, larger al­loys, maybe a wing and per­haps go-faster stick­ers. Not Ford. Sure, the Ex­plorer Sport adds 20in painted and ma­chined wheels, blacked-out head­lights and tail­lights, black roof rack rails, side­view mir­ror skull caps and a spe­cial grille fin­ished with a gloss Ster­ling Gray mesh, which com­bine to make a bold state­ment. But it doesn’t end there. There’s more than enough go to match the show, and it comes cour­tesy of the same mo­tor do­ing the busi­ness in the Taurus SHO. Yep, a 3.5-litre Ecoboost twin-tur­bocharged V6 lives un­der the bon­net. Happy days. ys.

The Ex­plorer, which was re­designed in 2011, is still a thor­oughly mod­ern-look­ing SUV that packs plenty of tech­nol­ogy such as Ford’s Sync and MyFord Touch, which I’ll get to in a bit, and is as prac­ti­cal as ever. But it lacks a lit­tle in driv­ing plea­sure.

Now it’s as thrilling, if not as planted, as the Mus­tang… OK, maybe not quite as thrilling, but you get the drift, and with 475Nm of torque you may even be able to do a bit of that. I don’t, but I’m im­pressed by the 0-100kph sprint of this hulk­ing seven-seater. It ac­com­plishes this feat in just six sec­onds – that’s prop­erly quick for

an SUV that, re­mem­ber, tips the scales at a hefty 2,232kg.

What’s more, it packs a pad­dleshift six-speed Selec­tShift au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with a 3.16:1 fi­naldrive ra­tio. This helps not only to give the mus­cu­lar-look­ing Ford very re­spon­sive ac­cel­er­a­tion, but you’ll be pleased to know that it won’t burn a hole in your pocket, what with a claimed fuel ef­fi­ciency of 10.6 litres­per-100km on the high­way.

Not many con­sider the Ex­plorer a true off-roader, but I don’t see why be­cause it has all-wheel drive with Ford’s Ter­rain Man­age­ment Sys­tem and four de­pend­able set­tings that will get you through ev­ery­thing from sand to snow. More im­por­tantly, it packs a sport-tuned elec­tric-steer­ing sys­tem, chas­sis tun­nel re­in­force­ments and a stiffer sus­pen­sion – but there’s still a fair amount of body roll. How­ever, the Curve Con­trol (think of it like a brake­based torque vec­tor­ing sys­tem) helps to keep it from slid­ing wildly out of con­trol if you meet some cor­ners around these parts.

The steer­ing feels a bit too light at lower speeds but is firmer when I drive more en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. The Ex­plorer doesn’t feel as top-heavy as ex­pected, con­sid­er­ing you’ll have your head in the clouds as it sits so high, and there is a ter­rific amount of grip here too; the four-wheel-drive sys­tem sends up to 50 per cent of the power rear­ward and the huge 255/50 R20 tyres get stuck in good and proper and keep the ride fairly quiet.

The ride qual­ity is very good; the big Ford rolls along smoothly and makes mince­meat of any im­per­fec­tions on the road.

The up­scalelook­ing and spa­cious char­coal black leather­trimmed in­te­rior is a treat, but the front seats, which af­ford a com­mand­ing view of the road be­low, should have been de­signed to of­fer a lit­tle more sup­port be­cause with such a po­tent mo­tor up front, I al­most fall off my chair.

I like the soft-touch dash, but I’m yet to master the Sync or MyFord Touch in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. I sug­gest you learn a few of the pro­grammed com­mand words and ut­ter them as slowly and pre­cisely as pos­si­ble for it to un­der­stand you. But then again maybe it’s just my cock­ney ac­cent; even my col­leagues don’t un­der­stand me some­times. I’ve got no com­plaints about the au­dio sys­tem though – the 12-speaker 390-watt Sony is loud and crys­tal clear.

An­other high­light of the neat cabin is the fact the se­cond and third rows fold com­pletely flat to create a whop­ping 1,245 litres of space.

If you are look­ing for a per­for­mance-ori­en­tated SUV but are priced out of a move for, say, a Range Rover HSE, you should give this a try. You’ll be happy in terms of power and the fit and fin­ish is top-notch too. It even looks like a Rangey, what with those head­lights and tail­lights.

Ford wants you to know that the Ex­plorer Sport is, in­deed, sporty, but you don’t need all the bling to con­vince you of that.

Just mash the throt­tle and let the Ecoboost V6 do the talk­ing – 365bhp can be pretty per­sua­sive.

The Ex­plorer Sport is equipped with Ford’s

Sync and MyFord Touch tech­nol­ogy, but it’s not easy to master

A char­coal black leather-trimmed in­te­rior gives the Ex­plorer Sport’s cabin

a lux­u­ri­ous feel

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