• Ford uses Facebook for a digital debut
  • New range-topping variant of the Explorer crossover SUV
  • Twin-turbo V6 gives V8 power but better fuel consumption

A new model in the Ford Explorer range has just been introduced to the world via Facebook. This crossover SUV's dedicated page showed a live video transmission where the wraps were removed from the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport.

This will be the top-of-the-line, high performance variant when it reaches showrooms later this year. Ford expects it to compete for buyers who might also be looking at V8-powered rivals like the Dodge Durango R/T and the Range Rover Sport HSE, even though the Explorer Sport only has a V6.

This Explorer more than makes up for its shortfall of cylinders by bolting twin turbochargers to its 3.5-liter engine, creating 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. For comparison, Dodge gets 360 hp and 390 lb-ft from its 5.7-liter Hemi V8, while the Range Rover Sport HSE enjoys 375 hp and 375 lb-ft.

One thing these rivals won't enjoy, however, will be class-leading fuel economy. Fewer cylinders will give the Explorer Sport an edge of at least a couple of miles per gallon in each cycle. Ford claims 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. The Sport comes as an all-wheel-drive model only and employs a six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.

Backing up the extra power means better brakes and cross braces that stiffen the body. A more rigid body allows for greater fine-tuning of the suspension. Even its Terrain Management System has been re-calibrated for more of a sporty feel, while Ford is still rightfully proud of the Explorer's inflatable seat belts for the outside second-row spots.

The Explorer Sport can seat seven occupants, since the body size and door count are unchanged (the last-generation Explorer Sport was a separate three-door model with a shorter wheelbase). And those seven occupants will settle down in luxury, since this trim level has contrast-stitched leather seating as standard. Ford says it "went to that next level of detail and craftsmanship" when the company turned its attention to the cabin. Illuminated scuff plates are presumably part of this approach.

Visual differences range from the bespoke 20-inch alloy wheels that have a "Sport" logo etched into the rim, to black roof rails; taking in a larger grille - with high-gloss and low-gloss elements - and blacked-out rear lights along the way.

Among the standard equipment is a rearview camera and a Sony audio system. Ford also says its latest iteration of the Sync infotainment system with MyFord Touch is "better than ever." That's good, because earlier versions have been criticized for not being sufficiently user-friendly.

No pricing has been announced yet. But for a rough ballpark, a 2012 Explorer Limited with all-wheel drive has an MSRP of $39,855, while a 2012 Dodge Durango R/T AWD goes for $38,195.

What it means to you: The SUV segment is still expanding and the Explorer's share should grow with this sporty yet fuel-efficient variant.

author photo

Colin Ryan has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.

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