While the "Sport" moniker once indicated a two-door version of the Ford Explorer, that's no longer the case. Instead, the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport is the popular SUV's high-performance trim, complete with a turbocharged engine, firm suspension and a sporty look.

Actually Sporty

On paper, the Explorer Sport takes a good package and makes it better. We already like the Explorer for its handsome styling, high-quality interior and comfortable ride. And it offers competitive pricing and exceptional fuel economy compared to rivals. With 75 more horsepower and quick handling, the Explorer Sport promises to be ultimate Explorer - especially for those who aren't quite ready to swap the joys of a fun car for the responsibilities of parenthood.

In practice, the Explorer Sport delivers exactly what it promises, combining "family car" and "fun car" better than virtually any rival. On the road, its 365-horsepower turbocharged V6 pulls hard in all situations, whether from a stoplight - where there's a little torque steer - or at highway cruising speed. Ford says 0-to-60 comes in around six seconds, but turbocharged power delivery makes it feel faster.

The Sport's handling is even more impressive than its horsepower. Through corners, it drives like a well-balanced car - not a 4,900-pound SUV. Steering is very direct, and there's little body lean. Yes, 20-inch wheels and sport suspension make the ride harsher than the standard Explorer. But I suspect drivers who choose the Sport over a more luxurious trim won't mind the tradeoff.

Still Practical

Despite the fun available behind the wheel, the Explorer Sport doesn't lose even the slightest bit of practicality. It still offers three usable rows of seats. The third row still folds in three easy motions. Technology is still generous: the Sport includes a standard rearview camera and Ford's SYNC infotainment system. And there's still an impressive list of safety and convenience features, like leather upholstery, heated front seats and a Sony sound system. Best of all, drivers who live in snowy climates will appreciate standard all-wheel drive.

But combining the Explorer's strong credentials with high-performance abilities doesn't come cheap. The SUV's base price is $41,675 with shipping. My test car featured Equipment Group 402A, which includes navigation, a remote starter, and Ford's handy Cross Traffic Alert system. That bumped the price to around $44,300 - and I still didn't have a sunroof, which would've cost another $1,595. While that figure is still thousands less than a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8, the Explorer Sport is 100 horsepower shy of Jeep's ultimate high-performance midsize SUV.

With the pricing in mind, my advice is to forego the Sport and choose a cheaper Explorer. But if you absolutely must combine performance and practicality, it's hard to argue with the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport.

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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