Ford is definitely taking things up a notch.

Not only do consumers have a wide variety of fresh, new products to choose from, they also have more options among the different nameplates in order to select a vehicle that best suits their budget and preferences in transportation.

The 2013 Explorer Sport is just one example.

Yes, itís a Ford Explorer. But then again, itís almost like it is a unique model.

New for 2013, a twin turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine delivering 365 horsepower and 350 lbs.-ft. torque powers the four-wheel drive Ford Explorer Sport.

Itís fast.

Itís powerful.

Itís rugged.

Equipped with Fordís Terrain Management System with settings for sand, snow, mud and hill descent, it will go just about anywhere ó road or not.

Mated to a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission with paddle-activation, it can tow up to 5,000 pounds ó getting you and your gear to your favorite getaway destination.

It also has a best in class EPA fuel economy rating of 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway.

Designed to redefine the high-performance SUV segment, the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport is capable of going head-to-head with the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT/8 and Land Rover Range Rover Sport on the track, on the highway and on the off-road trails.

Yet when it comes to fuel economy, the Explorer Sport bests them all.

Again, itís an Explorer.

But then again, itís not.

In addition to the EcoBoost twin turbo engine, the Explorer Sport features several unique characteristics that differentiate it from its Explorer siblings.

The chassis has been structurally reinforced for stiffness to enhance handling with sport-tuned electric power-assisted steering.

Paddles on the steering wheel offer precise control of the six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission.

It features larger brakes for improved stopping.

And then there is the four-wheel drive system with Terrain Management that with a click of a button lets the driver choose the optimum setting for the driving condition ó sand, snow, mud, etc.

While the Explorer Sport is a high-performance sport utility vehicle, itís also a luxury vehicle.

Yes, it features unique styling that sets it apart from the other Explorer trim levels.

And, it is also loaded with upscale features and technology.

It features the upgraded Sync system thatís more capable than ever, providing access to music from Bluetooth devices, USB ports or an SD card. It can also create a Wi-Fi hotspot for passengers.

I especially liked the premium Sony audio system with SiriusXM Satellite Radio and 12 speakers.

And, the optional navigation system that with a voice command, lets you choose the most fuel-efficient route to your destination. It even displays nearby fuel stations and shows the current price of fuel.

With a base price starting around $41,000, the Ford Explorer Sport is the halo model of the Explorer lineup, providing high-performance, off-road versatility, luxury ó and fuel efficiency. I almost forgot to mention, it can seat up to seven passengers and still has 21 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row seat.

For those wanting the ultimate SUV, the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport is an absolute must for the test drive list.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 20 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association.

The Nuts and Bolts

MODEL:

2013 Ford Explorer Sport

6-, or 7-seat high-performance SUV

Four-wheel drive with Terrain Management System

PRICE RANGE:

Starting at $40,720

ENGINE:

3.5L twin turbo EcoBoost V6 (365 hp/350 torque)

TRANSMISSION:

6-speed SelectShift automatic with paddle shifters

EPA: 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway

FUEL: Regular unleaded

STABILITY CONTROL:

AdvanceTrac electronic stability control with traction control

BRAKES: ABS

LENGTH: 197.1 inches

WHEELBASE: 112.6 in.

WIDTH: 90.2 inches

HEIGHT: 71 inches

WEIGHT: 4,921 lbs.

TRACK: 67/67

(front/rear)

FUEL TANK: 18.6 gallons

TIRES: 20-inch

TOWING: Up to 5,000 pounds

CARGO: 21/43.8/80.7 cubic feet (behind 3rd/2nd/1st seating rows)

OPTIONAL: Adaptive cruise control, BLIS blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, cooled seats, inflatable rear seat belts, 110-volt outlet, PowerFold mirrors, push-button start, et. al.