Ford is the number one brand in the utility segment, and it sells some 15-percent of the vehicles in the segment. Even more significantly, the Explorer is the third most recognized brand within the Ford family.

In other words, the utility segment is critically important to Ford, as is the Explorer SUV. While other brands have offered performance-oriented SUVs (like the Dodge Durango R/T and the Range Rover Sport), Ford has been strangely absent from this segment.

Until now, that is. Ford has just announced the 2013 Explorer Sport, which will come with a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, good for “more than 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque,” in the words of Bill Gubing, Explorer’s chief engineer.

Expect the new Explorer Sport to deliver best-in-class fuel economy, too, with a claimed 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. The Explorer Sport doesn’t give up practicality, either, retaining the standard Explorer’s Terrain Management system for sure-footed traction, as well as its 5,000 pound towing capacity.

Ford says the Explorer Sport will run from 0-60 mph two seconds faster than a standard Explorer, which should put it in the mid six-second range. To ensure that the the Sport stops and turns equally well, Ford has bolted on larger rotors and increased chassis bracing for added stiffness.

Look for pricing to be announced closer to the Explorer Sport’s introduction, scheduled for later this year. For complete details, see our write up on The Car Connection.