By Jeff Gilbert

DETROIT (WWJ) – Ford Motor Company has decided to add a performance version to its Explorer lineup.

The 2013 Explorer Sport will have a 350 horsepower engine, and is meant to compete with performance oriented SUV’s from Jeep and from import brands.

“There are some customers who want that level of performance, a better driving vehicle, a little more pep,” said marketing manager Eric Peterson. “This is the vehicle for that.”

The Explorer has been redone as a car based crossover vehicle, aiming at passengers who want comfort and fuel economy. It’s been successful, with sales up 123 percent last year, over the previous model Explorer.

But, Peterson says they feel there’s still a strong demand for a version with increased capabilities.

“Think about all of the Explorer’s heritage with all of the V-8 engines and things like that. There are a lot of them who thought they wanted just a little bit more performance with Explorer,” he said. “This does that, and—oh, by the way—it does it with smart fuel economy.”

The fuel economy is 22 miles per gallon highway. That’s not as good as other Explorer models, but Ford says it is better that competitor’s V-8 engines. The Explorer Sport comes with a 3.5-liter, V-6 EcoBoost engine.

Chief engineer Bill Gubing says they’ve also given the vehicle unique styling cues.

“To make it stand out in our lineup, we had to make sure it had a unique set of features, and look,” he said.

Ford used to have a two door version of the Explorer that was named Explorer Sport. Ford says this is an all new vehicle, aimed at a totally different market.

The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport will make its public debut at next week’s New York Auto Show, and will be in dealerships in the fall,

Ford’s Eric Peterson says they will build the vehicle to customer demand. He would not say what percentage of Explorer sales they expect to be Sport models.

“How about somewhere between significant and a niche.”

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