Road Test: 2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac
By: Mike Magda,
© 2004 PickupTruck.com
The 2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is an ongoing exercise in good news,
Good News: In the 2004 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, the Sport Trac
ranked highest among all compact pickups. It came in ahead of the Ford
Ranger and the Toyota Tacoma.
Bad News: The 2004 Sport Trac finished last in the government’s
new safety test designed to predict the likelihood of a rollover during
a sharp turn. The two-wheel-drive model was the only vehicle tested to
receive two stars out of a possible five. Tests on the 4WD model were
inconclusive, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will
repeat the test later. The two-star rating means the rollover risk in
a one-vehicle crash is 30 to 40 percent, according to NHTSA criteria.
Ford says the test uses an extreme maneuver that does not necessarily
reflect real-world driving and that company tests indicate the Sport Trac
is safe. NHTSA says the Sport Trac went up on two wheels during the turning
Even though it’s based on the same platform as the previous generation
Explorer, the Sport Trac makes up 15-20 percent of all current Explorer
sales. Last year, Ford sold just over 373,000 Explorers—down from
433,847 in 2002. That means anywhere from 56,000 to 74,000 Sport Tracs
were sold in 2003. That’s more than all GMC Sonomas (35,040) or
Nissan Frontiers (65,161), let alone their 4-door crew cab models that
Sport Trac cross-shoppers would compare. In fact, Ford officials say more
than half of Sport Trac customers are new to the Ford portfolio, so it
is a valuable conquest vehicle.
Bad News: The Sport Trac is based on the old Explorer platform. While
profits may be steady because the assembly line hasn’t been retooled,
the Sport Trac is showing its age in both appearance and performance.
And don’t forget, the old Explorer had its share of image problems
following the Firestone tire fiasco. It’s time for a new Sport Trac.
Ford design chief J. Mays says a new Sport Trac is coming soon. Speaking
with Automotive News at the New York Auto Show, Mays was asked about the
Ford Super Duty pickups and the Sport Trac. He replied: “Yes, you’ll
see those very soon. I can’t tell you exactly when. But you’ll
see a very different look to them.”
The Explorer Sport Trac desperately needs a different look. It’s
a shining example of how practical innovation can overcome aesthetic flaws.
The Sport Trac first appeared about the same time as the Nissan Frontier
Crew Cab, which had dashing style, heavy industrial image and could be
ordered with a supercharged engine. The Sport Trac paid more attention
to personal comfort and convenience, yet offered enough utility to meet
the needs of a growing customer base that apparently either loved the
looks or could tolerate the design because the truck was so useful.
The Sport Trac combines a small pickup bed with passenger features and
mechanical components of the old 4-door Explorer. It originally came in
just one trim for both 4x2 and 4x4 models and a few options that improved
on the base, hose-it-out cloth-seat and rubber-floor interior. But the
Sport Trac’s success prompted Ford to offer four trim levels. The
base XLS comes with the 4.0-liter V6 engine, CD player, power windows,
roof rails, 3.73:1 rear axle and 5-speed automatic transmission. XLT adds
Berber floor mats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and plenty of option
potential to upgrade the audio system or add accessories. XLT Premium
adds the monochromatic paint scheme, fog lamps, alloy wheels, 4.10:1 rear
axle, leather seating and a center console that includes rear climate/audio
vehicle was the top-of-the-line 4x4 Andrenalin, which came with a base
price of $29,995 on the truck’s sticker, but the Ford Web site listed
the base price at $31,530 in late May. When we checked, Ford also offered
a $3000 cash back incentive. Options on our truck included side curtain
air bags ($560), leather seating ($795), bed extender ($195) and hard
tonneau cover ($590) for a total MSRP of $32,135, including $645 destination
(on our truck’s Monroney). Our Andrenalin was drenched in Competition
Orange paint, but Ford has since discontinued that color.