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The Andrenalin name first surfaced in 1996 as a SUV/pickup concept vehicle. It took the 4-door crew cab compact pickup a step further by introducing distinct SUV styling cues and features. While the concept had an integrated cab-bed design, the Sport Trac works with a separate bed configuration. Although the bed is the smallest of any pickup at 50- inches long, it is perhaps the Sport Trac’s best-engineered component. Made from lightweight, rust-free composite material, the 20-inch deep bed features 10 tie-downs, a weatherproof 12-volt power point and a locking tailgate. Mated with the optional lockable tonneau, the cargo area can be fully enclosed and secured. The bed material is rugged enough to handle dirty cargo such as quarry gravel without marring.
While the funky bed has utilitarian value, the Sport Trac’s front end is overdone with the cartoonish nostrils. The fender flares look like bad silicone implants. It’s truly a shame Ford didn’t carry over the rugged yet composed front sheet metal and the confident yet subtle wheel arches found on the Andrenalin concept vehicle. The monochromatic paint of the current Andrenalin trim absorbs some of the front end threats and the flares are softened with darker colors, but the base models threaten the bounds of conventional taste.
Ford’s designers were on target with the Sport Trac’s cabin. It’s an inviting mix of utility, convenience and style. Add the leather seating and there’s a healthy dose of luxury. Add the 510-watt Pioneer stereo system that’s standard on the Andrenalin, and there’s a raucous dose of excitement. The seats are larger and softer than expected, which help relieve some of the suspension harshness. The 60/40 rear bench seat can be folded for flat storage space. The power-operated rear glass can lowered slightly for fresh air or all the down for an open-air feeling or to facilitate a surf board. The dash is spiced with white-face gauges and titanium-accent trim. Overall, it’s an inviting atmosphere that’s flexible for work or play.
Since the Sport Trac is based on the previous generation Explorer, it comes with a 210-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine. The Sport Trac tips the scales at 4400 pounds in 4x4 trim but the 5-speed automatic keeps the engine in the fat part of the torque curve. Ford does rate the Sport Trac at 5300 pounds, but don’t try it with a full load of passengers and cargo.
The suspension is basic work-oriented truck: front torsion bars and rear leaf springs. No matter how precise the tuning, the Sport Trac rides like a really long small pickup. Ford stretched the Explorer’s wheelbase 14 inches to build the Sport Trac. That’s just four inches shy of a Chevy Suburban. The ride is somewhat supple but impact harshness is high and rear end hops over rough surfaces.
The Sport Trac appeals to anyone with an active, recreational lifestyle. It’s for guys who enjoy a pickup’s working-class values but have to consider the demands of a growing family. It’s for women who love the creature comforts of an SUV but don’t want to dirty up the inside with a gardening hobby or other messy endeavor. It’s an effective middle-of-road solution to many needs, but it doesn’t have the capability to solve large problems. The Sport Trac has universal appeal, especially to motorists who aren’t slaves to fashion. It can do a lot of things; it just doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well. The interior treats passengers with respect but the priority of the truck-like suspension is supporting heavy loads, not a comfortable ride and nimble handling.
Since J. Mays says Ford will quickly address the styling issue, hopefully that means an all-new Sport Trac will be built and based on the current Explorer platform. We’d like to see a V8, wide track and independent rear suspension to go with an SUV cab/pickup bed configuration. We know that Honda and Mitsubishi will soon have personal pickups that will go after the Sport Trac’s buyer. The idea is to make the choice between an SUV and pickup a little easier. The Sport Trac broke new ground in this arena. Let’s hope Ford fixes the glaring problems and the next model is all good news.
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