First Drive: 2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac
By: Mike Magda Posted: 04-10-06 23:58 PT
© 2006

Page: [1] [2] [Chris Brewer Interview]

The 4-door compact pickup truck market is a little more crowded and compelling with the release of the next-generation 2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac.

Despite a few scandalous moments in its previous life, the Sport Trac enjoys perhaps the most enthusiastic customer base of any Ford truck product, especially with female buyers. Now enjoying a quieter ride, full list of standard safety features and available V8 engine, it can leverage that popularity to maintain, if not improve, its position in a market that has expanded in opportunities but is shrinking in sales.

Ford doesn’t provide sales numbers for the Sport Trac, but officials hint that the Sport Trac is responsible for 20 to 25 percent of Explorer sales. That’s pencils out to about 60,000 units a year, more than any other 4-door compact pickup with the possible exception of the Toyota Tacoma. The new Honda Ridgeline is on track to surpass its original sales goal 50,000 units a year, but the new Sport Trac may slow down the Ridgeline’s momentum for two reasons: price and power.

The Ridgeline is often criticized for lack of a V8. The Sport Trac offers a 292-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 backed by a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Ridgeline’s V6 is worth a healthy 255 horsepower, and the Ridgeline is about 350 pounds lighter than the Sport Trac, but the American appetite for a V8 exhaust note is as strong as ever. Ford officials say the V8 option is exercised in about 25 percent of all Explorers. For the Sport Trac, that figure jumps to 40 percent. In other words, Sport Trac owners are more aggressive.

A 4x4 Sport Trac has a starting price of $27,435 while a 2-wheel-drive version can be purchased for as low as $24,940. The lowest-priced Ridgeline is $28,320. The Sport Trac is still higher priced than comparable crew-cab midsize pickups.

The Sport Trac was first designed for active, recreational lifestyles, or at least those who pretended to have active, recreational lifestyles. As the innovator in this segment, it could get by with a single trim level and few options. Now the truck has grown up, offering luxury trims and amenities to serve a wider group of customers. It still has the mixed marriage configuration of an SUV cab and small composite pickup bed. The rubber floor covering with its hose-it-out flexibility is still there, but under nice carpeted floor mats.

More important in the Sport Trac’s maturation is the addition of just about every safety feature possible. The previous Sport Trac was not built on the previous generation Explorer but the first generation Explorer. The old Sport Trac was associated with the Explorer/Firestone controversy and also was saddled with the worst rollover rating from NHTSA. Now that the new Sport Trac is based on the current generation Explorer, it’s actually skipped a generation and the differences are very dramatic.

Page: [1] [2] [Chris Brewer Interview]