First Look: 2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac
By: Mike Magda, Editor Posted: 09-29-05 10:15 PT
© 2005

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The 2007 Explorer Sport Trac, the innovator of the 4-door compact pickup design and an important conquest vehicle for Ford, was introduced at the Texas State Fair today (Sept. 29, 2005).

Ford first previewed the new Sport Trac with a concept version at the 2005 Detroit auto Show last January. The production version has been toned down with less bling, tighter lines and more useful content. It also has an optional 292-horsepower V8 engine that will help the Sport Trac compete against midsized crew cab pickups from Dodge, GM, Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Honda.

Since the crew-cab pickup market has exploded in recent years, going from about 5 percent of total pickup sales to more than 40 percent, the Sport Trac is a must-be-hit for Ford since the company doesn’t produce a crew-cab Ranger. Instead of appealing directly to pickup buyers, Ford is leveraging the success of the Explorer to drive sales. Officials say the Sport Trac is one of the most successful conquest vehicles for Ford dealers. Ford doesn’t break out Sport Tracs from the Explorer sales report, but officials have said the vehicle accounts for up to 20 percent of all Explorer sales. That would put the Sport Trac in the 60,000 to 70,000 sales category. But with the increased interest in crew cab configurations, that number could go higher if pricing and content make the Sport Trac more attractive to the target audience.

Also helping the new Sport Trac should be loyal customer base. Despite horrible press reports about the previous generation receiving the government’s lowest safety rollover rating, the Sport Trac scored very well in customer satisfaction ratings. Ford has addressed those rollover concerns with a complete offering of advanced safety equipment, including Advance Trac with Roll Stability Control and side-curtain air bags.

A major carryover feature of the Sport Trac is the composite 4-foot cargo box with outside-mounted tie-downs. The unit is constructed of corrosion-proof sheet-molded composite (SMC) with a molded-in black inner liner. The two-tier loading design allows placement of 4x8 sheets of plywood. Ford has also added three integrated cargo bins—each with lids and drain plugs—in the bed; a pair of six-pack-sized bins on each side near the rear bed uprights and one that runs the length of the box headboard. We saw this arrangement on the concept vehicle and felt the middle box was very difficult to reach from outside the bed, meaning that most users would have to crawl into the bed to access the cargo bin. The usual accessories such as bed extender and locking hard tonneau are again available.

The exterior blends cues from the Explorer and F-150 pickup. The production version is much cleaner than the concept, which was burdened with phony side exhausts on the front fenders and swooping body lines from the box down to integrated running boards. The grille is still rather imposing but other features such as the wheel arches and wheel design are restrained enough to achieve a harmonious overall appearance.

Inside, the Sport Trac has a rubber floor covering for easy cleanup and Berber-carpeted floor mats for comfort. Most of the Explorer amenities are available, such as leather seating, heated front seats, satellite radio and MP3/CD player are available.

Standard engine is a 4.0-liter V6 that Ford says emits fewer emissions than the Honda Accord Hybrid. It’s rated at 210 horsepower and is backed by a 5-speed automatic transmission. Also available is a 4.6-liter V8 engine rated at 292 horsepower, the highest of any mid-sized pickup. It comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission and boosts the Sport Trac’s towing capacity to 6800 pounds. Max payload is 1430 pounds. Ford says the big engine will get more than 20mpg on the highway.

A new frame features the F-150’s tube-through-frame design that results in a 444 percent increase in stiffness compared to the previous Sport Trac. The frame is similar to the Explorer’s except that the wheelbase is stretched 16.8 inches and the spare-tire carrier is integrated into the rear assembly. Front suspension is an SLA design with coil-over shocks while the rear gets a new independent setup with coil-overs. Four-wheel-disc brakes are standard.

Advance Trac with Roll Stability Control integrates three systems: ABS, traction control and yaw control. It’s designed to automatically engage to help keep all four wheels on the ground if the system detects a significant roll angle.

Production will begin in the spring of 2006 at the Louisville, Kentucky, plant. Production of the old Sport Trac ceased in June.

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