AT THE WHEEL REVIEWS: TRUCKS
2007 Ford Explorer Sport Track: A Different kind of Hybrid
By Frederick Staab Cruise Control Radio.com
Throughout automotive history there have always been vehicles that seem to have there tires firmly planted in not one but two categories. Take for example the El Camino’s and Ranchero’s of the past, for all purposes sedans fitted with pickup truck beds. The result, a vehicle with limited passenger room, a bed too small for heavy work and a suspension rigged for comfort as opposed to towing or hauling.
A new hybrid Pickup/SUV category has developed over the last few years. No, I’m not talking about the gas electric fuel sippers but those trucks that live in both the SUV and Pickup truck world. This time round all of the new class members, with the exception the Honda Ridgeline, sport a full perimeter frame for true truck performance. Heavy hitters include the Hummer SUT, Chevy Avalanche and the Cadillac EXT. For 2007 Ford’s Explorer Sport Trac will play nice with this group thanks to V8 availability and increased towing capacity. While the Sport Trac visually looks like an Explorer with its rear roof torched off, in reality it is quite different from its SUV cousin. True it shares most of its sheet metal from the B pillar forward and the 2006 rigid Explorer tube through frame chassis, but for 2007 Ford Engineers have added almost 17 inches to the frame sections right before they neck down behind the cab. Other chassis mods include an integrated tow bar to accommodate the step bumper and mounting provisions for a two part driveshaft. That extra 16.8 inches of frame results in a wheelbase of 130.5 inches.
The 07 model is the third version of the Sport Trac that was launched in 2001. Our tester came in the form of the upscale Limited model which for 2007 featured the now venerable 3 valve head 292 HP 4.6 liter Romeo V8. V6 models get the imported from Germany 210 horsepower engine that Ford says is cleaner than ever thanks to new engine calibrations and emission controls that clean up the tailpipe with out sacrificing power. Since we had V8 truck Ford has bolted on a class exclusive 6 speed auto.
It’s all about the Box
Let’s take a look at the bed since it is the most distinguishing trait of the Sport Trac. Made almost completely of composite materials, I say almost completely since the tail gate remains of steel construction although its weight has been pair by 7 pounds the 4.5 foot long bed can handle a load of 4 X 8’ sheet goods after a couple of (not included) 2’X4”s are placed in bedside pockets creating a second tier of storage. There are also three covered storage spaces in the bed floor however they do not lock and are no where near the size of the Honda Ridgeline’s trunk.
Our Sport Trac had the $195 optional swing out cargo cage bed extender that helped prevent our grocery bags from sliding all the way forward when it was folded into the bed and allowed us to safely carry landscape timbers when it was swung out over the bed. While the bed expander is a good way to spend your option dollars, the same can not be said for the $595 dollar hard tonneau cover. While is does allow lockage storage, we found it to be heavy and cumbersome to operate. During our “At the Wheel Test Drive” we had several days of medium to heavy rain. I noticed significant puddles of water on the bed floor. After drying them up and double checking the fit of the two piece cover the same wet situation happened again the next day. Also we did not care for the flat black color and the three protruding rubber blobs that cover up the locks. My first mod would be a smooth aftermarket one piece tilt up fiberglass tonneau sprayed in Orange Frost to match the rest of the body. And speaking of the Orange Frost paint we can’t say enough about the color. It’s marvelous metallic chips sparkled in the sunlight making it look more like a custom paint job than a standard factory color. Paint application quality was excellent with no discernable difference between the sheet metal and composite panels. We also liked the handsome 18” machined wheels that were part of the Limited group.
Tough Luxury on the inside
Tough Luxury is a theme Ford struck with the F150 and it carries over to the Limited Sport Trac. Ours came loaded with entertainment goodies including an Upgraded six disc subwoofer equipped stereo system with Sirius satellite radio. I pod and MP3 owners will be glad to know there is a sturdy steel minjack mounted on the center console. Rear seat riders enjoyed a $1295 roof mounted DVD system.
While the Sport Trac does not completely qualify as part of the get it dirty and hose it out crowd, the floor covering was rubber, something Ford Calls Tuflor. And since there is no carpet the package includes Berber cloth logo floor mats. The reverse of rubber mats on a carpeted floor traditional approach. Seats get an attractive two tone grey and black
The interior designers have gone a bit texture crazy with at least three different heavily grained patterns for interior trim and dash panels. There is also a bit of muted carbon fiber style trim around the center stack.
Driver comforts included heated seats, adjustable pedals and a class exclusive heated windshield. This probably works well when clearing ice and snow but since it’s been so warm this winter on the East Coast it was hard to evaluate. The rear cab window gets a pushbutton sliding center panel, however that means as trade off no rear defroster is offered.
We found the cab of the Sport Trac to be just as comfortable as that of an Explorer SUV Rear seat leg room and ingress and egress were about the same as it’s more traditional cousin. Of course driver and passenger door panels still have the oddly located door latch and assist handle that was designed more for crash worthiness than ergonomics. We hear a Ford rethink is on the way for this problem.
The Sport Trac gets excellent safety marks with a full complement of gear including Side canopy air bags, standard ABS, Electric Brake Distribution and Advance Trac with Roll Stability Control.
Since our test vehicle was a 4X4 Control Trac diving mode selection was easily Selected by pressing the 4X4 Auto, 4X4 High or 4X4 Low. Buttons on the console. Gear selection was handled by the Bulldozer style shift handle also lifted from the F150 parts bin.
On the road it was hard to tell you were driving a traditional body on frame truck. A big part of the smooth ride has to be credited to the independent rear suspension. The all-new suspension features coil-over springs and a stabilizer bar the have slightly stiffer rates than those of the 2006 Explorer, to accommodate the change in weight distribution.. The front and rear suspension assemblies incorporate new monotube shocks, again to take advantage of the new road isolation and frame stiffness. Compared with traditional twin-tube shocks, monotube shocks enable much softer reaction to impacts such as potholes and expansion joints.
The V8 powered Sport Trac is rated at 14 City 20 Highway we saw a combined average of 18 MPG In mixed highway and local driving.If you are on the market for an SUV but you might like something different with pickup truck type attributes, the new for 2007 Sport Trac just might fit the bill.
Specifications: 2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac Limited 4X4
Mileage on test vehicle: 1585
Color: Exterior: Orange Frost Interior: Dark Charcoal Leather
Towing Capacity: 6640 lbs. Class III hitch
Fuel Mileage: City 14 Highway 20 Observed 18
Fuel Required: 87 Octane
Safety: Advancetrac with Roll Stability Control, Side Canopy Air Bags, ABS system
Warranty: 3yr/36,000 Bumper to Bumper, 5yr/60,000 power train, 5yr/60,000 roadside assist
Major Options: Power sliding rear window, Navigation system, Power Adjustable pedals, Sirius Satellite Radio, Hard Tonneau, Rear DVD system.
Price as Tested (including delivery): $38,240.00
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