The first-generation Ford Explorer Sport Trac rode on the bones of the 1991 Explorer (which was itself derived from the 1980s-era Ranger), and while its combination of an SUV cabin and a short pickup bed was intriguing, its meager underpinnings betrayed its appeal. Fortunately, about the only things the all-new 2007 Sport Trac has in common with the old model are its name, its packaging concept, and its base engine. Riding on a stretched version of the new Explorer's frame-its wheelbase is 16.8 inches longer than the Explorer's-the Sport Trac is now five inches longer and two inches wider than its predecessor.
Unfortunately for Ford, the parameters for judging the Sport Trac have changed due to the packaging brilliance of the Honda Ridgeline. The Sport Trac lacks the Honda's locking, in-bed, weatherproof trunk and its two-way tailgate, but it has a few small bins and a full-size spare tire tucked under its four-foot-long cargo floor. The Honda's bed is five feet long. The Ford's rear seats don't fold up as quickly or as neatly as the Honda's. The Sport Trac's cabin is handsomely turned out, but it lacks the Ridgeline's plentiful storage bins. The Ford's optional heated windshield with microwires embedded in the glass is a nice trickle-down feature from Land Rover, though.
If it can't beat Honda in packaging, Ford tries to surpass it in powertrains by offering both the previous 210-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 and a newly available, 4.6-liter V-8. Mated to a six-speed automatic, the V-8 bumps maximum towing capacity to 6800 pounds, some 1800 pounds more than the Ridgeline. Ford maintains that the Sport Trac's body-on-frame construction-versus the Ridgeline's unibody-makes it better suited for towing. The Sport Trac's optional four-wheel drive has low range; four-wheel drive is standard on the Honda but doesn't include low range. Stability control is standard on both vehicles, but side-curtain air bags are optional on the Sport Trac, standard on the Ridgeline.
Our V-8 test vehicle accelerated strongly and smoothly, but a 350-mile, mostly freeway trip yielded fuel economy of only 15 mpg. The Sport Trac has a comfortable, if slightly stiff, ride and well-controlled body motions, thanks to a new independent rear suspension and a frame Ford claims is, almost comically, some 444 percent stiffer than the last model's. The steering has good feedback and feel.
Ford also undercuts the Ridgeline in base prices, with the Sport Trac retailing for between $24,940 and $30,235, versus $28,320 to $35,190 for the Honda. Although the Ford doesn't ooze the feeling of quality and refinement that the Honda does, that price differential should be enough to make a lot of potential buyers forget they ever needed an underfloor trunk.