Driver's Seat - Is This The Next SVT? - May 2005
This issue starts with in-depth coverage of the Los Angeles and Detroit auto shows with an emphasis on Detroit in our News section. The light-truck market is in the midst of a transformation, as you'll no doubt pick up from the new models and especially the concepts the factories produced for this year's show season.
The crossover, or sport wagon, segment is where the automakers are competing to gain market share. These unibody-constructed SUVs, a class that includes the segment's best-selling Ford Escape, saw its sales increase 18 percent in 2004, while traditional body-on-frame light trucks sales fell by 2.6 percent, so the automaker's interest in the segment is not surprising.
What is surprising is how crowded the segment is getting with 12 new entries unveiled in Detroit in addition to the '06 Chevy HHR introduced in Los Angeles. Each design is attempting to achieve the elusive balance of the convenience and utility of a minivan and yet sporting style that screams this vehicle is not a minivan, combined with near-sports-car performance. That's a tall order, but the designers and engineers are always surprising us with some cool-looking, great-performing machines. Chevy's Equinox, the Saturn VUE Redline, and the Ford Escape come to mind.
But in my opinion, the coolest-looking sport truck this year is the Ford Explorer Sport Trac concept. With the demise of the SVT Lighting F-150 program, this concept absolutely screamed to me that it should be the next SVT sport truck. It borrowed a few styling elements from the '04 SVT F-150 Lightning concept, and is powered with a 4.6L V-8, is a four-door pickup - the strongest-selling segment of body-on-frame light trucks - and it just plain looks right.
In seems a natural fit to me. After all, Ford invented the sport-utility truck segment in 2001, with the first-generation Explorer Sport Trac - the first sport-utility vehicle with the versatility of four full doors, a roomy interior, and a pickup truck's cargo box.
The second-generation concept Sport Trac stands on 21-inch wheels, lowered just enough to get ride of the gap between the tire and fender, and is further styled in fashionable colors and trim. Its stance and the white exterior, accented with soft metal shades, subtle grays, and sparse brightwork, give it enough bling to appeal to a wide range of buyers without getting into niche styling and tastes.
But more important is that the Explorer Sport Trac concept features a performance-tuned 4.6L Triton V-8. Yeah! Lets put all those Cobra parts to work in a sport truck. The marketing material says the inclusion of a V-8 addresses current Explorer Sport Trac owners' requests for more towing performance. Sure. Whatever it takes to get more power into this package.
I talked with one of the media contacts at SVT about the idea of supercharging it, tuning the suspension, all the tricks SVT is known for, and while he wouldn't confirm or deny anything, it sounded like some members of the SVT crew were thinking the same thing.
That's a good sign, as my sources tell me that the concept is very close to the production version that is virtually guaranteed to go into production. How soon, I don't know. But I'd guess 2006 is likely. And even if SVT doesn't build one, there are enough aftermarket parts for the engine and Explorer platform that it'd be reasonably easier to build your own four-door Lightning. I want one.
The balance of the issue is jam-packed with some of the hottest features vehicles you'll find anywhere (we're heavy on Tahoe this issue) and a performance section for late-model GM truck and SUV owners. We cover the ins and outs (literally) of the Gen III V-8, a review of the Joe Gibbs Performance '05 Tahoe, all backed up with a buyer's/source guide to get you pointed in the right direction.
We also have one of the cleanest mobile entertainment installs in a Denali. It's a wild machine caught on film by lens-man Rich Chenet, so enjoy the creative angles and images. And while we're talking creative angles and mobile entertainment, be sure to check out the latest from the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show. Our autotronics specialist Rich Truesdel bored through the mountains of hype and brought us only the best new products of interest to Sport Truck readers.
We round it out with show coverage of our Texas Extreme event and some easy bolt-on custom upgrades, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how the truck show judges look at your ride. Enjoy.