Conventional thinking tells us "if it's got a cargo box on the back, it must be a truck." Ford's attempting to blow away this notion with the 2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, a fresh, four-door something-or-other that, in spite of the 2001 model designation, will be available in showrooms about the time you read this.
Explorer label or no, the Sport Trac shares wheelbase, drivetrain, and much of its basic structure with the Ranger SuperCab-a truck, right? But as you can see, most of the body panels are different-and bursting with attitude. While Dodge and Nissan took a more conventional styling approach to their four-door pickups, Ford employs the Sport Trac's edgy look as one way to differentiate it from existing products.
Of particular interest is the 50-inch-long cargo box itself, constructed entirely of various Sheet Molded Compounds-a fancy term for super tough plastic. It boasts lighter weight than steel and 100-percent corrosion resistance. Those tiedowns on the upper edges of the rear fenders are functional, the bed contains a weather-protected power point, and the Sport Trac's power rear window retracts fully to allow access between the box and the rear passenger compartment.
The Sport Trac has taken the rough-and-tumble, active lifestyle theme inside. Faux aluminum trim materials cover the door pulls and various bits of the instrument panel, which itself sports light gray-faced gauges. While there may be (optional) leather on the seats, there's easy-to-clean rubber on the floor, dressed up with heavy-duty removable Berber mats. A neat piece that will soon filter its way into many Ford products is a new CD stereo system that accepts six discs right into the dash-no more rummaging around in the trunk or glovebox. Rear seat room is adequate in most dimensions, with only legroom a bit compromised for taller passengers. And Ford thoughtfully offers back-seaters a second set of audio controls and climate vents, at the rear of the center console.
There's only one powertrain offering initially fitted to both 4x2 and 4x4 models, the Explorer's 4.0-liter SOHC V-6. It cranks out 205 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. Similarly, the only transmission available is a five-speed automatic, however, a five-speed manual will follow later this year. Though the Sport Trac is intended for people and their lifestyle gear or home improvement trappings, as opposed to a pure workaday tool, payload and tow ratings are certainly adequate at (up to) 1500 and 5260 pounds, respectively. The V-6/automatic is relatively smooth and quiet. Ride quality is better than we've come to expect from leaf-sprung, pickup-class vehicles, emphasizing the Sport Trac's "people and stuff" nature. Wind noise is commendably low, and cracking open the power rear window brings a welcome breath of fresh air. This will make an exceptional family traveler.
There are people who want sport/utility attributes-like room for five and aggressive styling-combined with some outside-the-cabin cargo capacity. The Sport Trac packs it all into one slickly designed, neatly styled, and attractively priced rig-no matter what you call it.
|Vehicle configuration ||Front engine, rear drive, four-door, four-pass. |
|Engine type ||90° V-6, SOHC, 2 valves/cyl. |
|Displacement ci/cc ||244.7/4011 |
|Horsepower, hp @ rpm, SAE net ||205 @ 5250 |
|Torque, lb-ft @ rpm, SAE net ||240 @ 3750 |
|Transmission type ||5-speed automatic |
|Wheelbase, in./mm ||125.9/3198 |
|Base curb weight, lb ||4183 |
|Acceleration, 0-60 mph, sec ||8.5 |
|Standing quarter mile, mph/sec ||16.6/83.0 |
|Braking, 60-0 mph, ft ||121 |
|Lateral acceleration, g ||0.70 |
|Speed through 600-ft slalom, mph ||54.8 |
|EPA fuel economy, mpg, city/hwy. ||16/20 |
|Base price ||$22,500 |
|Price as tested ||$25,565 |