By any yardstick, the Explorer is one of the most successful vehicles Ford has ever built. With millions on the road, the product planners in Dearborn sought to expand the Explorer family by developing a hybrid model that blended basic Explorer architecture with a short bed from a pickup, generating new sales in an untapped lifestyle niche. Introduced in model-year 2000, the Sport Trac is aimed at buyers who'd never consider a normal pickup but need more cargo-carrying capacity than in a conventional SUV. Motor Trend took delivery of a Toreador Red '01 4x2 model and immediately started to roll the odometer.

Though our long-term Sport Trac was well-equipped with standard features, we added the Leather comfort group ($1495), which includes leather seats, a front overhead console, floor console, and a six-way power driver's seat. Another box was checked for the Convenience Group ($750), consisting of speed control, leather tilt wheel, autolock, and remote keyless entry. The $270 AM/FM stereo with in-dash six-disc changer rounded out interior fitments. Two more options filled the window sticker: a 3.73:1 limited-slip rear axle ($355) and the $195 cargo cage, a cleverly hinged tubular bed extender that increases the capacity of the 4-ft-long composite bed to accept items almost 6 ft in length. With a base MSRP of $22,500, plus the price of options and destination and delivery, the total tab was $26,140. Worth it?

Based on the four-door Explorer, our Sport Trac has the strengths and weaknesses of America's best-selling SUV. While Ford classifies it as a sport/utility, the Sport Trac is a truck and suffers from a truckish ride. Executive Editor Matt Stone noted, "I'd expect some ride harshness in a stiffly sprung sports car, but not in a vehicle where the primary focus is people and a little bit of stuff, not max cornering or max tow/cargo capability. It's not awful, but it ain't great."

A number of staffers wanted to see the optional 16-in. wheel/tire package installed, but the standard 15-in. wheels had enough sidewall to absorb pothole impacts. However, the Firestone Wilderness HT mud and snow tires tended to squeal during spirited cornering. Rapid handling transitions weren't the Sport Trac's forte, as evidenced by a slalom speed of only 55.7 mph during our instrumented testing. Senior Road Test Editor Chris Walton remarked, "I had little confidence in the suspension to work with the driver in emergency avoidance maneuvers." This was not a vehicle the staff tended to drive at 10/10ths.