With the absence of a new Lightning F-150 for two years now, Ford is scrambling. With the huge investment of time and money the GT supercar required from Ford and its Special Vehicle Team, resources had to be focused. This meant the next-generation Lightning would have to be "indefinitely" delayed. As far as anyone is willing to say on the record, it doesn't look like anything will happen for several more years. In the meantime, however, Ford excitement junkies have been thrown a bone in the form of a 390-horsepower (10 more than the 2003 SVT Lightning), all-wheel-drive Sport Trac, called, appropriately enough, the Adrenalin. Naturally, Ford is hoping to inject some exhilaration into the veins of Ford enthusiasts, but, probably more to the point, Ford Truck and SUV is in desperate need of some high-performance credibility.

The new Sport Trac pickup was presented at the Detroit auto show last January (foreshadowing many of the SVT Adrenalin's design cues) to rave reviews. Ford has dramatically improved the midsize SUT by scrapping the old-school, live-rear-axle Explorer platform and adapting an all-new frame and chassis from the current-generation, independent rearend Explorer. On a 130.5-inch wheelbase, the SVT-tuned Adrenalin has unique springs, anti-roll bars, and shock valving to make it grip the corners when pushed. Additionally, a new all-wheel-drive transfer case adjusts various amounts of traction to the front and rear wheels to help with energetic launch requests. Jay O'Connell, SVT chief engineer, puts it this way: "A longstanding problem with performance trucks was their inability to hook up from a standing start without excessive wheelspin. This all-wheel-drive system puts power down through all four tires, helping Adrenalin launch with impressive authority."

Ford hopes that by choosing a smaller platform for its performance truck, enthusiasts will note the weight savings when comparing specs and driving feel to the much heavier full-size performance trucks like the Ram Quad Cab SRT-10 and the Silverado SS. Certainly, the Adrenalin looks to have an impressive power-to-weight ratio with close to 400 horsepower, but the deciding factor will most likely be whether the transmission software will let all that power through the drivetrain. We'll have more after we get a chance to drive it.

When the Adrenalin made its debut at the New York auto show, many in attendance thought it was the same Sport Trac revealed only a month earlier in Detroit. The visual cues were so close, we had to take a second look. But that's part of the new SVT strategy. Rather than emphasize a unique look like the regular-cab shortbed F-150 Lightning, SVT is moving closer to the Mercedes-Benz AMG or BMW M models--high-performance vehicles with an understated design. That means only discerning performance aficionados will be able to distinguish between the Explorer and its SVT counterpart (with the TrailBlazer SS here, we expect Ford will have to do it), or the Sport Trac and the Adrenalin.--M.W.

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