Ford pioneered the four-door sport/utility truck in the 2001 model year with its Explorer Sport Trac, a V-6-only model based on the old-generation four-door Explorer. At the time, it looked like Ford had trumped Nissan, which showed its SUT concept a few years earlier. Then again, maybe not: The Sport Trac didn't exactly take the market by storm, but did sell a consistent 40,000 units per year. Now, with the Honda Ridgeline on the market, Ford is hoping it's found the right combination of new ideas. This time, the 2007 Explorer Sport Trac is based on the current-generation Explorer and includes its all-new independent rear suspension and optional 4.6-liter V-8 engine. All the sheetmetal forward of the B-pillar is shared with the Explorer, making the new Sport Trac more than five inches longer overall and nearly two inches wider than the vehicle it replaces. In fact, the new model's wheelbase is 16.7 inches longer than its donor platform Explorer.

It has a 4.5-foot molded composite cargo box with an inner liner with tie-down anchors, plus three cargo bins. On each side of the bed, directly in front of the tailgate, molded into the sidewalls, are two six-pack-size lockable bins, each with a drain plug--just in case you want to store ice inside. The third storage bin runs along the back of the bed, near the headboard, just large enough for some tools, tow straps, a tow hitch, and a first-aid kit. Towing capacity for the new vehicle is 6800 pounds, with a maximum payload rating of 1400. The interior features rubber floor coverings and optional two-tone leather seats.

The overall interior appearance, much like that of the new Explorer, is meant to mirror the current F-150. Safety features include AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD, and optional Safety Canopy side curtain airbags. The 4.0-liter V-6 models will offer a five-speed automatic, while 4.6-liter V-8s will have a six-speed automatic.

Are an optional V-8 and better ride and handling enough to ensure the new Sport Trac doesn't get lost in the woods? Our guess is yes, because these vehicles are going to give a lot of people (likely many of them women) a more comfortable alternative to traditionally rugged compact and midsize pickups. Look for the all-new Sport Trac to go on sale in spring with an average transaction price above $30,000.