During slalom testing, the Advance Trac controls were quick to intrude: They redistributed braking and cut engine power. In a straight line, however, the new heavier Sport Trac beat the old V-6 version by a full second to 60 mph, but only by a half second in the quarter mile. Likewise, the 60-to-0-mph stopping distance improved by seven feet. Another major plus: Engineers retuned the rearend with different spring rates, monotube valving, and a unique stabilizer-bar setting to make the Sport Trac feel just as stable as the current Explorer.

Other significant improvements worth noting include a host of safety features shared with the Explorer: advanced ABS software, specifically designed (with the use of automatic braking) to help keep all four wheels on the ground at all times, which works with Roll Stability Control and Advance Trac safety systems.

Look for the Explorer Sport Trac to be offered in several trim levels, with the topline rig, called Limited, to include things like a power moonroof, steering-wheel controls, safety canopy, heated windshield, power pedals, protective tonneau cover, and two-tone leather bucket seats. Although pricing wasn't released as of press time, expect base prices to start around $26,000 and work their way up to $36,000. Look for Sport Tracs in showrooms by April 2006.