When OEs were falling over themselves to make four-door pickups, Ford took a different approach. Instead of reworking an existing compact pickup platform (in this case, the Ranger), Ford modified an SUV platform (in this case, the Explorer). The idea worked so well that, from 2000 to 2005, Ford sold about 40,000 Sport Tracs with next to no advertising. Even when current Explorers were running around with independent rear suspensions, the Explorer Sport Trac still had the frame and chassis of the previous-gen Explorer, which meant a live axle and leaf springs. But that's all changed.

Based off the 2006 Explorer, the all-new Sport Trac has a 17-inch-longer wheelbase to close the cab and separate the bed. The four-foot, three-inch bed is made of dent-resistant plastic molded to take advantage of every inch of space. In fact, the Sport Trac bed has three hidden storage compartments. At the rear of the bed, against the bed walls, are two six-pack-size cubbies. Also at the back of the bed is a weatherproof mini-trunk that opens when a latch under the bed lip is released. A hydraulic strut pops the lid open and, as long as your arms can reach into the bed, you'll have access. We like the Sport Trac name molded into the rear of the tub and that the optional center-hinged, dual-access tonneau cover is strong enough to stand--even jump--on.

The Sport Trac will use the same engine choices available to the Explorer: a 4.0-liter SOHC 12-valve V-6 and a 4.6-liter SOHC 24-valve V-8. The big news, however, is the availability of that 292-horsepower (300 pound-feet of torque) V-8 engine--a necessity for more active lifestyles. One of only three trucks in the segment to offer a V-8 (the others being the Dakota and Raider, which have the 4.7-liter V-8), the Sport Trac is the first to offer a six-speed automatic transmission (the V-6 gets the five-speed). While the Sport Trac is clearly biased for comfy, fuel-efficient runs around town and on the highway, we were unnerved by the behavior of the transmission: It likes to hunt in some situations, while it's comfortable bogging the engine in others. At best, it'll take a new owner some time to get used to.

A noteworthy standout change is the rear independent suspension carried over from the current Explorer. Anyone familiar with the previous Sport Trac will notice the improved ride and handling dynamics. There's little body roll now, and if the stability-control software detects anything too wild, it applies brakes and reduces throttle. The longish compact pickup did an impressive job tackling our local mountain twisties--it was stable and locked to the ground, even when empty. The tires and transmission had more trouble keeping up with our energetic cornering than the chassis.

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.

2007 Explorer Sport Trac Limited
General
Location of final assembly Louisville, Kentucky
Body style 4-door, 5-pass pickup
EPA size class Midsize pickup
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Front, side, curtain
Powertrain
Engine type 90o V-8, iron block, alum heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.55 x 3.54
Displacement, ci/L 281/4.6
Compression ratio 9.8:1
Valve gear SOHC, 3 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 292 @ 5750
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 300 @ 3950
Transmission type 6-speed auto
1st 4.17:1
2nd 2.34:1
3rd 1.52:1
4th 1.14:1
5th 0.86:1
6th 0.69:1
Reverse 3.40:1
Axle ratio 3.55:1
Final drive ratio 2.45:1
Transfer-case model BW 4411
Low-range ratio 2.46:1
Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low range) 36.4:1
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 130.5
Length, in 210.2
Width, in 73.7
Height, in 71.9
Track, f/r, in 60.9/61.8
Headroom, f/r, in 39.8/38.5
Legroom, f/r, in 42.4/36.8
Shoulder room, f/r, in 59.0/58.9
Hiproom, f/r, in 55.4/55.5
Ground clearance, in 8.5
Approach/departure angle, deg 28.7/17.2
Bed size LxWxD, in 50.1 x 61.0 x 21.1
Curb weight, lb 5146
Max payload capacity, lb 1450
As tested payload, lb 1104
Max GVWR, lb 6250
Max GCWR, lb 13,000
Max towing capacity, lb 6800
Fuel capacity, gal 22.5
Chassis
Construction Ladder frame
Suspension, f/r IFS, coilover shocks/IRS, coilover shocks
Steering type Power assisted rack-and-pinion
Ratio 17.4:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.5
Turning circle, ft 41.0
Brakes, f/r 12.0-in vented disc/11.8-in disc
Wheels 18 x 7.5-in machined aluminum
Tires 235/65R18 Michelin Cross Terrain
Load/speed rating 104S
Performance
Acceleration, sec
0-30 2.4
0-40 4.1
0-50 5.8
0-60 7.9
0-70 11.2
0-80 14.6
0-90 18.6
Standing quarter mile, sec @ mph 16.2 @ 84.3
Braking, 60-0, ft 131
Speed through 600-ft slalom, mph 54.5
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy 14/20 (est)
As tested fuel economy 12.9
Sound level @ idle, dBA 50
Sound level @ 55 mph, dBA 61
Price
Base price $26,000 (est)
Price as tested $36,000 (est)

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