If you have an outdoor or work-oriented lifestyle, an SUV may not be ideal. You can get away with it, but you may spend a lot of time cleaning carpets and floormats. When your softball-pitcher kid comes in from throwing five games straight in 100-degree heat, what you really need is part truck, part passenger-friendly SUV: Keep the people inside and any muddy, smelly sports equipment outside. Ford, among others, attempted to fill that need with the Sport Trac, introduced in late 2000 as a 2001 model based on the second-gen Explorer.

The operation was straightforward and premeditated, as the Sport Trac was based on the Adrenalin show vehicle of 1996. Ford stiffened the Explorer's frame, lengthened it by more than 14 inches, enclosed the cabin just behind the second row of seats, and bolted on a tall-sided, 4-foot, 2-inch-long composite bed. Promotional photos showed a dirt bike perched precariously in the demi-bed, rear wheel sitting on the open tailgate. Now, we know the Sport Trac's SMC bed, replete with several hooks and tiedown features, won't cut it for bulky items like motorcycles, 4x8 sheets of plywood, or a cord of firewood. But what the Sport Trac did manage very well was the separation of a weekend's softball gear-malodorous socks, muddy cleats, and all-from the odor-free interior.

By the time the Sport Trac arrived, Ford had already given the 10-year-old Explorer a useful facelift, a general upgrade in interior shapes and materials, and upgraded powertrain options-and the Sport Trac benefited from them, too. When the Sport Trac went on sale, the Explorer's unimpressive and groaning 160-horsepower, 4.0-liter OHV V-6 had been replaced with a 205-horsepower, 240 pound-foot SOHC V-6 of the same displacement, and that more powerful, more refined V-6 became the Sport Trac's sole engine for this generation. The familiar 5.0-liter V-8-the venerable Ford 302- never made it into thhe Sport Trac, and the 4.6-liter V-8 was not offered until 2007. From 2001 to 2003, a five-speed manual was the baseline transmission, with the five-speed automatic an option, but few Sport Tracs were sold with the manual gearbox. By 2004, the automatic was standard on all trim levels. Two- and four-wheel-drive versions were on the menu.

Initially, there was one trim level, with the main differentiation the number of driven wheels. But by 2003, Ford applied the XLS (base) and XLT (uplevel) trim names; that year, the automatic became standard on the XLT. A gussied-up Adrenalin version made its debut for 2004 and carried through this generation's last year in 2005.

Based on our research, the 2001-2002 Sport Trac has notable reliability problems with engine sensors, 4WD components, transmissions, and a failure-prone differential speed sensor, which was part of the ABS.

Also, 2003-and-later models have a much quieter maintenance record, though it's clear from owner feedback that the Sport Trac isn't as durable as, say, a Toyota 4Runner. Despite its size-don't discount the cabin, which is roomier than that of any half-ton extended-cab pickup of the same period-the Sport Trac does okay on fuel economy. For non-flex-fuel vehicles, this generation provides 13-15 mpg city and 18-20 highway. Incidentally, the 2004-2005 Sport Tracs are flexible-fuel vehicles, which are able to run on E85, though the mpg suffers (10 city/13-14 highway when using E85).


2001-2005 Ford Explorer Sport Trac
Body type 4-door pickup
Drivetrain Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Dual front
Engine 4.0L/205-hp SOHC V-6
Brakes, f/r Disc/disc, ABS
Price range, whlsl/ret (IntelliChoice) $5430/$8638 (2002 RWD); $10,220/$14,827 (2005 Adrenalin 4WD)
Recalls Too many to list; see www.intellichoice.com
NHTSA frontal impact rating, driver/pass Not rated