2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac
2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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Back in 1957, Ford introduced a combination of car and pickup truck which it dubbed the Ranchero. It had its drawbacks, including limited passenger space and a payload restricted by its light-duty suspension, but it offered car comfort with cargo utility, and it lasted for 23 years. For 2001, Ford introduced a similar concept, the Sport Trac: half SUV, half pickup truck. The Sport Trac took a year off when the 2006 Explorer was completely redesigned, but it’s back for 2007, now based on its parent vehicle’s all-new makeover from the B-pillar forward. Predictably longer, wider and taller than the version it replaces, the new Sport Trac isn’t a replacement for a traditional pickup, but surprisingly, it’s more useful than it looks.

Two engine choices are available: a 4.0-litre V6 that’s been improved to meet federal Tier II, Bin 4 tailpipe emissions (the same, Ford says, as the Escape Hybrid), and my tester’s 4.6-litre V8. The bigger powerplant is a first for the Sport Trac, which used to be exclusively V6-powered. The V8 is an all-new version developed for the 2006 Explorer, and uses three-valve technology to boost it from the previous 239 hp to 292 hp, with torque increasing from 282 lb-ft to 300 lb-ft. Official fuel figures aren’t yet available, but my tester returned 16.0 L/100 km (18 mpg Imp). To ease gas pump pains somewhat, it only requests 87-octane fuel.

The V6 mates exclusively to a five-speed automatic, while the V8 hooks to a six-speed automatic. Both engine versions are available in rear- or four-wheel drive, and both come in either XLT or my tester’s top-end Limited trim. All come with four doors and a four-foot-one (1272 mm) pickup box.

2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac
2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac
2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac
2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac. Click image to enlarge

The well-optioned Limited comes with numerous features, including automatic headlamps, 18-inch aluminum wheels, silver step bars and six-way power driver’s seat; my tester was further optioned with a power moonroof, heated windshield, bed extender, locking hard tonneau cover, curtain airbags and a Class III trailer towing package. That last option drew rave reviews from my camping-and-fishing neighbour, who was impressed with the easy access to the electrical plug.

The Limited’s step bars are, like many, too narrow to be useful and too wide to step across. But once you do get into the Sport Trac, you settle into very comfortable seats – two-tone leather, in my case – and a simple but attractive cluster and centre stack. I’ve found varying fit-and-finish in some Ford products over the last few years, but if the Sport Trac is any indication, the company has turned the corner; materials are good quality and gaps are small and even. All models have an easy-clean rubberized floor, as all trucks should, but it would make more sense if the folding rear seats were plastic-backed instead of carpeted, to make them easier to tidy up as well.

2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac
2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac
2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac. Click image to enlarge

The only misstep – and it’s a glaring one – is the fact that when you get the Explorer’s interior, you also get its door handles. The perfect example of form over function, they’re both gorgeous and useless. The pull handle is too low, the release handle is too awkward, and if the wind catches the door, your first instinct is to grab the armrest, which has no handle cut-out and will slip out of your fingers.

The V8 has no trouble moving the Sport Trac around, and accelerates admirably off the line; there’s enough sound-deadening material tucked into this truck that it’s very quiet no matter what the speed. Both its wheelbase and overall length are 427 mm (16.8 in.) longer than the Explorer, with a correspondingly larger turning radius, but I still found that the Sport Trac felt somewhat more nimble, even though the lock-to-lock difference is only 3.4 versus the Explorer’s 3.6 turns.

The new Sport Trac is considerably stiffer than its predecessor – 444 per cent so, according to Ford – and features a new independent rear suspension. The result is a smooth ride, especially on the highway, where the Sport Trac eats up long distances while leaving passengers comfortable throughout the entire trip. On rough roads, even frost heaves and potholes fail to knock the rear wheels off track.

2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac
2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac
2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac. Click image to enlarge

The clever pickup box includes three integrated cargo bins, two smaller ones at the rear and a larger one up by the cab. All have lids and removable drain plugs, so you can arrive at the tailgate party with your beverages already on ice and with no cooler to carry. The box is naturally limited by its length, but an optional bed extender increases the length: drop the tailgate, flip the extender cage onto it, and the tailgate becomes a usable addition. The extender also snaps out of the box easily when it isn’t needed, and at $230 it’s a worthwhile and not terribly expensive option. The available locking tonneau keeps goods stored securely, but you’ll need a helper if you want to remove it completely.

All 4WD models feature Control Trac, which uses an electronically-controlled two-speed transfer case that runs in automatic mode under normal conditions, transferring torque as required to provide maximum traction.

2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac
2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac
2007 Ford Explorer Sporttrac. Click image to enlarge

Buttons on the centre stack engage the 4×4 High for off-road conditions, and 4×4 Low for extra power under extreme conditions. With the bed stuffed full of tools and a generator, and the system set into 4×4 High, the Sport Trac tackled a deep and very muddy field en route to a parts car I needed to access. Two-wheel drive should be enough for most people, but four-wheel capability will be appreciated by the more adventurous, who can pack up to five people in the cab and a load of camping gear in the box. The Sport Trac can also handle between 2331 kg (5140 lbs) and 3084 kg (6800 lbs) of towed weight, depending on engine and driveline configuration, which slots it in nicely with the Ranger and the F-150.

The Sport Trac is still a big vehicle, which means it won’t be on everyone’s wish list; its extra length means you’ll need even more space than the Explorer to park it, and its V8 looks less appealing as gas prices climb higher. But it’s a well-done vehicle, and while the idea of a small pickup box tacked on an SUV may seem gimmicky, it’s considerably more useful than it initially looks. If you’re considering the Explorer, but you prefer the loading ease of a conventional truck, give this one a second look. The Ranchero lasted more than two decades, and with good reason: the configuration may be a compromise, but it works.


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