Just the thought of throwing ten dirty bags of compost into the back of an SUV makes me cringe. Getting the carpet clean means an afternoon at the car wash.
Ford s Explorer Sport Trac solves such a dilemma because the half-SUV, half-pickup has a small open bed to accommodate all manner of things that you would just as soon not have inside your vehicle. That includes muddy mountain bikes, snowblowers, mulch or camping gear. It is available with two-wheel or four-wheel drive.
The 2007 Sport Trac is quite a change from the original because it is based on the new Explorer chassis. It is more comfortable, more civilized and larger.
The Sport Trac is the same as the Explorer from the front doors forward. It shares the chrome-finished grille, aluminum hood and pronounced wheel arches. The rear doors are unique to the Sport Trac because back of the cab has a curved shape to provide visual separation between the cabin and the bed.
The 4.5-foot cargo box is made of corrosion-proof sheet molded composite. The liner is molded in. The box is notched so owners can place two 2-by-4 boards across the span to provide tiered storage of materials. The outer shell has six tie-down anchors.
Three cargo bins are integrated into the box. Two, each about the size of a car battery, are in the floor on each side toward the back. The third runs the width of the box headboard. All have weather-resistant lids and removable drain plugs for storing wet gear or ice.
The test truck was equipped with a two-section, hard bed cover that has to be removed to haul tall things. I did manage to remove it myself, but its a job made easier with two people. A better solution would be to have each section removable individually.
Even though the bed is only 4.5 feet long, it can easily be extended by leaving the tailgate open and folding out the optional tubular bed extender.
One huge advantage of the new Explorers chassis is an independent rear suspension that rides smoother than a solid axle and gives more carlike handling. It also intrudes less on cargo space.
The Sport Tracs frame is patterned after that of the F-150 pickup. The tube-through-tube design makes the frame stronger, and its resistance to bending and twisting is greater by four times. A stiff frame means the suspension can be tuned for a more compliant ride.
Engine choices include a 210-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 and a 292-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 that has 53 horses more than last year. The V-8 and its six-speed automatic transmission is my engine of choice, especially for towing or hauling heavy loads. It has 300 pound-feet of torque, variable cam timing and three-valve cylinder heads.
The V-8 accelerates well all across the rpm range and it is free from vibration or harshness. The six-speed automatic transmission has a gear for almost every situation and shifts are barely noticeable. Maximum towing capacity is 6,800 pounds with two-wheel drive.
The test truck, a V-8-powered, four-wheel-drive Limited, had a base price of $29,540.
The four-wheel-drive system automatically transfers torque to the front wheels as needed to maintain traction. The transfer case also has an extra-low gear for off-road use.
The Sport Tracs interior is shared with the Explorer, and it has a strong family resemblance to the F-150 pickup. Large dials dominate the drivers view, while the center stack has been simplified with flat knobs and push buttons. A tall gearshift is mounted on the console, which has two cup holders and a storage bin.
The cabin is much quieter than before. A variety of new materials were selected for the headliner, door panels and floor to dampen vibration and absorb noise.
The front seats were comfortable and easy to adjust. A large armrest on each door panel has a flat door handle integrated into the top. It takes time to get used to the unusual location of the door handle.
Ford has added some advanced safety equipment to the Explorer. The passenger seat can detect up to five different-size occupants, seatbelt load limiters have three resistance levels depending on the size of the person, and a crash sensor mounted in the console determines the severity of a crash and adjusts protection accordingly.
The Sport Trac has standard roll-stability control. Side canopy airbags with rollover protection for the front and second-row seats are optional.
An energy-absorbing steering column collapses in an accident, but it has an adaptive feature that tailors the rate of collapse according to the conditions of the accident.
Price: The V-8, four-wheel-drive Explorer Sport Trac Limited has a base price of $29,540. With leather seats, power sunroof, hard tonneau cover, side-canopy airbags, bed extender, roof rain crossbars and power adjustable pedals, the sticker price is $34,695.