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Ford gets on track with new Explorer Sport Trac

April 14, 2006|by MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

Ford believes there's a happy medium between too little and too much truck. That's why the company has reintroduced the Explorer sport-utility-based Sport Trac, positioned between the junior-sized Ranger pickup and its full-size F-150 brother.

The first Sport Trac rolled out for 2001, just in time to cash in on the emerging popularity of multi-tasking vehicles. It was basically a four-door sport-utility vehicle with a tiny utility bed out back. That limited the volume and dimensions of what you could bring home from the lumber yard, but it was well suited for just about any normal household task, from transporting shrubs to toting the barbecue to a baseball game.

After a brief hiatus, the Sport Trac is back with significant increases in size and power, upgrades that closely mimic those found in the new-for-'06 Explorer.

In fact, viewed from the front, it's virtually impossible to spot the difference between the Sport Trac truck and the Explorer sport-ute. However, Ford's designers extended the shared (and stiffer by a claimed 444 percent) boxed frame, adding close to 17 inches between the front and rear wheels in the process. They also grafted the Explorer's independent rear suspension onto the Sport Trac's chassis to enhance ride and handling, compared to the previous solid-axle setup.

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As with the last Sport Trac, the new model uses a composite (plastic) box with a molded-in scratch-and-dent-resistant bed liner. At slightly less than 50 inches in length, there are still limits as to how much and what kind of stuff can be carried, but it will accommodate loads of up to 1,380 pounds, including a stack of 4x8 sheets of building material with the tailgate lowered. As before, an optional tubular aluminum cargo cage extends the secure area by the depth the tailgate.

Built into the bed floor are three separate storage bins that provide a secure area for valuables or for keeping beverages ice cold (each has a handy drain plug if you want to fill it with ice). The bed can be covered with an available lockable hard tonneau.

As with the first Sport Trac, the new model arrives with a V-6. However, this time around you'll also be able to specify a 292-horsepower 4.6-liter V-8. That means a maximum towing capacity of 6,800 pounds compared with 5,310 for the standard 210-horsepower V-6. Both engines are coupled to automatic transmissions; a five-speed for the V-6; and a six-speed for the V-8.

The starting-point XLT comes with a wide assortment of features, including air conditioning, tilt steering, keyless remote entry, CD player, 16-inch alloy wheels and a Class II trailer hitch. Opting for the Limited adds automatic on/off headlamps, six-way power driver's seat, floor console, fog lamps and 18-inch wheels. From that point, you can load up on options such as climate control, a power moonroof, leather seats (heated in front), an overhead console, power adjustable pedals, premium audio system and a heated windshield.

All Sport Tracs benefit from the Explorer sport-ute's safety gear, which includes anti-lock disc brakes, stability and traction control and tire pressure monitoring. Side-curtain air bags are optional.

Since the debut of the original Sport Trac, the world has turned a time or two and four-door pickups are far from unique. However, this Explorer offshoot shows off its expansive passenger room and better-than-adequate hauling capacity in a package that's more visually appealing than most, no matter the size.

Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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