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Part truck, part SUV, Ford's Explorer Sport Trac attempts to marry the best of both worlds into one unique crossover vehicle.
SUV comfort paired to a pickup truck bed, workhorse V6, features galore, new Safety Canopy airbag system.
Based on 13-year-old previous-generation Explorer platform, can't carry as much as a real pickup, sub-par off-road ability.
Available Explorer Sport Trac Crew Cab Models
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Ford updates the Sport Trac's interior with new low-back bucket seats, revised door trim and updated colors. When leather upholstery is ordered, the front seats are six-way power adjustable and can be heated and equipped with power lumbar support. To improve safety, Ford's Safety Canopy side airbag system with rollover sensors is newly available, as are standard rear disc brakes. Lastly, an Adrenaline Edition debuts mid-year with a 485-watt Pioneer sound system and new colors.
Introduction: Ford introduced the Sport Trac version of the Explorer for 2001 to capitalize on the trend toward compact crew-cab pickups. The Sport Trac is based on the previous-generation Explorer, which itself was based on the Ranger pickup platform. With unique front styling, an Explorer cabin and a composite plastic bed with cargo tie-downs, the Sport Trac is marketed as a versatile SUV for people who the need the flexibility of an open cargo bed combined with seating for five.
Body Styles, Trims and Options: Available only with four doors and your choice of two- or four-wheel drive, the Sport Trac is offered in XLS, XLT and XLT Premium trims. Even XLS models are well equipped and come with dark tinted rear glass, roof rails, skid plates (4WD only), air conditioning, power door locks, power windows and a CD player. Go with an XLT and get power side mirrors, remote keyless entry, a leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, cruise control, Berber carpeted floor mats, alloy wheels, and premium sound. The top-line XLT Premium includes unique alloy wheels and a special center console that features rear audio and climate controls.
Major options offered on the Sport Trac include the Convenience Group for the XLS, the Premium Sport Group and Comfort Group for the XLT, and heated leather seating for the XLT Premium. The Convenience Group grants many features found on the XLT, while the Premium Sport Group provides bright cast aluminum wheels, fog lights, front tow hooks (on 4WD only), larger all-terrain tires and side step bars. The Comfort Group offers a six-way power driver's seat, power lumbar support for driver and front passenger, rear climate and audio controls with special center console, overhead console with compass and exterior temperature display and an electrochromic rearview mirror.
Other options offered on the Sport Trac are a six-disc in-dash CD changer, a cargo cage/bed extender, a power moonroof, the new Safety Canopy side airbag and rollover protection system, and a hard tonneau cover for the bed.
Powertrains and Performance: The standard and only engine available in the Explorer Sport Trac is a 4.0-liter single overhead cam V6 making 203 horsepower at 5,250 rpm and 237 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. A five-speed manual is offered only on the most basic XLS models; all others come equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission. Shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive is optional.
Safety: For 2003, Ford has increased safety equipment on the Sport Trac by swapping the truck's previous drum rear brakes for rear discs. ABS is standard. Also new this year is an optional Safety Canopy side airbag system that also employs rollover sensors to protect occupants in the event the truck flips over.
Though the Sport Trac has not been crash tested, previous-generation Explorers generally earned high marks for frontal- and side-impact crash test results. The Sport Trac receives two out of four stars in rollover resistance rating.
Interior Design and Special Features: Based on the previous-generation Explorer's dash design, and sharing many interior features with the Ranger pickup, the Sport Trac jazzes things up with the use of white-faced gauges and special gray trim that is supposed to emulate metal. For 2003, Ford updates the Sport Trac's cabin with new low back bucket seats, revised door panel trim and new colors.
Compared to other compact crew-cab vehicles, the Sport Trac is generous in front and rear passenger room. There is room for three people in the back seat, but it is better to restrict occupancy to two for maximum comfort. The power rear window glass lowers completely for additional fresh air or to expand cargo carrying capacity.
For carrying cargo, the Sport Trac has a deep composite bed that features several handy cargo tie-downs. The bed can't easily accommodate large cargo because of its short length, but the optional bed extender works nicely when longer items are carried in the bed, or when smaller items require containment. If you need to transport delicate items, an optional hard tonneau cover is available to keep rain and snow out of the bed.
Driving Impressions: Athletic the Sport Trac is not. Its ride quality is decent, but otherwise the soft suspension makes the truck feel floaty when driving around corners. Unlike the current Explorer, the Sport Trac is stuck with a low-tech non-independent live rear-axle suspension, leading to a possibly jarring ride when driving over bumps. Off pavement, the Sport Trac is a poor performer. Low-hanging components frequently scrape over rocky terrain.
Although it won't win any awards for refinement, the stout V6 gets the job done. The five-speed automatic, while sometimes reluctant to downshift, is a bonus considering most other vehicles in this class come with only four forward gears.
The real question is, do you need a vehicle like this? The Sport Trac is intended for people who really don't want a truck. Instead, they just want an Explorer with the ability to haul a little dirt or mulch once in a while. For these purposes, the Sport Trac is just fine. But if you want a four-door truck, only a real pickup will do.
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