Full 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac Review
What's New for 2008
After last year's redesign, the Ford Explorer Sport Trac enters 2008 with a handful of equipment upgrades. Side curtain airbags become standard on both trims, as do a power rear window, foglights and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The optional navigation system adopts voice activation technology and, later in the model year, the Ford "Sync" system (which integrates devices such as cell phones and MP3 players into the vehicle's controls) option debuts.
We're not sure if they teach this at U Penn's Wharton School of Business, but we can tell you that a basic tenet of American business seems to be "milk it for all it's worth." Perhaps that was Ford's line of thinking when it brought out the Explorer Sport Trac seven years ago.
After enjoying a decade of strong sales from its midsize Explorer SUV and noting that Americans can't seem to get enough when it comes to trucks, the company melded the Explorer SUV, minus its enclosed cargo hold, to a small pickup bed. In theory, this vehicle combined the passenger comfort and space of a four-door SUV with the cargo-hauling ability of a pickup. In practice, however, it missed its mark. We found both the handling (too much chassis flex) and the utility (pickup bed too small) to be poor in that compromised, first-generation version. Ford then applied the "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" philosophy.
Last year brought an all-new Ford Explorer Sport Trac, which continues for 2008 with a handful of technical improvements. Highlights include newly standard side curtain airbags, voice activation for the optional navigation system and the (delayed) debut of Ford's "Sync" system (which integrates devices such as cell phones and MP3 players into the vehicle's controls).
Although the newest Sport Trac once again shares its basic platform with the Explorer, it rides on a 13-inch-longer wheelbase, so as to offer more passenger room and a larger cargo bed. Compared to its willowy predecessor, the current Sport Trac is four times stiffer and also boasts an independent rear suspension. The benefits are dramatically improved ride comfort and handling dynamics. Other strong points of the current Sport Trac include a bigger, more functional bed (with three built-in storage compartments), an available 292-horsepower V8 (coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission) and plenty of safety features.
Unlike its half-baked precursor, the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac makes a sound business case for itself. A traditional midsize crew cab pickup may offer more ultimate hauling ability, but chances are it wouldn't be able to match the Sport Trac in terms of passenger space and comfort, not to mention handling and ride balance. These characteristics make the Sport Trac ideal for those who want a useful amount of pickup utility along with the family-friendly nature of a midsize SUV. The Sport Trac's only real competition in this ultra-niche market is Honda's Ridgeline. The Ridgeline is another good choice, though it doesn't offer as much towing capacity and has rather ungainly styling that may be a turnoff for some folks.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is essentially an Explorer SUV modified to include a small pickup-like cargo bed. Two trim levels are offered: XLT and Limited.
The well-equipped XLT features a composite cargo box, 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, power rear window, foglights, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning, a drop-in storage bin with power points, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a CD player. The Limited adds color-keyed bumpers and side mirrors, sidestep bars, 18-inch alloy wheels, power-adjustable pedals, the Homelink system and a power driver seat.
Major options include a heated windshield, a sunroof, leather seating, a navigation system (with voice operation), an upgraded sound system, the Ford Sync system and, for the cargo box, a cagelike bed extender and a hard tonneau cover.
Powertrains and Performance
Standard power for the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is a 4.0-liter V6 (210 hp and 254 pound-feet of torque) mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Optional is a 4.6-liter V8 (292 hp and 300 lb-ft) coupled to a six-speed automatic. Either is available with rear- or four-wheel drive. The latter, dubbed "Control Trac," offers three modes. The 4x4 Auto mode is the typical everyday setting as it routes power only to the rear wheels until they slip, at which point power is also sent to the front wheels. The 4x4 High mode provides a 50/50 power split to the front and rear wheels, making it ideal for off-road or severe winter conditions. The 4x4 Low mode is for the really deep stuff, steep grades and pulling a boat out of the water.
Although it provides a smooth, broad powerband, our testing revealed the V8's performance to be about the same or less than V6-powered import crew cab pickups. Still, acceleration is brisk for a 2-ton truck, with 60 mph coming up in 8.1 seconds. Towing capacity is where the Sport Trac shines, as it easily bests most rivals with its 6,800-pound maximum (2WD version) when properly equipped. Fuel consumption for the 2008 V6 2WD Sport Trac is rated at 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, while the V8 posts a 13/20 mpg rating.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags are all standard. In government crash testing, the Explorer Sport Trac earned five stars (the best possible) in both frontal- and side-impact tests. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset crash test, the Sport Trac scored "Good," the highest rating possible.
Interior Design and Special Features
The handsome cabin boasts solid build quality and simple controls. Practical features include an easily cleaned rubber floor with Berber carpeted mats, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and displays for outside temperature and a compass. There's a trio of power points: two in the cabin and one in the bed, and that 4.5-foot cargo box is made of corrosion-proof composite material with a molded-in liner that resists scratches and dents. The box is notched, allowing one to place two 2x4s across the span to provide tiered storage of building materials. Three cargo bins are built into the bed's load floor and feature drain plugs that allow them to be used as ice boxes or storage for wet items.
With a fully independent suspension, well-tuned dampers and springs, admirable road isolation and a surprisingly responsive steering system, the 2008 Sport Trac is a pleasure to drive and ride in. Handling is sure-footed, though aggressive cornering will bring in the conservative stability control system. The ride is almost luxury-car plush, and the combination of the chassis' robust integrity and liberal use of noise insulation provides a hushed cabin. Ford claims that at 40 mph, the Sport Trac is a full 5 decibels quieter than a Honda Ridgeline.