What's New for 2009
The 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac receives standard satellite radio and available heated leather seats and heated side mirrors. Trailer sway control has been added to the stability control system, and the optional navigation system has been updated and includes Sirius Travel Link. The new Adrenalin package adds 20-inch wheels and exclusive styling cues, with full-time AWD (no low range) an option on Sport Tracs so equipped. Finally, a hard tonneau cover for the bed joins the options list.
Automakers have long been intrigued by the half-people mover, half-truck design. Decades ago, the El Camino was the standard-bearer in this niche market; more recently, Subaru gave it a go with the Baja, a short-lived four-door, trucklike contraption based on the popular Outback. But here's the thing: Most people who value the utility of a truck bed would like it to be attached to a burly utility vehicle, not the front half of a passenger car. The 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is their dream come true. The back half is a pickup bed, and the four-door front half comes from Ford's venerable Explorer SUV.
The Sport Trac shares its basic platform with the current Explorer, but it rides on a 13-inch-longer wheelbase, which frees up passenger room and also allows for a decently sized cargo bed with three built-in storage compartments. Like the Explorer, the Sport Trac features an independent rear suspension, which puts its ride comfort and handling dynamics on par with the similarly conceived Honda Ridgeline. Only the Sport Trac offers Ford's exclusive Sync system, however, as well as an optional V8 under the hood. The Sport Trac also trumps the Honda in maximum towing capacity.
There's a lot to be said for the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac as a family-friendly utility vehicle. Midsize crew-cab pickups are better suited for heavy-duty hauling, but the Sport Trac trounces these workhorses in terms of interior accommodations and ride comfort, and it can still carry its fair share of cargo. Moreover, while midsize SUVs offer more covered cargo space, they simply can't match the utility of an open truck bed. The Ridgeline, a very good vehicle in its own right, has traditionally been the Sport Trac's only real competition in years past, though this year's new Hummer H3T is another one to consider. We suggest driving all three before you buy, but you certainly can't go wrong with the Ford if you're shopping in this segment.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is essentially an Explorer SUV with a pickup-like cargo bed behind the second-row seat. Two trim levels are offered: XLT and Limited.
The well-equipped XLT features a composite cargo box, 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, a 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 heated side mirrors, sidestep bars, 18-inch alloy wheels, power-adjustable pedals, heated leather seats, the Sync multimedia integration system, HomeLink and a power driver seat. The Adrenalin package is new this year for the Limited and has 20-inch wheels and specialized exterior and interior trim details.
Major options, depending on the trim, include a heated windshield, a sunroof, rear parking sensors, a voice-operated navigation system with Sirius Travel Link (Limited models only), dual-zone automatic climate control, an upgraded sound system and a cagelike bed extender and hard tonneau cover for the cargo box.
Powertrains and Performance
Standard power for the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac comes from a 4.0-liter V6 that generates 210 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. This tried-and-true engine is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Optional is a 4.6-liter V8 that cranks out 292 hp and 300 lb-ft matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. Both models are available with either rear- or four-wheel drive, except for when the Adrenalin package is specified -- these models are available with either rear- or all-wheel drive (a full-time system with no low range).
Acceleration with the V8 is respectable for a 2.5-ton truck, with 60 mph arriving in 8.1 seconds. Towing capacity is another strong point, as the 4WD Sport Trac boasts a 6,990-pound maximum towing capacity when properly equipped.
EPA fuel economy estimates are 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined for V6 2WD models; remarkably, V8 2WD models are rated slightly higher at 15/21/17 mpg. Same goes for 4WD Sport Tracs: the V6 is rated at 13/19/15 mpg, while the V8 comes in at 14/19/16 mpg.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control with trailer sway control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags are all standard on the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac. In government crash testing, the Explorer Sport Trac earned a perfect five stars 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 Sport Trac's cabin is virtually identical to that of the Explorer SUV, which means it boasts solid build quality and an uncomplicated dash with simple controls. The Sport Trac's rear seatbacks are split 60/40 and fold to cover the seat bottoms, creating a flat cargo area.
Out back, the 4.5-foot cargo box is constructed of corrosion-proof composite material with a molded-in liner that resists scratches and dents. The box is also notched, enabling two 2x4s to be placed across the span to provide tiered storage of building materials. Three cargo bins are built into the bed's load floor, and they conveniently feature drain plugs that allow them to be used as ice boxes or as storage for wet items.
Thanks to its fully independent suspension, the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is a pleasure to drive relative to traditional trucks. The ride is almost luxury-car plush, and the liberal use of noise insulation creates a hushed cabin. In terms of acceleration, the V8 provides a smooth, broad power band, with performance about the same as that of V6-powered Japanese crew-cab pickups. The V6 is another matter -- it's coarse and ponderous relative to the V8, and as it's also less fuel efficient, we recommend the V8.