Ford, Road Test Reviews

2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac Limited – Road Test

Ford have been selling the Explorer for a number of years now and this is the 4th generation of the best selling SUV in the world. The Explorer came out last year, but the Sport Trac was redesigned and is new this year, that’s why it’s a 2007 model year. The Sport Trac is a modified Explorer with a pick-up truck bed instead of the usual enclosed rear cargo area. It’s longer than the Explorer by 16.8 inches. From the B pillar forward it’s identical to the Explorer, but otherwise it uses unique parts. The 2007 Sport Trac is more than five inches longer – and almost two inches wider than last years model and it also boasts an impressive increase by 444% in stiffness compared to the previous model, by using the F-150’s tube-through-tube frame design – where cross beams pass through the frame rails. The new independent rear suspension offering a more refined ride and handling is vastly improved over the last model too.

Initial Impression
I liked the new Sport Trac from the moment I saw it. There aren’t any 2007 Sport Trac’s at the moment in my neck of the woods, so it was a new experience to see one in the flesh. It’s not as big or intimidating as the F-150, and I think it’s much better looking. I think it fits its proportions better than the 4-door version of the F-150, and even the 4-door varieties of the Dodge Ram/Dakota. Climbing inside, I was pleasantly surprised by the luxurious feel and the quality of everything. From the 2-toned leather seats, the nicely laid out dash, to the look and feel of the steering wheel – everything has been improved over the previous generation Explorer. This is a first-class truck all the way.

The test vehicle had all the option-boxes ticked, so it lacked for nothing – including the V8 engine. The seat was very easy to adjust and get comfortable within seconds. The steering wheel has nice big buttons for the auxiliary controls – perfect for those tradesman types with big fat fingers, or those of us with little hands – we can wear gloves and still operate the controls. The big-button theme is carried throughout the vehicle, with the HVAC, stereo and power window buttons being nice and large. My wife didn’t like it – she thinks it was too “manly.” Breaking the theme however, were the buttons that change the AM/FM choice – they were much smaller buttons that were hard to access without switching the radio off by accident.

One thing I thought was weird, and didn’t like at first was the turn signal lever (so I eventually just broke it!) – it sits at the 11 o’clock position instead of the usual 9 o’clock position. It just didn’t feel right sitting way up there it was like the old transmission shifter-lever – only on the wrong side. It took me a day or so to get used to it, but once I was used to it being there, it became a very natural place for reaching out for the turn signal. For those people that drive with their wrist dangling over the top of the steering wheel, you’re gonna love it – it’s only a small movement over to the turn signal from the top of the wheel. Maybe Ford was thinking of those people when they designed it!

Most people buy SUV’s for heading off to soccer practice or tackling the mall parking lots, they never get used for their “utility” features. Well, that wasn’t the case for this SUV, I had to break it in and use it as a truck. So off we went to Sears to pick up our new dining room furniture (How’s that for planning?). The furniture was more compact than we’d thought it would be, but it still helped having the truck instead of having a car or even a station wagon. I dropped the tailgate and there was the flip-over cargo extension bar. There was also the problem of the hard tonneau cover. Hmmm… I may live on a farm but I’m a city slicker – I’ve never used these types of things before! Not to worry, licketty-split and the cover is off, the extension bar is flipped over, the furniture is loaded and we’re off home – all without reading the manual or breaking a fingernail. Because of the extension bar I didn’t even have to tie the load down, it just got wedged in there nicely and wouldn’t move. A couple of days later we moved another dining room set and a mattress set at the same time and the Sport Trac had no trouble swallowing all that stuff. A large benefit is the rear seating area where the seatbacks fold forward creating a large flat area – perfect for transporting 4 dining room chairs (yes, all 4 – with a little finessing). The table and mattress slid nice and tidy under the tonneau, and again the extension bar held everything in place, this time with the help of bungee cords. Still, the hardcover wasn’t a problem, and that was something that had concerned me whenever I’d seen one on a pick-up truck in the past.

The pick-up bed is rubberized, so there’s no fear of slipping, and the added benefit that Sparky has some grip for those that tie their dog in the back of their pick-up truck (even though they shouldn’t and my wife will kill me for having even mentioned this). On that note, there are plenty of hooks and tie-down rings around the bed for keeping items inside the confines of the bed. There are 3 bins recessed into the floor of the bed. Each of them has weather-resistant lids and removable drain plugs – ideal for storing wet gear or ice and drinks. One runs the full width of the box, under the rear window, and the other 2 are at the left and right side at the rear near the tailgate.

After a couple of days “off” the Sport Trac was put to work again as I hauled a full load of mulch home. Again the advantages of having a truck bed came to the fore. You just couldn’t do the same type of things with a regular SUV, including the Explorer. With the hard tonneau cover there’s no need for a tarp to put over the bed to stop the wood chips flying around. Unloading was easy and painless. I cleared up the stray chips with a broom and then later I washed out the bed. The rubberized material held up very well with no chips or scratches. The same material is used over the edge of the bed and on the tailgate – another great feature for wear and tear.

The interior floor is covered in a rubber material called Tuflor that makes it very easy to hose out the interior when it gets filthy after all those trips to the mall. Custom Berber floor mats come standard, adding a little luxury to the truck.

The Explorer Sport Trac offers the segment’s only heated windshield – which speeds de-icing and prevents fogging. There’s hundreds of minuscule lines zig-zagging down the front windshield – I didn’t notice them at all, but my wife complained constantly about it – especially at night when other cars were coming towards us with their headlights on.

The standard audio system has a CD player with MP3 capability, which can be upgraded to a 6-disc in-dash unit with a powered subwoofer. If you don’t buy any other options on this vehicle, you have to buy the upgraded stereo system – it’s unbelievable! – worth every penny of the $395 asking price. I’d have to put it on par with the Acura RL’s sound system for quality sound.

I loved everything about the truck. My only complaint was the trip meter reset button was quite close to the shifter. When I put the truck into park I kept accidentally re-setting the trip meter and wondering why the numbers weren’t climbing. I solved the problem by putting the information into regular mileage mode. Other things I loved were the dual-zone climate control, the heating/AC temperature and speed controls on the steering wheel, the “ergonomically designed” door opener handles (but I didn’t like the doors handles used to close the doors – they’re too low and too far forward to reach and close comfortably), the height of the window ledge when the window is down – it’s absolutely perfectly placed. The power-adjustable pedals were very helpful. I thought I was sitting too close to the steering wheel, so I moved my seat back and then matched the pedals to my legs to give me a perfect driving position. Until now I’d never seen the benefits of this system except for really short people. Another thing I liked which was very subtle and I didn’t realize it for several days is that the dash info lights are green when everything is normal, but if there’s a door ajar or something wrong, it changes to red – very cool.

One thing I couldn’t get used to was the lack of any sense of speed while driving the Sport Trac. When I first drove it I was entering a freeway and stomped on the gas. Nothing appeared to be happening, I didn’t feel like I was even speeding up in the slightest – until I looked at the speedometer – I was doing over 90mph! I had gone from 50 – 90 mph and had no sensation of the increase. The entire week I drove the Sport Trac the feeling never changed, it always felt like I was going slow until I looked at the speedo and I was actually moving along quite nicely. Everything moves in slow motion when you’re in this truck.

The steering is perfectly weighted and the suspension is very solid and firm. Long gone are the days of the bouncy 4X4 trucks of yesterday. The transmission shifts are seamless – whether you drive in a leisurely fashion or spiritedly, it’s very difficult to actually feel the transmission shifting.

The Explorer Sport Trac comes in only 2 configurations – XLT (base model) and Limited. Standard features in the XLT are: tilt steering, cruise control, speed-sensitive intermittent wipers, power points in the front, rear and cargo area, Class II trailer hitch and 16” wheels/tires.

Added in the Limited are: fog lamps, 18” wheels/tires, high-series floor console, 6-way power drivers seat, leather shift-knob and steering wheel plus step bars.

Available options are: locking hard tonneau cover, Safety Canopy side air curtains, Class III/IV tow package, bed extender, door entry keypad, Audiophile stereo system with 6-disc CD changer and powered subwoofer, power moonroof and adjustable pedals.

Available options only on the Limited are: two-toned leather heated seats with 10-way power adjustment, dual-zone climate control, and secondary steering wheel controls (climate control including speed/temp. settings, stereo controls, cruise control and info center).

Two engine choices are offered – a 4 liter V6 rated at 210 hp and 254 lb.-ft torque mated to a 5-speed automatic, or a 4.6 liter V8 with 292 hp and 300 lb.-ft torque with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Sport Trac’s standard 4.0-litre V-6 engine meets federal Tier II, Bin 4 tailpipe emissions, the same as the Ford Escape Hybrid and cleaner than a Honda Accord Hybrid. Maximum towing capacity for them is 5,310 lbs. and 6,800 lbs. respectively. Warranty is 3-years, 36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper.

One option that’s available with the Sport Trac and not available with the Explorer is the choice of 2 or 4-wheel drive. The 4X4 Sport Trac uses dashboard-mounted controls to select any one of three driving modes: 4×4 AUTO [all-wheel drive], 4×4 HIGH [locks the differential into a 50/50 power distribution] and 4X4 LOW [for true off-roading or stump pulling].

On the safety-front, in addition to the airbags, ABS etc., there’s also AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control (RSC), tire pressure monitoring system, side-impact seat airbags and a Securilock engine immobilizer/anti-theft system all of which helped the 2007 Sport Trac earn the governments highest 5-Star rating for frontal and side impacts for drivers and passengers. The 2007 Sport Trac is designed to meet all known safety requirements through 2010.

Rear seat accommodation is generous and comfortable. There are grab handles to assist entry and exit and they’re welcome when getting in, as is the step bar. The Sport Trac is higher than most typical SUV’s that are out there at the moment, but once inside though there’s plenty of leg, hip and shoulder room. The ceiling is raised a little so there’s plenty of headroom as well. The seats are surprisingly comfortable and angled at a comfortable incline. Also, because they flip forward to create the flat seat back, there’s actuality storage space underneath the seats. Visibility from the back seat is excellent too.

Ford obviously went to pains to make the interior noise levels a priority in the Sport Trac. It was whisper-quiet throughout the cabin no matter what speeds we traveled at. It was like riding in a luxury car.

The Sport Trac excels at everything and fails at nothing. After living with it for a week I’d have to say any reservations that I had over choosing an SUV with a pick-up bed over an SUV with a regular body have been eliminated. It is so much more adaptable and useful to have the pickup bed. The bed is shorter than a regular 8-foot bed (it’s actually 4 feet), but it’s no loss. If you need more space, buy a trailer because the truck already has the towing equipment installed standard. I’ve driven the F-150 with the 4-doors and it’s just not as comfortable or easy to drive because it’s just so big. The Sport Trac is a perfect size in every way.

One concern I have is its thirst for fuel. The EPA lists it at 15 City and 21 highway, yet I averaged only 14.2 in conservative driving and mostly highway at that. I’ve always found it a safe bet to average fuel mileage mid-way between the 2 EPA numbers and you get a pretty accurate and realistic fuel consumption in the real world. That should put the Sport Trac in the 18-mpg range. Ford is quite proud of the gas mileage for the V8 being better than the competitions V6’s. Maybe I’ve been driving too many fuel-efficient vehicles for the past couple of years, but I wouldn’t like to be filling this fuel tank twice a week for 4 years!

Back Seat Driver Test [Mother-In-Law]: 10 out of 10
Very easy to get in and out – especially with the step bar and grab handles. Once inside there’s plenty of room (lots of legroom) and the seats are nice and comfortable – the up-right position was perfect. She could see herself doing a long-haul drive in the back seat no problem. Sometimes it was easier to by-pass the step bar and just step right onto the ground because it wasn’t a huge step up. Backseat Driver Grade: A+

Valued Opinions from my Other-Half:
The Explorer Sport Trac is “a big tough guy-truck with big awkward buttons and controls, but there’s not really a LOT of room in the cockpit (for a big tough guy), especially with the wide console between the seats.” I didn’t like the turn signal and wiper operation on the same arm and the location of the fuel gauge; it was too low in the instrument cluster and was easily missed.
I hated the door handles that you used to close the door – I rarely got the door closed in one pull. Additionally, about the centre console … it’s located too far back, I felt I was straining to reach back around and get things in and out of it. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a problem for a big burly guy who’d have the seat much further back that Iain and I, but for us shorter people, it was a real twist to utilize the console storage.

Final comments … I don’t like not having a nice clean trunk/hatch area when I’m touting around 2 or 3 extra people – that’s why a truck bed’s a minus in my mind when compared to an enclosed SUV. You like it now, but what about when you don’t need the “trucky” parts? I know I wouldn’t like it if I was getting stuff outta the truck bed storage when it’s raining … wet wet wet!! In our SUV at least you have the door to cover your head! And it’s nice and dry inside.

Pricing for the 2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac Limited:
As tested: $34,780 [$42,049 CDN]
Base price of the Limited model starts at: $28,340 [$38,299 CDN], with the XLT starting at $24,245 [$27,700 CDN]

Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel] – EPA
The V6 and the V8 are rated at 15 mpg City [15.7 L/100 kms] and 21 mpg Highway [11.2 L/100 kms]
I averaged 14.2 mpg [16.6 L/100 kms] combined driving

Oozes quality throughout
Does everything you want and more
Killer stereo system

Poor fuel economy – (chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug at the gas pumps)

Would I Spend My Money On It?:
Yes. Without a doubt if I owned my own oil refinery or got my head around the fact that it wasn’t a huge gas-guzzler, but I’d like to see if the V6 offers better fuel economy without hurting in the power department.

Immediate Competition:
Honda Ridgeline [look for a Road Test report later this month], Chevy Colorado/ GMC Canyon Crew Cab, Dodge Dakota Quad Cab, Toyota Tacoma Double Cab, Nissan Frontier Crew Cab

By The Numbers…
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (Heated Seats/ Sunroof etc)

9 – Ease of Entry/Exit
9 – Front Roominess
9 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls

10 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

9 – Engine
10 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
8 – Bang for the $$
4 – Fuel Economy

138 Total / 150

Copyright © 2007 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

Also Published at: PaddockTalk