10/02/06 — Ford works wonders with '07 Sport Trac

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Ford works wonders with '07 Sport Trac

Ford Explorer SportTrac (2007)

Ford’s 2007 Explorer Sport Trac is an in-your-face competitor of the Honda Ridgeline. The two pickup-truck-like vehicles are as closely related as Pepsi and Coke. It’s only the flavor that separates them.

The new Sport Trac was introduced in February 2006, a year behind the Ridgeline, which joined the pickup truck fray in February 2005.

Both blend a four-door car-like passenger compartment with a short cargo bed.

Ford Explorer SportTrac, 2007

And as strange as it might seem to Honda fans, the Sport Trac stacks up quite nicely against the vaunted Honda creation.

We reached that conclusion after a week in a 2007 Ridgeline followed about a month later with a seven-day stint in the ’07 Sport Trac.

Perhaps we could make a case for Honda emulating Ford because the Sport Trac, basically an Explorer with a small pickup bed in place of the cargo area, has been on the market since the 2001 model year. But the Ridgeline, based on the Honda Pilot/Acura MDX platform, outclassed the original Sport Trac, which was being sold as a 2005 model when the Ridgeline was introduced.

The original Sport Trac suffered in comparison because it was built on the old Explorer platform with a solid rear axle, and it displayed truck-like ride and handling characteristics.

That model was manufactured from 2001 through 2005 before going on hiatus in 2006 in preparation for an all-new ’07 model based on the current-generation Explorer.

And it’s a job fairly well done.

The new setup has all but eliminated the flex and shake of the old model. Hard to believe perhaps, but Ford says the frame is 444 percent stiffer.

The new independent rear suspension combined with the improved foundation and a 130-inch wheelbase give the Sport Trac an agile, solid-as-a-rock feel on the road. This combination also helps soak up road imperfections.

A tight 36.8-foot turning radius makes the 210-inch truck surprisingly maneuverable in parking lot situations.

But it’s the optional drivetrain that may be the trump card for Ford. New for ’07 is a version of the Mustang 4.6-liter V-8 generating 292 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mated to a 6-speed automatic and even though it is pulling 4,800 pounds, it displays enthusiastic performance not matched in Honda’s only engine offering, a 3.5-liter 247 horsepower V-6.

The V-8 finishes off a 0-to-60 dash in about eight seconds and can run a quarter mile in 16.5 seconds at 85 miles per hour. We provide these figures simply for comparison. And they usual translate into the performance necessary to handle real-world situations.

The Ridgeline has been measured at 9 seconds from 0 to 60.

The bigger engine also increases Ford’s towing capacity to 6,800 pounds. In the previous iteration, which came with a 4-liter 210-horsepower V-6, it topped out at 5,080 pounds.

The Ridgeline has a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.

The 4-liter SOHC two-valve-per-cylinder V-6 mated to a 5-speed automatic is still offered in the Sport Trac base models.

So the big question arises, how thirsty is this V-8 engine? The answer is, not much thirstier than Honda’s V-6 or the carryover Ford V-6. None of the three engines is going to win an award for frugality at the gas pumps.

The good news is all three run on regular 87 octane gas.

The Ford V-8 carries an EPA rating of 15 city and 21 highway in two-wheel drive and 14/20 with all-wheel drive. The Honda V-6 is rated at 16/21 with all-wheel drive and the Ford V-6 is rated at 15/21.

The bottom line is you are going to pay at the pumps, but you sacrifice very little for the extra performance and towing prowess of the Ford V-8.

Our test truck was a top-of-the-line Limited 4X4 with the V-8 engine, leather seats, navigation system, satellite-ready audio system with MP3 capability and six-disc changer, automatic climate control and power-adjustable pedals.

Base price of the Limited 4X4 is $29,540. With options, our truck stickered for $33,135.

The comparably quipped top-of-the-line Ridgeline stickers for $34,940.

Unlike the Honda, the Ford has three four-wheel-drive settings including “automatic,” which shifts power from the rear wheels to the front as needed. There’s also full-time 50-50 split four-wheel drive high and 4X4 low that locks the transfer case for really low-speed rough stuff.

There are only two Sport Trac trim levels — XLT and Limited — and with the two engine choices and with two-wheel or four-wheel drive. Trucks start at $24,245 for a well-equipped XLT V-6 two-wheel drive.

It’s in storage and ergonomics that the Honda shines brighter than Ford.

The Ridgeline has a large easily assessable bin under the bed, the closest thing to a pickup trunk that we’ve seen. The Sport Trac has two six-pack sized storage compartments on the bed walls near the tailgate. At the back of the bed is a mini-trunk, but it’s hard to get to, especially if you have the tailgate extender installed along with the optional bed cover.

The 41⁄2-foot cargo box is constructed of corrosion-proof sheet molded composite (SMC) with a molded-in black inner liner that resists scratches and is dent-proof. The box is notched, allowing the placement of two 2x4 boards across the span to provide tiered storage of materials — including the ubiquitous 4x8 sheets of plywood.

The interior layout is handsome and generally well constructed, but there are too many flat look-alike buttons that are difficult to use while under way. Ford somewhere along the line decided to abandoned the use of knobs.

The interior designers also have forgotten that people like storage cubbies for their phone and a myriad of other objects. The only open storage area in the Sport Trac is the cupholder.

A big center bin will swallow up a number of items.

Ford is also stingy with another modern day necessity, the powerpoint. There’s only one in the front of the cabin.

Honda, on the other hand, has got interior design down to a fine art.

Although we wish for perfection, we seldom get it. And despite some minor flaws we could happily live with this new Ford truck with its dramatically improved ride and handling, quiet interior, satisfying performance and full-range four-wheel drive.

Jim Meachen can be contacted at meachen@mac.com.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on October 2, 2006 2:40 PM