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2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac Review


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2008 Ford Explorer Sports Trac

By Thom Cannell
Detroit Bureau
The Auto Channel

The latest generation Ford Sport Trac, a member of the Explorer family, made its debut late in 2006. Like the original 2001 Sport Trac, it is built like a pickup with a large Explorer-based cabin mounted to the pickup truck frame. Behind is a short 4.5-foot bed. Like the Explorer and unlike F-150, Sport Trac has Independent Rear Suspension. That means comfort for driver and passenger alike. It also means the vehicle feels much smaller and more nimble than its overall size and 210.2” length would indicate.

For 2008, Sport Trac has one-touch up/down drivers window, fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and side curtain air bags standard, plus a once-optional drop-in storage bin with power point. Both the XLT we tested and Limited models are produced in Louisville, KY.

What’s best about Sport Trac, and the reason we call it a “Perfect Vehicle” is its true mixed-use capability. It is handsomely styled, provides room for four NFL-sized passengers or three modestly sized rear passengers, plus driver and front passenger. It’s cargo capacity, with the small box and bed extender, is more than you expect. Standard 4x8’ sheets of construction materials are easily carried by using the bed extender and slipping a 2x4’ into the pockets molded into the plastic bedliner. With the optional two-piece cover—which is removable by one determined individual and can be replaced by an equally persevering person— the bed is completely enclosed and lockable.

Here’s the other thing, Sport Trac is quiet, quiet, quiet; luxury car quiet at any speed we tested, up to 80 mph on the freeway.

The interior is very is similar to F 150 and Explorer, as you’d expect, and handsomely rugged. The model we drove was decorated in black, with beige unheated fabric seats. It’s a harmonious environment that offers plenty of near-to-hand storage and a beefy shifter. Chrome trim rings surround the instrument cluster and air vents for a bit of brightness.

Our Sport Trac came equipped with SYNC, the Microsoft/Ford media manager that has become a must-have in the months since introduction. SYNC will easily bond with your mobile phone (and up to six additional pones) and provide advanced hands-free calling features. SYNC can also have a nice little chat with your iPod or other memory storage device and play your music or podcasts with voice controlled ease. It is totally cool to, without moving your hands from the steering wheel, request a playlist, genre, artist, song, or even selected podcast. It really is as simple as the TV commercials suggest.

The 2008 Sport Track feels nimble, athletic. Suspension is not over-damped, nor overly stiff. Steering is taught, accurate, and “just right” in firmness and heft. It’s a fun vehicle to drive on the highway or on twisting roads. You can even switch off the overdrive for better control and, thanks to excellent brakes, have quite a bit of fun.

During nasty weather, and we suffered an abundance, the automatic four wheel drive worked flawlessly, with push-button ease.

While few owners will attempt any off road driving more difficult than dirt roads, “two-tracks,” or hard packed sand, we’ve tested Sport Track in rough hill climbing. While the stock vehicle is not an off road specialist, it handled very steep hillsides of loose rock and gravel with ease. Part of this competence is the traction control system that limits wheel slip, and thus works similar to a locking differential.

Sport Trac offers a 4.6-liter 292 hp V8 and six-speed transmission, as well as a 4.0-liter V-6, which comes with a 5-speed automatic transmission and makes 210 horsepower. The V6 can tow 5310 pounds; the V8 can pull a hefty 6800-pound load. Both run on Regular 87 octane fuel and our V-8 delivered an overall 15 mpg in mixed highway/urban driving.

Safety is another Ford goal, and Sport Trac has all of the safety features of Explorer including electronic stability and industry-exclusive roll stability control. The steering wheel “strokes,” or collapses under crash stimulus, and dual-stage air bags are standard for front passengers, side-curtain air bags for rear passengers. Notably, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has delivered a “Good” frontal-offset crash rating.

TC's Bullet Points:

Good to go:

• Quiet, almost library quiet and a match for many near-luxury
sedans.
• Seats four tall passengers with style and comfort.
• Small bed is actually useful; bed cover works well, bed extender is
fabulous.
• Reasonable fuel efficiency for a pickup, though an overall 15 mpg
is hardly cheering.
• Handsome interior lined in rugged materials.

Needs improvement:

• Better fuel economy is needed from small diesel, or the
turbocharged direct injection gasoline engine Ford promises for 2010.
• Telltale lights for four wheel drive buttons.
• Better headlights; make adaptive Xenon lamps an option.
• Lighter, easier to refit, bed/tonneau cover.