LOS ANGELES -- With an optional V-8 engine and more interior room, the 2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac was redesigned to answer customers' top demands, Ford says.
Ford's overhaul of the Sport Trac puts the SUV pickup on the updated platform that underpins the 2006 Ford Explorer. The Sport Trac previously rode on a platform two generations old.
The changes give the Sport Trac more power, more space and an independent rear suspension for the first time.
Most of all, customers requested the V-8 option and more cabin space, said Barry Redler, SUV group marketing manager for Ford, at a press event here. Those customers are more passionate about Sport Trac than any Ford SUV, he said.
"It's the closest thing to what Mustang does in cars," Redler said. "It's an aspirational product for us."
Even so, Ford isn't counting on gaining sales with the redesigned model. SUV sales have slumped, and gasoline is still running at more than $2.50 a gallon. But Ford executives have said the redesigned Sport Trac should hold ground at 50,000 to 60,000 annual sales.
Ford held the base price of the Sport Trac steady, while increasing the content of the entry-level model. The 2007 model starts at $24,940, including shipping. It went on sale in late February. Ford says it sold about 1,500 units in March.
The basics: The Sport Trac design is shared with the 2006 Explorer from the B-pillar forward. The wheelbase was stretched 16.8 inches, allowing for more cabin space than the previous Sport Trac. Ford also says vehicle stiffness has improved significantly.
The interior is new and shares components with the Explorer. Ford says improved brakes contribute to more payload capacity and towing power. Payload is 1,350 pounds, and towing capacity is 6,800 pounds.
Notable features: The Sport Trac now is available with a 4.6-liter V-8 engine producing 292 hp. It is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the only one in its competitive class, Ford says. Redler estimates that 30 to 40 percent of Sport Tracs will be sold with the V-8, a $1,200 option. The standard Sport Trac has a 4.0-liter V-6 producing 210 hp.
The vehicle gets independent rear suspension for the first time to improve ride and handling, especially on rough surfaces. It's the suspension used on the 2006 Explorer.
The composite bed of the Sport Trac also features three recessed storage bins.
What Ford says: "I'm optimistic about this vehicle," Redler said. "While the medium traditional (SUV) segment has declined, and we source business from there, we also source business from the crew-cab compact pickup, which hasn't really declined."
Compromises and shortcomings: There won't be a unique TV ad campaign for the Sport Trac. Ford considers it a niche vehicle and will promote it through the Internet, via direct mail and by other means.
Because the Sport Trac's interior repeats that of the 2006 Explorer, it also has the awkward door handles low on the interior front doors. Ford, which acknowledges the problem, is working on a modification.
Ford's restructuring plan caused it to cancel the Adrenalin, a performance version of the Sport Trac.
Nuts and bolts: The 2007 Sport Trac comes with stability control and side-curtain airbags. The old model had been blasted for rollover concerns, receiving a two-star rollover rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2004. The agency said the old Sport Trac had a 34.8 percent chance of a rollover in a single-vehicle crash.
The skinny: Customers who want a pickup bed combined with cabin space to haul passengers and gear should like this update of the Sport Trac. But the vehicle can get pricey when options are added, reaching into the mid-$30,000 range.
You may e-mail Amy Wilson at [email protected]