Utterly unlike anything else. That’s a good thing.
by Jill Amadio
It may not captivate the chic boulevards of Paris, but Ford's odd pairing of its sport-ute Explorer and a pickup bed that has given birth to the versatile 2001 Sport Trac is a head-turner on highways here at home in California.
Ford says there's nothing else like it. Truth to tell, there may never be again unless someone chops a minivan in half to add a cabriolet. But given Ford's love affair with trucks it's not surprising that they've found a reason to stick the end of a small one onto their best-selling entry in the almost tirelessly trendy SUV market. If you approach the Sport Trac from the rear, you'll see a compact pickup; from the front, an SUV.
Ford brings the Sport Trac to market with the slogan "No Boundaries - Ford Outfitters." Despite its allusion to fashion, this translates into Ford designing its own line within the Explorer family, separating it from the traditional Explorer.
Actually the five-passenger, four-door Sport Trac makes a lot of sense. If you're hauling muddy bikes, flopping sailfish or wet dogs you can sling 'em into the open cargo area and not worry about messing up the seats. The bed in back is, practically speaking, about the size of a very large trunk without a lid. It has a bunch of tie-downs for everyone and everything, plus an outdoor weatherproof 12-point power outlet, and an optional lockable hard tonneau top that covers the entire cargo bed. The tailgate can be left down and enclosed with a rear brush guard-type cage, giving you an extended cargo area.
The passenger cabin layout is similar to the first two rows of a standard Explorer, except that the floor covering is rubberized so you can hose it down. A few Berber floor mats provide a cozier look.
Here's a nifty convenience: the back window can be powered up and down at the touch of a button on the dash. A sensor instantly stops window movement if obstacles intrude. Other friendly touches include a removable nylon soft pack that doubles as a sport bag housed in the center console, two hidden storage bins, three child-seat tethers, speed-sensitive windshield wipers that increase their speed as you drive faster, and illuminated remote entry.
Setting the Sport Trac apart from anything else is not just the knowledge its two vehicles combined into one, but the fact that you can see exactly where the joint is on the body behind the passenger compartment, as if someone with a scythe sliced off the back end of the Explorer in one fell circular sweep. This does, of course, give the vehicle a rather sculpted look, although one hopes, seeing that distinctive side design, that the twain will ever meet. The two halves - one from Explorer, the other from Ford's pickup bin - fortunately manage to meld together quite nicely. You could certainly arrive at a posh hotel or restaurant with aplomb, then run off before the valet parking attendant sees the rest of the vehicle.
Since pickups and SUVs have become as carlike as possible except that one drives from a greater height, the Sport Trac does indeed carry you forth in splendid comfort. Both our test vehicles, the 2WD and the higher priced $25,820 4WD, had automatic transmissions because manual versions won't be ready until the spring, so we cruised lazily along, shifting on the fly once or twice. Three drivetrain modes can be selected: two-wheel drive for normal driving on dry roads, four-wheel drive High for puddles at higher speeds, and four-wheel drive Low for heavy snow or swamps.
The ride and handling was smooth and balanced, the steering easy and fluid, whether we crept over uneven gravel and dirt roads or went flying down the freeway. A little wind noise barely disturbed us, and otherwise the cabin was tight and quiet. Doors slam shut with the solid clunk of a sedan rather than the rattle of a truck, thanks to Ford's use of lots of sound-deadening materials, and four-wheel drive engaged as slick as butter.
The specially-tuned suspension is built on the Explorer frame, which is lengthened more than fourteen inches and laterally stiffened for agility on and off-road despite having to handle heavy cargo. With an empty pickup bed and just two people in the Sport Trac, I had to keep reminding myself we were hauling a 4000-lb SUV truck down the road - though this was by no means akin to driving a roadster. Still, we could go places a sports car couldn't, and we did. Up mountains, down dales, into the desert, out to the beach.
The Sport Trac is a lot of fun. It's targeted at younger buyers with active outdoor lifestyles, and some dealers are going to great lengths to attract these adventurers into the showrooms, painting scenic murals on the walls, building indoor waterfalls, and covering the tile with fake turf to create the right atmosphere.
For those who spend sleepless nights trying to decide whether to buy an SUV or a pickup and endlessly debate the merits of each and for those who wouldn't set foot in a pickup or deign to consider an SUV, Ford has come to the rescue. Much more than a mutt, the quirky 2001 Sport Trac combines the best of both.
2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac 4x2
Base Price: $23,050
Engine: 4.0-liter SOHC V-6, 205 hp
Transmission: five-speed electronically controlled automatic
Wheelbase: 125.9 in
Length: 205.9 in
Width: 71.8 in
Height: 70.1 in
Weight: 4183 lb
Towing capacity: 5260 lb
Fuel economy: 16 city/20 highway
Major standard equipment:
Four-speaker AM/FM stereo/CD player
Front bucket seats
Black roof rails
Full-size spare tire
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