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Ford has changed almost everything about the Sport Trac for 2007.
Essentially, a Ford Explorer with a pickup bed, the Sport Trac has grown in length and in width for 2007, and this has translated directly into more room inside for people and out back for cargo.
A new V8 engine is available that generates 292 horsepower along with an equally new six-speed automatic transmission. While this has kicked performance up a notch or two, just as important is what it's done for payload and towing capacity; a V8 4x2 Sport Trac is now rated to tow up to 6800 pounds. A mildly re-tuned version of the 4.0-liter V6 is also available and it comes with a five-speed automatic. Both engines are available with two- or four-wheel drive.
Styling has been updated and refreshed, bringing the Sport Trac firmly back into the family of Ford light duty trucks.
All this attention to mechanicals and sheetmetal doesn't mean creature comforts have been ignored. Redesigned seats are lighter and take up less room. A streamlined instrument panel and dash present a friendlier, easier to use array of controls and displays.
The 2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is a four-door, five-passenger, midsize pickup. It was unique when it first appeared in 2000, but today must compete with midsize four-door pickups from every major player. Even Honda has entered the truck business with its Ridgeline, a unique vehicle in looks and construction with groundbreaking features.
Ford has legacy, though, and a faithful following. For these, the new Sport Trac should be welcome, if a bit overdue. The price, as much as $2000 less than the 2005 model, should help, too.
The new powertrain used by the 2007 Ford Sport Trac is a major plus. So are the improved driving dynamics resulting from a stiffer frame adapted from the current Explorer, the longer wheelbase, the wider track and, certainly not least, the all-new, independent rear suspension. So much has changed, in fact, it's almost not fair to compare the new with the old. Suffice to say, then, that the new fixes just about everything that was wrong with the old.
Power from the optional V8 is at or near the top of the check list for most pickup buyers. In horsepower, Ford's V8 sweeps the class, including the Dodge Dakota's 260-hp, 4.7-liter, high-output Magnum V8. And without paying a significant premium at the gas pump. The Sport Trac's V8 EPA-estimated 14/18 city/highway miles per gallon easily beats the Dakota's top V8 in fuel economy ratings. The Frontier's 265-hp V6 betters it by 1 mpg in city driving but only equals it in the highway estimate. The Tacoma's 236-hp V6 earns an estimated 17/21 city/highway, the Ridgeline 16/21 city/highway. Topping them all, no surprise, is the Colorado's 220-hp inline-five, at 18/23 city/highway. Much the same holds for torque, where the Sport Trac's V8 trails only the Dakota, and by a mere 10 pound-feet.
How all this responds when the gas pedal is pressed isn't quite as impressive as the data suggest. (Those data are 292 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque.) Power comes on smoothly, yes, with no discernible phasings from the variable valve timing. But the torque peaks at a relatively high engine speed (3950 rpm), and while the six-speed automatic's lower gears work well in getting the engine up into its power curve for launching from a stop light, once underway, it doesn't answer the call for more power as promptly as expected. From a refinement standpoint, the engine feels somewhat metallic and there's a tiny jolt every time you take off from a stop as the slack in the driveline is taken up.
Brake pedal feel is solid, if not really firm, and the ABS keep everything under control in panic stops.
Ride quality is smooth and well damped, traits not widely shared by the live axle-outfitted competition. The Sport Trac has an independent rear suspension, a design associated with sports cars, a smooth ride and good handling. Indeed, the Ridgeline is the only other truck in this class with an independent rear suspension. Drive over seriously potholed or broken pavement and you're reminded you're in a truck, but it's good by pickup standards.
Directional stability is good. Steering response is quick, considering the weight of the vehicle. Understeer, where the truck wants to go straight instead of turning, is the default mode if a corner is entered whilst carrying too much momentum. In those cases, the electronic stability control helps keep things under control. Body lean is relatively controlled in corners. The Sport Trac feels a bit more confident in quick direction changes than the Honda Ridgeline, which is quite as sure-footed. The Dakota and Tacoma closely match the Sport Trac's planted feel.
The Sport Trac offers the tightest turning circle of the bunch, almost four feet tighter than the next-best Tacoma's and seven-and-a-half feet inside the last-place Chevy Colorado's. That's important when making a U-turn or in crowded parking lots and other tight quarters.
We haven't yet driven a V6-powered 2007 Sport Trac. It makes a bit more power than it did in its previous incarnation. The new model weighs nearly 500 pounds more than the old one, however, so we suspect that extra power won't be adding much punch, if any, to the 2007 model's performance numbers. On the upside, the new model enjoys all the other improvements, so save for speed and quickness, we expect it'll have much the same ride and handling dynamics as that of the V8.
The 2007 Ford Sport Trac refreshes and updates the original in every way that matters. It's roomier. It's more powerful. It rides and handles better. It hauls and pulls more. All this comes at a lower price and with more features. In our book, this equals better value. That's hard to beat.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Laguna Beach, California.