I never thought I’d say these words, but: I’d rock the shit out of a Ford Explorer Sport Trac. I know, know! It’s just a boring 2000s-era Explorer with a bed on the back, and the interior — like many American cars from the 2000s — is not great. But hear me out on this: This machine has some great ingredients that make it a legitimately decent option as a daily-driver.
You know what’s hot right now in the truck space? Crew cabs with four-wheel drives. You know what else is hotter than it has been in the past? Mid-size trucks.
But prices are high right now, and inventory is a bit spotty, so if you want to save some cash by purchasing a used mid-size truck, you’re likely typing these names into your Craigslist search bar: Tacoma, Frontier, Colorado, Canyon, Ridgeline, Hummer H3, and maybe even Dakota.
One name you’re probably not typing in is “Explorer Sport Trac,” and I’m not entirely sure why not. During my daily ill-advised Craigslist search, I recently learned that these machines came with stick shifts. Look at this thing!:
If you never liked the looks of a Ford Explorer with a bed grafted onto the back, that’s fine and I can respect that. But if you doubted that this thing would be a compelling truck that would meet your needs, just hold on a second and hear me out. [Editor’s Note: I mean, it’s kinda like the Maverick! – JT]
Under the hood of the Explorer Sport Trac was the same 4.0-liter “Cologne” V6 found in lots of Ford products back then — the Explorer, Ranger, Mustang, Mercury Mountaineer, and even Land Rover Discovery 3. And while in the 2002 Explorer Sport Trac above it only made a modest 210 horsepower and decent 240 lb-ft of torque, it was known to be a solid, reliable motor. The Mazda-designed M5OD (R1HD, with “HD” standing for “Heavy Duty”) never really had a great reputation for durability (its clutch hydraulics have been known to give some folks grief), but it’s fun enough to shift and is generally considered an “OK” transmission with decent parts availability.
The transmission could be optioned with a two-speed transfer case bolted to the back, making the Explorer Sport Trac a decent off-road machine for moderate trails.
The 6.7 inches of ground clearance won’t blow you away, but the 23.1 degree approach angle, 26.7 degree departure, and 22.4 degree breakover angle are actually fairly decent for a truck. This thing should be okay off-road.
The truck has some fun features. It apparently had a 50-inch “industry-first all-composite cargo bed.” So you can throw your stuff back there without worrying about dents; also, your bed won’t rust. The rear window is also electric, which is cool, and there was an optional hard, foldable tonneau cover. Oh, and if you’ve always been curious about what those things are on the tops of the bedsides, they’re tie-down hooks (see number five below):
Between that rear window, the moonroof, and the greenhouse, I bet the Sport Trac felt quite airy inside:
[Editor’s Note: The “venting” option really feels like something designed to dissipate farts. – JT]
Oh, and check out the 60/40 flat-folding rear seat:
The Sport Trac had its issues; for one, it had a tendency to roll over. Plus, at 17 MPG combined for the manual two-wheel drive model (like the one for sale) and 16 MPG for the 4×4, you weren’t exactly saving the environment or your pocketbook. Still, Motor Trend seemed to like it during a first-drive review back in the early 2000s:
Though the Sport Trac is intended for people and their lifestyle gear or home improvement trappings, as opposed to a pure workaday tool, payload and tow ratings are certainly adequate at (up to) 1500 and 5260 pounds, respectively. The V-6/automatic is relatively smooth and quiet. Ride quality is better than we’ve come to expect from leaf-sprung, pickup-class vehicles, emphasizing the Sport Trac’s “people and stuff” nature. Wind noise is commendably low, and cracking open the power rear window brings a welcome breath of fresh air. This will make an exceptional family traveler.
There are people who want sport/utility attributes-like room for five and aggressive styling-combined with some outside-the-cabin cargo capacity. The Sport Trac packs it all into one slickly designed, neatly styled, and attractively priced rig-no matter what you call it.
If I could actually find a 4×4 with a stick, I’d be tempted, especially if I could snag one for a decent price. Ford Explorer Sport Tracs aren’t exactly a hot commodity these days, though I’m still unsure why. I kind of dig them now that I’ve learned a bit more.
Don’t give the engine too much praise. They love to munch timing chain guides around 100k mi. Ford took the old OHV V6 block, added a prop shaft in lieu of the cam, and plopped the OHC heads on top. But, as a cost cutting measure, they made both heads from a common casting. Flash back to the prop shaft… It’s to drive the passenger side cam shaft. On the back side of the engine. And that prop shaft is driven like a conventional cam in block.
But wait! There’s more (timing chains). 4wd models got an additional balance shaft in the oil pan, also driven off the crank. So you’ve got 4 timing chains in this engine (crank-prop, prop-LH head, prop-RH head, crank-balance shaft) and, remember, they love to eat timing chain guides.
And the icing on the cake is that when they went from OHV to OHC, they went to an interference design. Granted, they generally don’t skip timing when the guides made their descent to the oil pan, but the potential for piston kisses exists.
Piston Kisses is the name of my new Heavy Metal band.
David’s forgotten more about cars that I’ll ever know, but I could’ve sworn that the Explorer Sport Trac was more of a Ranger cosplaying as an Explorer than an actual Explorer with a bed out back.
I’ve never been in a Sport Trac, but I’ve been in and driven Rangers of that generation, and to me, they’re more on the truck-like side: not a bad thing… just very utilitarian and not particularly comfortable or engaging to drive. Simple and cheap, which are desirous qualities in a small work/hobby truck.
I don’t object to the narrowed Explorer styling, plus a roll-down rear window is nice (and not as common as I’d like on small trucks). Still, since I’m getting older, I might like something just a bit less trucky if I were driving it in traffic every day. 🙂
It’s basically a stretched Explorer frame. From C&D:
“On-the-ball readers will note that there’s a time-tested name for a vehicle like the Sport Trac. It’s called a pickup truck. At first glance (and for the sake of our specifications), we’ll call it a pickup, too. The Sport Trac is, after all, a vehicle with a passenger cab and an open cargo box joined by a frame.
Technically, the Sport Trac is closer to the Explorer than it is to the Ford Ranger — the pickup that the Explorer itself sprang from. Ford considers the Sport Trac, available in rear- or four-wheel drive, to be the third model in the Explorer line, a line that until now consisted of three- and five-door wagon models.”
Venting rear windows are helpful in a lot of situations, not all of them flatulence-related. It’s a great way to get some air flow through the cab without letting in all the road noise like you would if you just opened it all the way.
I continue to be stunned how low your automotive aspirations are.
I would be amused to see what vehicle you would design given the opportunity.
For example, would you even bother to paint it, or would that be too flashy?
Autotrader.ca has 28 for sale nationally. Zero listed as manual. Prices are pretty great for the most part.
Torch is right, this is almost exactly the same size, configuration, and horsepower as the Maverick. Kind of a harbinger, like the Aztec or the Infiniti FX.
While farts are one possibility, I’m pretty sure the actual users of the vent are smokers who don’t want to roll down a front window in the winter and have some sort of ashtray in the car.
I have (older) relatives who swear by these things. I think they are on their second with plans to sell it and get a third this year as the current one is getting a bit high mileage.
I wouldn’t get one myself, but they really like the looks, utility, and relatively compact size for something with a bed that still seated four adults comfortably. I suppose a Maverick would fit the same bill now days.
I liked and still like the Sport Trac, throughout its generations. It’s a great size, decently capable, and largely dependable/reliable. Would I buy one now? Perhaps, but it’d have to be the exact spec I want and in good condition that’s been well cared for.
That said, the dimensions of the new Maverick are very close to the Sport Trac – even ground clearance, surprisingly! – with better economy, safety, and without having to worry about the aged rubber parts and other stuff waiting to happen. Probably lose a bit of towing and payload capacity, but a Maverick Tremor does a better job of ticking my desired boxes than even a manual Sport Trac does.
I currently drive a Sport Trac with 92K miles. It has the auto, RWD, and a rusty frame from two decades plus of harsh winters but it’s been never let me down (yet).
The factory tonneau is pretty cool, opens from the front or back and you can leave it have open bc there are bungee cords that loop over the tie downs on the bed. Also, I guess for safety reasons, the tonneau on the bed made it into a ‘trunk’ so there is a glow-in-the-dark, emergency exit latch built into the underside of it.
I was sort of interested in the Adrenalin plans from SVT, but I tink the 4.6 supercharged v8’s nature of bowing up was fully a thing by 2007 when they decided against going that route, still a 6 speed manual 4.6 NA Mod motor was reliable enough. I might have been swayed to go with one with that combo.
The biggest problem with the Adrenalin was that Ford nerfed the 4×4 system to make it AWD. All the same hardware was there, but you lost 4WD locked and low range.
There are actually a couple good stories on-line of people reactivating the 4×4 system on Adrenalin models.
This was after the SVT group was stripped of it’s autonomy, and things went downhill (‘05+). Ford still released an Adrenaline trim, but it wasn’t much more than an appearance package. Sadly, they still slapped some SVT badges on it…
I like the idea of the SportTrac, but as you mentioned these were the posterchild for rollovers. If I recall the SportTrac got the worst rollover rating of any available new car back when it was new. Something like a 30-40% chance of rollover in a single car accident!
In my research I’ve discovered that apparently there was a second gen one from 07-10 that I’m not sure I’ve seen a single one of in my life. That’s fascinating to me.
I had the same thought regarding the second gen. I can’t think of another vehicle from a mainstream automaker that I’ve forgotten so quickly.
Right? I almost obsessively car-spot, and when I saw a picture of one today my brain broke. This doesn’t happen to me often. I can understand me being confused when I see a 90’s kei car on the road, or when I first saw one of those MV-1 handicap vehicles, but this is a variant of the freaking Ford Explorer!
You truly learn something new every day.
The 2nd gen could be had with a 4.6L V8!
I’ve seen one driving around my area.
Time to fire up the Holy Grails series for that one.
Yes it could. In fact, I have one. 2007 V8 4×4. Best ‘little’ truck I have ever owned.
One of the managers at my old part-time high school job bought a brand new second gen in 2010 right when they were discontinued. Apparently he got a hell of a deal on it, they were never particularly great sellers and with how expensive gas was at the time they were basically permanent fixtures on dealer lots.
Yeah. It’s interesting. The second gen didn’t get much love in the US, but here in BC you couldn’t drive 5 mins without seeing one when they first came out. Thanks to mild weather, there are still a bunch on the road. Mine is pushing 200k kms (125k miles) but with the V8 and 4×4 it does absolutely anything I request of it. Just wish it was a bit better on gas.
I’ve seen a few of these pop up over the years, but they’re usually beat to crap, which rules them out for me as anything resembling a daily driver, but it depends on how adventurous one is…. A 2005+ Nissan Frontier with a 4.0L and 6 speed is arguably a better truck for not much more money (and there’s also more than 2.7 of them for sale in the continental US).
Speaking of cheap crew cab 4 wheel drive trucks that technically exist somewhere in the universe, the 04-06 Colorado/Canyon could be had with a 2.8 I4 and a 5 speed in a crew cab. This one’s not 4×4, but looks remarkably clean https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/1072373323459559
“…it was known to be a solid, reliable motor.”
The earlier OHV versions, certainly. But Ford used plastic timing chain cassette guides in the early SOHC versions that were prone to breaking. And since there are timing chains on both the front and rear of the engine, replacement necessitates pulling the engine.
You have to wonder who thought that was a good idea. It meant they could use the same head on both sides but the savings can’t have been offset by the cost of two different cam drives.
My BIL had one of these (with the automatic) – it was OK but underpowered.
Yeah, definitely comes off an an odd engineering choice, but probably a relatively quick and easy way of marketing the Ranger with a modern “over head cam!” engine while adding a bit of power.
I’ve got one, but with a manual, so more fun than the auto. But definitely not winning any drag races.
LOL, “dissipate farts”, a technical term.
Sport Tracs in decent shape go for crazy money, even before the pandemic. They were basically a small quad-cab pickup that you could get with a V8. Ahead of their time. Back then, they were just another oddity, today it’s what everyone wants.
The V8s could even a tow a pretty decent amount, so they make a great tow rig that can double as a daily driver instead of having resort to brodozer or what passes for a midsize truck these days.
Fun story: I worked on a robotic system that made side body panels for the Sport Trac (or, as they were going to call it at the time, the Adrenalin, no “e”). Rather than stamp out panels just for them, they took regular Explorer side panels that were already stamped and cut a few inches off the back. The robot cell I built used a YAG laser to do the cutting.
Some comments on here are as wonderful as the article itself. You rule and so does Autopian
I always thought Sport Trac wasn’t a good name, and then you told me they wanted to call it the Adrenalin. Sport Trac sounds a lot a better to me now.
For the youths of the Autopian, the turn of the Century had a mercifully brief obsession with intentionally misspelling words to sell us shit. Plucking random vowels from a word was a common expression of this. At its peak of stupidity, you could be reading about music and come across a “nu metal” band called Limp Bizkit. Business kit? Biscuit? I don’t know what the fuck they meant by that. The alphabet soup car naming system feels a lot better if the alternative was a future of constantly having to overrule autocorrect every time you wanted to type the name of your vehicle.
But they did make the Adrenalin. It was the SVT variant of the Sport Trak. We had a red one I saw in town frequently, and it was driven in such a way that the owner was always seeking its namesake from their glands.
390hp in an AWD midsize was a bunch in the mid 2000s.
I knew the Sport Trac offered a manual, but TIL the Discovery 3 offered a Cologne V6 variant too.
Fart venting needs its own metric analysis. Opposite corner windows are my go-to solution to exhaust the fart while replacing it with fresh air with a minimum of wind buffeting, but a CFM rating of air exchange could be useful in determining the efficacy of stink-effluence.
My dad had one and it was a good truck/SUV. It was a little cramped in the back but passable for short trips. Bed held enough to get the job done, but as with any Ford of that time frame, the suspension and steering components were junk. The 4.0 engine was in my first new vehicle purchase in 2004 (Ranger with manual and extended cab) and was a good engine from what I could tell not sure if it is the same transmission, but it worked fine for me.
Would I buy one probably not. My full size Ram 1500 gets the same mileage, has more power, and a bigger bed. But if I needed something with utility and a limited budge I would consider it.
The biggest issue was timing chains, 2002 and older had some issue with Chatter and the design was such that one side of the engine turned its single OHC from the front, while the other side was from the rear, so a timing chain swap is an engine out affair.
This. And I think the chain-driven water pump is on the back of the engine. Then while you’re dropping the engine may as well rehab the transmission and make sure the bands for 2nd and 3rd are in good order.
If I get this and a RAM SRT10 MT and an H3T MT and a Comanche MT and a Subaru Baja MT do I win The Autopian David Tracy Truck Obscure Manual Transmission Bingo game?
On a secondary note – you should call this guy up and write an article on that building. It looks like it has stories to tell.
I could do a lot of damage with space like that.
The damage would mostly be to my bank account…
I think you need a Mitsubishi Raider MT and Isuzu i Series MT
We might be able to fill out the whole bingo card.
no, you completely left off the manual Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Find a Suzuki Equator 5MT and you’ll have a royal flush
You could also get a manual trans on the first couple years of Toyota Tundra. V6 only, but still neat!
I was going to say ‘good luck finding one’, but you did. The related Explorer Sport (2 door!) could be had with this drivetrain configuration as well. A few years ago I found a tan on tan RWD Explorer Sport like this with less than 100k on it for $4k. I was super tempted to buy that time capsule.
I always found it interesting Ford decided to do this rather than just give us a crew cab Ranger. My assumption is they figured the Explorer branding had more cache at the time and therefore they could price it a bit higher (plus I think by this point the Explorer was a little larger than the Ranger, so this would end up closer in size to a Dakota Crew Cab).
The really infuriating thing, if you’re a Ranger fan, is Ford sold crew cab Rangers south of the border. So close, yet so far…
This, the Envoy XUV the other day, and the Avalanche were all kind of similar – pickupify the SUV version, rather than a crew cab of the regular truck (although GM did do crew cabs for both sizes of their actual trucks. I suppose there’s something to be said for potential added refinement that the SUV as a starting point may offer, despite sharing a chassis.
It’s also interesting, moreso for the Sport Trac and XUV, how nonchalant GM and Ford were with the actual trucks in the small/midsize segment as the 2000s wore on, with Ranger getting on in years and GM trying to get by with a I5 Colorado/Canyon (before throwing a V8 in).
I will say, in high school I worked with a guy who’s dad had a Sport Trac of this vintage and was going to replace it with an F150 (or Mark LT but they were about to drop it). So as a gateway vehicle to other truck ownership it worked (at least for him), and the Maverick is potentially doing the same again now.
It does feel like splitting hairs, but you’re right- The Explorer was already beginning to diverge upmarket from the Ranger, in terms of interior space and features, (even if they still shared underpinnings) much better aligned with Ford’s ‘outdoor middle-class lifestyle’ aspirations for the Sport Trac.
Ford had pretty much relegated the Ranger to fleet status at that point, doing the bare minimum to update its interior and styling until it’s eventual extended hiatus.
I always enjoyed my friend’s Ranger back in the day, but sitting in one now? Damn they feel cramped inside, and downright agricultural to drive. Turning it into a crew cab would have just made it a fleet vehicle with more seating capacity- Not addressed any of what Ford needed for a ‘lifestyle vehicle.’
Funny enough, the latest Ranger basically occupies the same market segment as the Sport Trac.
I’ve never liked the look of the Sport Trac and that lower plastic has aged like fine chalk. I always preferred the look of the Ranger, though it was never produced as a crew cab (in the US).
It was based on the already-outgoing original Explorer, the 2-door version of which got a similar facelift while the 4-door migrated to a new platform. Scratch the surface and you’re looking at the original 1983 Ranger.
I still them on the road from time to time. It still reminds me of the Subaru Baja, only a little bigger.
SportTrac – the Nickleback of trucklets. Personally, I find both to be unoffensive and at times even entertaining.