Vehicle Overview
Over the past few years, two-in-one vehicles have captured considerable attention. Ford's Explorer Sport Trac, which debuted for the 2001 model year, combines the attributes of a sport utility vehicle and a pickup truck. It's proved to be surprisingly popular, though sales tapered off after some time in the company's lineup.

The Explorer Sport Trac is essentially a previous-generation, four-door, five-passenger Explorer with an open, 4-foot pickup-style cargo box added at the rear. Ford targets buyers who need an SUV that might actually get dirty by going off-road, hauling mountain bikes and other lifestyle accessories, or carrying lumber and gardening supplies. General Motors used this concept as the basis for the Cadillac Escalade EXT and Chevrolet Avalanche.

Four trim levels are available: XLS, XLT, XLT Premium and Adrenalin. The Adrenalin edition features a 510-watt Pioneer sound system, side step bars and chrome wheels. For 2005, a moonroof is available for the XLT edition. During the 2005 model year, all audio systems will gain MP3 and Sirius Satellite Radio capability.

To create the Sport Trac, developers first stretched the Explorer's frame by 15 inches. They also incorporated more aggressive styling elements than the regular four-door Explorer exhibits, such as flared rear fenders. Built on a 125.9-inch wheelbase, the Explorer Sport Trac measures 205.9 inches long overall, 71.8 inches wide and 70.5 inches tall.

The rear cargo bed is made of sheet-molded composite, which is a heavy-duty plastic that resists rust and dents. An optional, tubular steel cargo cage can extend the load area by 22 inches. Another option is a lockable hard tonneau cover that protects cargo contents.

Like Explorers predating 2002, the Sport Trac seats five people on cloth-upholstered low-back bucket seats up front and a 60/40-split folding rear bench. Power lumbar support and leather-trimmed heated front seats are available for higher-end models. The floor is covered with washable composite rubber that can be hosed down if it gets dirty.

Under the Hood
A 4.0-liter V-6 develops 205 horsepower and 242 pounds-feet of torque and teams with a five-speed-automatic transmission. Either rear-wheel drive or ControlTrac II full-time four-wheel drive is available. When properly equipped, an Explorer Sport Trac can tow 5,300 pounds.

All-disc antilock brakes are standard. Side-impact airbags are not available, but a Safety Canopy side curtain-type airbag system can be installed.

Driving Impressions
What first seemed like a gimmick � combining two different types of vehicles � turned out to have a fair amount of practical value. Even so, some people may ask: If you want a pickup truck, why not buy one?

This rig is big. Even with the assistance of the tough-looking running boards, climbing aboard can be a challenge for shorter folks. There's plenty of space in the front seat; the backseat is comparably spacious, but passengers may have to duck down slightly when entering.

Handling and performance are standard-issue SUV qualities. The Explorer Sport Trac is fairly easy to drive and maneuver. Acceleration is fairly energetic from a standstill, but automatic-transmission shifts are quite noticeable.