Ford introduced the Explorer Sport Trac as a 2001 model, targeting consumers who placed more value on having two genuine, adult-sized rows of seating, less value on a big bed. To build the Sport Trac, Ford took the Explorer SUV platform, lengthened it 15 inches, added a 4-foot pickup bed, and a whole new category of vehicle was created for the company.

Fast-forward to the 2007 model year, and the aging Sport Trac, which had been stuck on that old Explorer platform more than a year after Ford introduced its brand-new Explorer SUV, was finally redesigned to fit on the new Explorer's platform. And, for the first time, it received a V-8 engine option to go along with the 4.0-liter V-6, which has been standard since 2001.

For 2008, not much has changed, but that's fine: This second-generation Sport Trac is such an improvement over the model it replaced that there isn't much that needs changing.

From the rear seat forward, the Sport Trac is pretty much an Explorer, meaning there's adequate room for five inside. In the back, the composite bed is still substantially smaller than the bed on regular pickups, but it's more than 26 percent larger than the older Sport Trac's bed. The test model, a top-of-the-line Limited, had a locking "hard tonneau" cover over the bed that allows you to think of the Sport Trac as having a huge, waterproof trunk, or if you remove the two-piece cover, a bed large enough to handle most pickup chores. There's also an optional tubular aluminum "bed extender" that lets you leave the tailgate down, adding 6 cubic feet of captured cargo space.

The test Sport Trac Limited was loaded with options, including a navigation system, a power sunroof, adjustable pedals, a reverse sensing system, two-tone leather bucket seats, 18-inch chromed aluminum wheels and several other features that raised the $28,075 starting price to $36,140, including $720 shipping. And this is for a rear-drive model: All-wheel-drive would add about $2,500. Even without AWD, the Sport Trac has a lots of safety features, including stability control, side and side curtain air bags and antilock disc brakes.

The base 4.0-liter V-6 has 210 horsepower, and comes with a five-speed automatic transmission. If that's all you need - and it may be, unless you tow a lot - the Sport Trac XLT starts at about $25,000. The test vehicle had the 4.6-liter, 292-horsepower V-8 and a six-speed automatic transmission, allowing for a very healthy towing capacity of 7,160 pounds.

On the road, the 2008 Sport Trac is quiet, surprisingly nimble and rides smoothly for a vehicle that is, essentially, a truck, as opposed to a car-based crossover. The V-8 has plenty of punch, but you pay for it at the gas pump - EPA-rated mileage is 13 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, on, at least, regular gas.

The Sport Trac excels at nothing, but does everything well enough to make it one of the most livable, versatile vehicles available.

Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smithcan be reached at scsmith@orlandosentinel.com.