2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 23, 2008

The 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac offers good versatility in an unremarkable package.

The car experts at TheCarConnection.com consulted road tests from across the Web to write this conclusive review of the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac. This profile of the 2008 Explorer Sport Trac also compares it with similar vehicles to give you the unbiased advice you need when shopping.

When you look at the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, what you see is part Ford Explorer SUV and part pickup truck. And what you see is what you get. The Sport Trac is about 17 inches longer than the SUV on which it's based. Behind the five-passenger interior is a 4.5-foot cargo bed made from rust- and dent-proof plastic (technically, it's called sheet molded compound, or SMC). The deep plastic bed features three enclosed storage bins, a standard 12-volt outlet, and an optional cover and tubular bed extender. Based on this alone, the Sport Trac is certainly useful for hauling things around, and with the optional V-8, it can tow more than 6,600 pounds.

The 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac features a standard 210-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6, while an available 4.6-liter V-8 powerplant provides 292 horsepower and comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 gets a five-speed automatic. There's a choice of two-wheel drive or Ford's ControlTrac four-wheel drive if you want extra traction. ControlTrac offers a two-speed transfer case with a low range just in case the Sport Trac heads off-road.

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The 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac drives like what it is: a fairly large but not quite full-size truck. The Sport Trac is neither fast nor nimble, but then it doesn't look much like a sportscar, does it? Acceleration even with the optional V-8 engine isn't stellar; the coarse sound of the V-6 is noticeable, and the engine has to work pretty hard to keep the 4,600-pound truck moving. Wind and road noise levels are acceptable, but not particularly low.

Inside, the look is similar to the Ford Explorer, which isn't bad. However, TheCarConnection.com team thinks it's about time that Ford get a new corporate radio designed. Some drivers also complained about the door handles and the lack of a grab space making it hard to close the heavy doors. (This is something you'll want to consider if you go for a test drive.) The quality of the interior, including materials and fit/finish, is passable.

The Sport Trac was completely reengineered and redesigned in 2007, so 2008 is what marketing types call a carryover year. In other words, there's not much new compared to 2007. But for Ford, 2008 is the year the Sport Trac gets an extra helping of electronics. Voice activation is now available for the optional navigation system. Ford's SYNC hands-free in-car communications and entertainment system is also optional.

Ford bolstered the 2008 Sport Trac's standard feature list with side curtain airbags. These now supplement the standard front and side airbags. A very effective stability control system with an anti-roll program is also standard. The Sport Trac performed well in government crash tests.

The editors at TheCarConnection.com aren't too fond of the aging twins from General Motors, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Their five-cylinder engines never had the power or refinement to endear themselves to our experts. The Dodge Dakota is much improved for 2008, and its longer traditional steel bed might be an advantage for some buyers.

Honda's Ridgeline is an interesting alternative, as it's a toughened car-based crossover. The Ridgeline drives better than the Sport Trac, but lacks the Ford's heavy-duty capabilities in terms of hauling, towing, and off-road capabilities.

The Nissan and Toyota mid-size trucks are not earth-shattering in terms of performance or versatility, but they are worth a look, as they provide nearly even competition to the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac in most every area of consideration.

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2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

Styling

If you like the look of the regular Ford Explorer, chances are good that you'll appreciate the styling on the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac.

The 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac—the pickup version of Ford's ubiquitous SUV--bears a strong resemblance to its fully enclosed sibling, and the styling is appreciated in most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com.

The exterior of the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac "does a good job of striking the delicate balance between street style and off-road character," according to Kelley Blue Book. They add that "the roof rack, external cargo-box tie-downs, fairly large tires and prominent wheel arches give it a properly rugged image, while the big chrome grille and front-end treatment lend style." The reviewers over at The Detroit News have taken to calling the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac "a cute truck, very attractive," though that particular choice of words may not go over well with the Ford Explorer Sport Trac's target market. All vehicles in the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 lineup feature similar external styling, but Edmunds notes that "two trim levels are offered: XLT and Limited." About the only difference that Edmunds can detect on the outside between the two are the "color-keyed bumpers and side mirrors" and "18-inch alloy wheels" on the Limited that replace the "16-inch alloy wheels" and plain bumpers on the XLT. The Ford Explorer Sport Trac's sheetmetal is more universally accepted than the Honda Ridgeline's, whose "rather ungainly styling" may be "a turnoff for some folks," according to Edmunds reviewers.

The interior of the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac fares moderately well, but reviewers also find quite a few areas for improvement. Consumer Guide lists some of their several complaints with the interior of the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 as a "transmission shift lever" that "blocks easy access to the climate system" and a "turn signal stalk" that is "mounted at an awkward angle." While they praise the fact that the "navigation system is easy enough to use," they also feel that "it needs a larger screen." Reviewers at Cars.com find that "with oversized controls and squared-off designs, the Sport Trac's interior has an industrial quality to it." One positive comment comes from Cars.com, which echoes the sentiments of several reviewers when they write that the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 "has unique interior door releases located on the front of the door armrests," a feature that they appreciate Ford has carried over from "the 2007 Explorer SUV."

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2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

Performance

It may not get up and go with the best performers in the category, but the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac handles well.

The 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac wasn't built as a performance machine, but it handles surprisingly well. Unfortunately, both engines are thirsty and offer unremarkable acceleration.

For the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, ConsumerGuide writes that either a "4.0-liter V6 or 4.6-liter V8 engine" is available. Kelley Blue Book says that the V-6 produces "210 horsepower," while the bigger V8 makes "292 horsepower." Neither engine scores particularly well in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, and Cars.com claims that the "V-8's acceleration is merely adequate." On the positive side, Kelley Blue Book adds "most drivers will probably find the 4.0-liter V6 more than adequate for most of their driving, with 254 pound-feet of torque and plenty of acceleration to keep up with any likely traffic situation." Going back to the V-8 on the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Edmunds comes down hard, saying, "testing revealed the V8's performance to be about the same or less than V6-powered import crew cab pickups."

Two different engine choices deserve two different transmissions, and the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 dutifully offers up a pair of transmissions for prospective buyers. Edmunds says that the V-6 is "mated to a five-speed automatic transmission," while the V-8 links to "a six-speed automatic." The transmission in particular is one feature that reviewers love, with ConsumerGuide claiming that "the automatic transmission is smooth" and Cars.com writing that the six-speed "automatic willingly kicked down when more power was needed" during their test. ConsumerGuide adds that on the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac trims, both are available "with rear-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive that can be left engaged on dry pavement."

Unfortunately, there is one very significant knock against the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 lineup that stems from the engine options, and that is fuel economy. The EPA estimates that the Ford Explorer Sport Trac will return 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway in 2WD form with the V-6, and 13/19 mpg with the V-6 in 4WD. The V-8 offers nearly identical ratings, with 13/20 mpg in 2WD mode and 13/19 mpg in 4WD mode. ConsumerGuide testers characterize the Ford Explorer Sport Trac's fuel economy as "dismal, even among pickup trucks," since their test Sport Tracs "averaged just 12.4-13.5 mpg."

Despite the drawbacks in terms of fuel economy, the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 finds some measure of redemption when it comes to handling and ride quality. ConsumerGuide is the first to laud the Ford Explorer Sport Trac for its "fine ride control" that "bests all rival pickups except the Honda Ridgeline." Edmunds adds the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac features "admirable road isolation and a surprisingly responsive steering system" that makes the Ford Explorer Sport Trac "a pleasure to drive and ride in." Kelley Blue Book chimes in by noting "the 2008 Ford Sport Trac's driving experience, both on pavement and off, is exceptionally good." Even the brakes are praised on the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, with ConsumerGuide finding that "stopping control is good, though the brakes felt slightly grabby on one test example."

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2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

Comfort & Quality

A couple of loose panels aren't enough to detract completely from the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac's virtues in terms of comfort and quiet.

The interior of the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is highlighted by comfortable seats and a spacious cabin, but some reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that there's still room for improvement in terms of build and materials quality.

The 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac offers room for five, with a pair of "front bucket seats" and a "three-person, 60/40-split rear bench seat," according to Cars.com. Passenger room inside the cabin is commendable, and ConsumerGuide finds that although "slightly shorter seat tracks give a bit less legroom than in Explorer SUVs," most front occupants "won't want for space." They add "the seats are comfortable," a sentiment that is shared by many reviewers. Kelley Blue Book says "the seating is quite roomy and comfortable, in both the front and rear, and a long day behind the wheel should prove pleasant." For another opinion of rear space on the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, ConsumerGuide predicts "three medium-sized adults can ride with little cramping, but the uninviting bench seat is low to the floor, flat, and not well-padded."

One of the big selling points on the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 is that it serves as a practical daily cargo mover. The revised bed that arrived in 2007 certainly helps affirm that assertion, but the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac has some deficiencies. Most notably, J.D. Power finds that the Ford Explorer Sport Trac doesn't have a comparable feature to the Chevy Avalanche's Midgate, which they say "essentially extends the Avalanche's bed into the cabin, allowing it to carry long items with the tailgate closed." What the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac does offer is a "4.5-foot cargo box" that Edmunds says is "made of corrosion-proof composite material with a molded-in liner that resists scratches and dents." Also in the cargo bed of the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, the "external tie-down cleats are handy," and inside the cabin the "rear seatbacks fold flat for great in-cab cargo room," but otherwise, "small-item storage is just OK," remarks ConsumerGuide.

Build and materials quality on the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 lineup have their ups and downs, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that they're generally well-received. ConsumerGuide writes that the Ford Explorer Sport Trac "Limited's cabin has classy, durable decor overall," but they "did notice a few rough edges, and soft-touch surfaces are scarce." Cars.com reviewers find that "the quality of materials was fine" on their test Ford Explorer Sport Trac, but "they just didn't come together especially well." In a quality-sapping nod to the Ford Explorer Sport Trac's potential for driving off-road, Motor Trend says "the Sport Trac has rubber flooring Berber-carpet floormats."

One area where the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 excels is in overall cabin noise and refinement. ConsumerGuide reviewers claim that the Ford Explorer Sport Trac is "a close second to Ridgeline for overall compact-pickup refinement," thanks to the fact that "wind noise is low up to 70 mph, but coarse-surface tire thrum is noticeable at most any speed." Edmunds notes that "Ford claims that at 40 mph, the Sport Trac is a full 5 decibels quieter than a Honda Ridgeline," showing that at least a few Ford engineers are concerned with ambient noise.

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2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

Safety

There are enough safety features to keep you out of trouble, but in case it's completely unavoidable, the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac also holds up well in a crash.

The 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is a very safe alternative for those shopping for a mid-size pickup, as it scores well in crash tests and offers quite a few standard safety features.

Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the two major crash-test agencies in the U.S., have tested the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, and both strongly endorse the Ford Explorer Sport Trac. The NHTSA has subjected the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 to its full range of crash tests and finds the vehicle worthy of a perfect five-star rating for driver and passenger protection during both front and side impacts. The one strike against the Ford Explorer Sport Trac comes in the rollover rating, where the NHTSA awards only four out of five stars. In terms of impact protection, the IIHS affirms the perfect scores awarded by the NHTSA, as they also give their highest rating, "good," to the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac for frontal offset impacts. The IIHS has not conducted any side impact testing, but The Detroit News writes that "side air bags are standard" and should help the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 preserve its perfect impact rating should the IIHS decide to conduct a side impact test.

Aside from a full complement of strong crash-test ratings, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 lineup boasts enough standard features to inspire confidence in most any driver. Edmunds writes that "antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags are all standard" on the Ford Explorer Sport Trac. To that list, Cars.com adds "rollover mitigation, in the form of Ford's Roll Stability Control," is standard as well, and it "senses impending rollovers and attempts to prevent them by applying individual brakes." Also aiding the overall safety credentials of the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is the fact that "for 2008 the Explorer Sport Trac gains standard side curtain airbags," according to Cars.com, whereas they were previously available only as an optional feature.

The 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac has many desirable safety features, and you can add driver visibility to that list as well. ConsumerGuide reviewers are surprised to find that the Ford Explorer Sport Trac offers "good visibility despite thickish rear-roof posts."

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2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

Features

For the price you'll pay, it's hard to find a better deal for features than the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac.

Standard features abound on the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, and options further sweeten the pot on this mid-size offering from Ford.

Even the entry-level trim of the Ford Explorer Sport Trac is nicely appointed, and Edmunds reviewers find that "the well-equipped XLT features a composite cargo box," along with "full power accessories, power rear window, foglights, keyless entry," and "cruise control." ConsumerGuide adds that the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac XLT boasts standard "leather-wrapped steering wheel w/radio controls" and "AM/FM/CD/MP3 player" with a "digital-media player connection." Jumping up to the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 in Limited trim brings a "6-way power driver seat w/lumbar adjustment, keypad entry, wireless cell phone link, iPod adapter," and "voice recognition," according to ConsumerGuide.

For a vehicle that has an MSRP of less than $30,000 even in Limited trim, the 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is near the top of the class in terms of standard equipment. Adding to the "wow" factor and the sticker price are the numerous options that Ford has made available on the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008. Edmunds says that some of the "major options include a heated windshield, a sunroof, leather seating," and a "navigation system (with voice operation)." Unfortunately, some of those features don't score too well in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. In particular, Cars.com writes that some of their reviewers "didn't like how much glare there was" coming off of the heated windshield, and they also feel that "it's time Ford upgraded to a system with better voice technology" since the current navigation system’s "computerized voice continually mangled the pronunciation of street names" during their test. Other features on the Ford Explorer Sport Trac receive more praise than criticism, and ConsumerGuide finds that some of the best are the "DVD entertainment system" and, especially, the SYNC electronics integration package on the XLT trim of the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2008 that J.D. Power says "links Bluetooth-enabled cell phones and various MP3 players to a simple voice-activated command system."

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