How many trucks is too many? By the end of this year, Ford’s going to have seven sport-utility vehicles in its family. Think about it: the Waltons had the same number of kids.
Of the seven, two are brand new to the fold for this year — or the 2001 model year, however you measure. One of those is the new 2001 Explorer Sport Trac; another is the redesigned 2001 two-door Ford Explorer Sport. These vehicles will be at the dealerships in late January.
The Sport Trac starts at $23,050 (for two-wheel drive) and $25,820 (for four-wheel drive). The Sport will start at $22,225 (for two-wheel drive) to $25,245 (for four-wheel drive). All prices include destination and delivery charges.
The "and" vehicle
Ford executives say that with the Explorer Sport Trac they were looking for an "and" vehicle — one that could do everything a sport-utility vehicle could do and more. It combines the interior space of a sport-utility vehicle, specifically the Explorer, with an open cargo area from a pickup truck. (Ford has done the same thing in jumbo size with its new F-150 SuperCrew, which adds a pickup truck bed to a larger sport-utility cabin from the Expedition.)
For the Explorer Sport Trac, Ford engineers took the four-door Explorer and lengthened the frame 14.25 inches. The Sport Trac's frame is 40 percent laterally stiffer, which engineers say makes the vehicle more agile on and off-road.
The engine is a 4.0-liter single overhead cam V-6, which is rated at 205 hp at 5250 rpm and 240 lb-ft of torque at 3750 rpm. The Sport Trac has a five-speed automatic transmission, and a five-speed manual transmission will be offered in the fall. There is rack-and-pinion steering, which is somewhat unusual for a truck.
The Sport Trac's part-time four-wheel drive system can be shifted while the vehicle is moving. Drivers can select from two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive high and four-wheel drive low.
2001 Ford Explorer Sport
The cargo area of the cargo bed is made of sheet-molded composite plastic, which engineers say will never rust and won't be scratched or dented by whatever owners throw in it. It provides 29.6 cubic feet of space and can be completely covered by an optional ($490) lockable two-piece hard tonneau cover, making it into a trunk.
Also available are a cargo area divider and stainless steel fold-out bed extender. The tubular stainless steel bed extender adds 22.6 inches to the cargo bed by allowing cargo to be secured with the tailgate lowered. That means that the cargo area can be extended to over 6 feet in length. When more length is needed on the cargo floor, the owner lowers the tailgate and pivots the bed extender 180 degrees to rest it on the tailgate floor. The bed extender locks in place on the open tailgate to keep items in place.
When rotated back and stored inside the cargo bed, it acts as a divider to keep items in the cargo bed from being thrown around.
Inside the sport-utility-sized cabin, seating accommodates five adults. New bucket seats up front were designed specifically for the Sport Trac to be easy to clean. It features a thick rubber-type floor covering that allows owners to hose out the interior. The rear seat can be folded flat should additional cargo space be needed.
Other nifty touches include a control knob for the standard power (one-touch, no less) rear window, and a removable nylon sport bag located under the center console up front. The bag can be removed and used to carry snacks or bottled water. When kept in the vehicle, it serves as the storage area of the center floor console.
Explorer Sport rethought
2001 Explorer Sport
The 2001 Explorer Sport, meanwhile, is being split off from the four-door version, which gets a thorough overhaul next year and becomes larger and roomier. For 2001, the two-door gets a new look inside and out, more standard equipment and numerous refinements. These include a standard 205 horsepower 4.0-liter single overhead cam V-6 engine (as in the Sport Trac), standard CD player and center console with removable soft-pack, improved ride and handling, dual-stage rear leaf springs, a quieter interior, and an additional inch of travel for the front seats.
Ford engineers have used urethane body mounts, instead of rubber, to mount the body to the chassis. They say this will reduce noise, vibration and harshness. Engineers say they have done a lot of suspension and shock tuning. They have gone from a single stage leaf spring to a multi-stage leaf spring that allows for smoother on road ride without giving up the payload and towing capability that SUV owners want.