- Power-folding third-row seat
- Independent rear suspension
- Interior styling
- Great crash-test scores
- Ride can be choppy
- Still doesn’t handle as well as car-based crossover utes
- Rough V-6 engine
If you are looking for a truck-based SUV that can tow, the Ford Explorer is ahead of most of its rivals.
Is it an SUV or a pickup truck? That is the first thought to cross your mind when looking at the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac. Technically, it is an SUV (Ford lists it as such on its Web site) with a pickup bed, and as you might imagine, it delivers the best of both worlds. Although based on the Explorer, it is 17 inches longer than its namesake. The passenger compartment is identical to the Explorer, and the rear cargo area of the Explorer is replaced with a 4.5-foot cargo bed made from a dent and rust-proof plastic compound. The innovative bed has three integrated storage bins and a standard 12-volt outlet. An optional hard tonneau cover and tubular bed extender add all-weather protection and increased functionality. The design is inherently useful for hauling, and with the optional V-8, the Explorer Sport Trac can tow more than 7,160 pounds.
The standard drivetrain for the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is a 210-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 mated to a five-speed automatic, and an optional 292-horsepower 4.6-liter V-8 matched with a six-speed automatic transmission is available. Consumers have the choice of the standard rear-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.
The 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is mid-size SUV/pickup with truck roots, and it drives much as you might expect from such a vehicle. Ride quality isn't anything to boast about, and you might finding yourself squealing the tires around moderately sharp corners, but it's capable overall in most everyday driving. The V-6 has to work hard to get the 4,600-pound truck up to speed, and although it has plenty of power with a light load, it's noisy and coarse when loaded. The optional V-8 is better, but it doesn’t transform the Sport Trac into a racer—and surprisingly, the V-8 rear-wheel-drive Explorer Sport Trac gets better city and highway fuel economy (15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway) than the V-6.
Inside, the look is similar to the Ford Explorer, which isn’t a bad thing. It seems that Ford heard TheCarConnection.com team’s complaints about the inferior corporate radio and has replaced the base unit with something more up-to-date for 2009. Some drivers also complain about the door handles and the lack of a grab space making it hard to close the heavy doors—so be sure to test this. The quality of the interior, including materials and fit/finish, is acceptable but not up to the level of some of Ford's newer products, like the Edge and Flex people-movers.
The Explorer Sport Trac comes very well equipped compared to compact pickup trucks. Standard features even on the base XLT include full power accessories, cruise control, air conditioning, and Sirius Satellite Radio. The Limited loads the Sport Trac with such things as fancier wheels, heated leather seats, an upgraded center console, and Ford's excellent SYNC system, which interfaces with cell phones and media players and has voice command. Adrenalin models add a more aggressive appearance to the Limited's equipment, including 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, dual exhaust tips, black fascias, and monotone perforated leather seats.
Among the priciest options are a moonroof, a premium sound system with subwoofer and six-disc changer, and a next generation voice-activated navigation with Sirius Travel Link.
The Explorer Sport Trac performs quite well in government crash tests, indicating that it's quite a safe vehicle to be in, although the federal government gives the rear-wheel-drive version only three stars in rollover, which means it's more likely to roll if tripped in an accident. Aiding security is Trailer Sway Control, which has now been added to the Sport Trac's standard-feature list. This system works in conjunction with the stability control and anti-roll programs to keep trailers in line when towing.
2009 Ford Explorer
If you are a fan of the Ford Explorer, you’ll most likely appreciate the chunky styling on the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac.
The 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac bears a strong resemblance to its SUV sibling, the Explorer, and most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com approve of its overall look.
The Detroit News calls the 2009 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. The exterior of the 2009 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." All vehicles in the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2009 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; its "rather ungainly styling" may be "a turnoff for some folks," according to Edmunds reviewers.
Reviewers are also generally happy with the interior of the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, though they point out a few areas left for improvement. Reviewers at Cars.com find that "with oversized controls and squared-off designs, the Sport Trac's interior has an industrial quality to it," while Consumer Guide lists some of their several complaints with the interior of the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 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." They praise the fact that the "navigation system is easy enough to use," but they also feel that "it needs a larger screen." Cars.com echoes the sentiments of several reviewers when they report that the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2009 "has unique interior door releases located on the front of the door armrests," a feature that they appreciate Ford has carried over from the Explorer.
2009 Ford Explorer
The 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac isn’t at the head of the pack in performance or mileage.
The 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac performs respectably on- or off-road. But a thirsty engine lineup, including a noisy V-6, brings unimpressive acceleration despite good horsepower figures.
For the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Consumer Guide reports that either a "4.0-liter V-6 or 4.6-liter V-8 engine" is available. Kelley Blue Book says that the V-6 produces "210 horsepower," while the bigger V-8 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 V-6 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 V-8's performance to be about the same or less than V-6-powered import crew cab pickups."
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 unanimously loved, with Consumer Guide claiming that "the automatic transmission is smooth" and Cars.com noting that the six-speed "automatic willingly kicked down when more power was needed" during their test. Consumer Guide adds that on the 2009 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 2009 lineup that stems from the engine options, and that is fuel economy. The EPA estimates that the Ford Explorer Sport Trac will return only 13/19 mpg with the V-6 in 4WD. The V-8 actually offers better mileage, with 15/21 mpg in the 2WD model. Consumer Guide 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 2009 finds some measure of redemption when it comes to handling and ride quality. Consumer Guide 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 2009 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 2009 Ford Sport Trac's driving experience, both on pavement and off, is exceptionally good." Even the brakes are praised on the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, with Consumer Guide finding that "stopping control is good, though the brakes felt slightly grabby on one test example."
2009 Ford Explorer
Comfort & Quality
Comfort and quietness trump a few quality mishaps in the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac.
Comfortable seats and a spacious cabin make the interior of the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac a pretty inviting place. But some reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that there's room for improvement in terms of build and materials quality.
The 2009 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 Consumer Guide 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."
Consumer Guide isn't as fond of the backseat, declaring that "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 2009 is that it serves as a practical daily cargo mover, and here it's not surprising that this vehicle makes some obvious compromises, to keep the price down and maximize passenger and cargo space. 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 2009 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 Consumer Guide.
Build and materials quality on the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2009 lineup isn't stellar according to what TheCarConnection.com has seen in studying reviews, but it should meet most expectations. Consumer Guide attests 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." 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." Cars.com reviewers summarize that "the quality of materials was fine" on their test Ford Explorer Sport Trac, but "they just didn't come together especially well."
One area where the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2009 excels is in overall cabin noise and refinement. Consumer Guide 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."
2009 Ford Explorer
For those concerned about the sobering safety statistics regarding pickups, the Sport Trac will lend a lot more peace of mind.
TheCarConnection.com editors note that the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is a safer alternative to most compact pickups, as it scores well in crash tests and offers quite a few standard safety features such as side airbags and electronic stability control, which the smaller, less expensive pickups still don't have. Trailer Sway Control is standard for 2009.
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 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, and both strongly endorse the Ford Explorer Sport Trac. NHTSA has subjected the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2009 to its full range of crash tests and found 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 came in the rollover rating, where NHTSA awarded only three out of five stars for the 2WD model. In terms of impact protection, the IIHS affirmed the perfect scores awarded by NHTSA, as they also gave their highest rating, "good," to the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac for frontal offset impacts.
The IIHS has not conducted any side impact testing, but in the event the IIHS does so, The Detroit News reports that "side air bags are standard" and should help the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2009 preserve its perfect impact rating.
Aside from a full complement of strong crash-test ratings, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the Ford Explorer Sport Trac 2009 lineup boasts enough standard features to inspire confidence in most any driver. Edmunds states 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 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac is the fact that "for 2009 the Explorer Sport Trac gains standard side curtain airbags," according to Cars.com, whereas they were previously available only as an optional feature.
The 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac has many desirable safety features, and you can add driver visibility to that list. Consumer Guide reviewers are surprised to find that the Ford Explorer Sport Trac offers "good visibility despite thickish rear-roof posts."
2009 Ford Explorer
The 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac delivers a lot of features for the price.
Compared to most compact and mid-size pickups, the 2009 Ford Explorer Sport Trac has a longer standard-feature list. The Sport Trac also offers more high-tech options inside than other trucks of its type, including a next-generation navigation system featuring the Sirius Travel Link information service, which incorporates live traffic and weather conditions.
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." Consumer Guide adds that the 2009 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 2009 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 Consumer Guide.
For a vehicle that has an MSRP of less than $30,000 even in Limited trim, the 2009 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 makes available on the Ford Explorer Sport Trac. 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 gripes that some of their reviewers "didn't like how much glare there was" coming off the heated windshield, and they 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 Consumer Guide 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 2009 that J.D. Power says "links Bluetooth-enabled cell phones and various MP3 players to a simple voice-activated command system."