Ford Sport Trac Limited 4X4 Review

Jonny Lieberman
by Jonny Lieberman

Last Wednesday, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the Ford Motor Company’s credit rating. “We expect the company's financial profile to weaken further during 2006,” S&P declared. “A period when the US economy and U.S. light-vehicle sales are robust." So, good market, bad products. After spending a week driving an Explorer Sport Trac, I’m inclined to agree. Any automaker misguided enough to try to sell this vehicle in the world’s most competitive light truck market is heading for a fall.

At least the previous generation Sport Trac (as well as the Explorer it was based upon) looked sporty. The new Sport Trac looks like an F-Series that tried to fit between two semis– and didn’t. While the Sport Trac’s front end boasts more chrome than a ’53 Buick, the rear is dull and rubbery, dominated by its bed cover. The combination of a full-size four door cab and a relatively tiny bed makes the Sport Trac look like a backyard El Caminofication, or a domestic version of Subaru’s dorktastic Baja. Either way its dissonant design proclaims the truck a cheap afterthought fashioned from an existing platform.

You know that monster conventional bomb the military is hot to test in Nevada? They ought to drop that bad boy on Ford’s parts bin. Some of the worst pap from last week’s Focus found its way into a vehicle that costs twice as much. The roof bins (for sunglasses and remote) are especially depressing; they’re flimsier than a Uwe Boll plotline. Once fondled, the ignobility haunts the rest of the cabin. The Sport Trac’s radio and its pointless faux-carbon fiber trim are also lifted from the Focus—to no appreciable effect. And the door handles are both confusing and dangerous; passenger’s hands naturally rest upon the handle.

Further evidence of ergonomic oversight abounds. The button that switches the Sport Trac into 4-Low is positioned immediately above the passenger’s temperature control switch. A chilly female friend nearly caused a busted axle at a stoplight. The decision to include an info readout right between the tach and the speedo is equally questionable. During my eight days with the Sport Trac, the trip computer continually reminded me that I was traveling just 12.7 miles for every gallon of fossil fuel. That’s just sad.

The Sport Trac’s gas-guzzling 4.6-liter V8 generates 300 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3950rpm. That’s enough twist to trump the Honda Ridgeline in a tow-off. [Same goes for the only marginally less thirsty Sport Trac V6.] Although none of these abbreviated pickups is what you’d call a proper workhorse, the only thing worse than the Honda’s feeble payload is the Sport Trac’s. Well, that and the Chevrolet Colorado’s; but you’d have real trouble finding a truck bed suffering from a worse case of dwarfism (49”). When I hauled some 10-foot PVC pipes, I had to throw someone in the back to secure cargo that extended more than four feet from the Sport Trac’s truncated tail. Why Ford does not simply rip-off Chevy’s “midgate” is a question best left to Standard and Poor’s.

The tonneau cover adds insult to injury. Woe betides anyone who has to subject their knees to rock shards when they crawl underneath it to release the final latch, or carry the heavy thing in the rain. Of course, there are plenty of superb Ford F150’s out there ready, willing and able to cater to serious schleppers. Surely, offering “lifestyle” haulers something that combines sporty handling with a modicum of utility is the vehicle’s raison d’etre, non?

Guess again. With the detuned ‘Stang GT mill’s 292 horses under hood, the Sport Trac’s tip-in is suitably aggressive. And then there’s a lot of sound and fury signifying… nothing much, with a constantly upshifting six-speed working against accelerative aggression. At speed, all’s right with the world: smooth V8, rear drive, bags of torque. As soon as you have to turn or brake, bad things happen. The Sport Trac’s steering is as disconnected as a cell phone. Dive, squat and roll intimidate, and then punish the vigorous driver. Mashing the stoppers summons a symphony of “conks” and more random movements than a terrier chasing a butterfly.

The Ford Sport Trac doesn’t humiliate itself compared to its two main rivals, but it embarrasses anyone daft enough to buy one. Not only does the Ford Sport Trac fail to qualify as a “real” pickup, not only does it threaten to commit haptic homicide on its occupants, but it’s clumsy, thirsty and ugly. Sometimes there’s a good reason why genres remain separate: a “hybrid” ends up being the worst of both worlds, rather than the best. It’s equally true that sometimes multinational car companies lose the plot. Unless Billy’s FoMoCo figures out what it does well and sticks to it like glue, the whole show is in real danger of cancellation.

[Ford provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas.]

Jonny Lieberman
Jonny Lieberman

Cleanup driver for Team Black Metal V8olvo.

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  • Jonny5 Jonny5 on Sep 02, 2008

    I am an owner of a 02 sport trac. It has more than enough power with the 4.0 v6. Towing is rated at just over 10,000 pounds, with a 6,000 pound tongue weight. People complaining abut fuel economy??? Are you serious???? 18-19 mpg with mine and it has a towing package with 4:10 gears factory. With the cargo cage flipped and the tailgate down you can fit about 10 full 4' x 8' sheets of plywood in the back with no problems at all. With the posi traction rear in it, I rarely need to use the four wheel drive, it wheels really well. I'm going to install 33" tires and a 3" body lift. Just tighten the front torsion bars to give it an extra 1-1/2" up front and I'm done. IMO, the sport trac is superior to a truck in fuel economy, and turning radius, it fits 5 people easy, and if I need 10' or longer lumber in it I put it through the power rear window. What's not to love about these great 4 x 4's????

  • Greywolf1961 Greywolf1961 on Feb 07, 2009

    Hmmm, I hear a lot of false statemenst about the Sport Trac. I have a 2008 ST. My wife and I LOVE IT! I commute 60 miles round trip in heavy traffic (45 - 60 minutes for 30 miles) and my average mileage is 21 MPG with the 6 cyl. My around town average is 17 and when I am on the open road (vacation from Los Angeles to northern New Mexico) I was getting between 25 and 27 MPG!!! Call me daft if you want, but this is better than I was getting in my 1998 Ranger XLT with a V6. I was only getting 19MPG on my commute and the best milage I ever got was 24MPG on the open road. As for the statement about it being ugly. Have you seriously looked at the Ridgeline?? It is any eyesore from all angles. I do agree with one complaint. The FORD Tonneau cover is too heavy. That was fixed by shopping around and ordering a cover manufactured in, of all places, the United States. The cover only weighs 30 lbs, is easy to install and remove. Has the hinge in the center and is very durable. 45 minutes and it was done. Now I can travel with my luggage in the bed and not worry about it getting wet. I thought about getting and F150 crew cab, but I don't want a vehicle that is that wide. The bed is more than ample for getting groceries, camping and carrying the amount of lumber I need for week end projects. If I was in construction I would need the full size bed. Johnny Lieberman comes off as a absolute idiot with his "Review" of the ST. He totally missed the point of the ST. I'm guessing he wants everybody to buy stock in Toyota & Nissan or drive BMW, AUDI and VOLVO. If you don't like Ford, just say so up front. We can then read your slanted review with the jaundiced eye it deserves.

  • Bob65688581 We bought zillions of German cars, despite knowing about WWII slave labor. Refusing to buy something for ideological reasons is foolish.Both the US and the EU have imposed tariffs, so the playing field is level. I'll buy the best price/quality, regardless of nationality.Another interesting question would be "Would you buy one of the many new European moderate-price EVs?" but of course they aren't sold here.Third interesting question: "Why won't Stellantis sell its best products in America?"
  • Freshblather No. Worried there will be malicious executable code built into the cars motherboard that could disable the Chinese cars in the event of hostilities between the west and China.
  • Bd2 Absolutely not - do not want to support a fascist, totalitarian regime.
  • SCE to AUX The original Capri was beautiful. The abomination from the 90s was no Capri, and neither is this.It looks good, but too similar to a Polestar. And what's with the whacked price?
  • Rover Sig Absolutely not. Ever.