Probably the only thing stopping me from a full-blown love affair with the 2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac Limited 4 × 4 is its large appetite for gas. Our upscale edition came with a 4.6-liter V8 engine (4.0-liter V6s are also available) that gets 14 and 20 EPA ratings. We averaged closer to 13.5, inexcusable in this age of dwindling fuel supplies. But get past the gas mileage, and the combination SUV and pickup truck provides a nice mix of fun, comfort, and utility.
Outside, an attractive, agile stance comes from a neatly knit body with curvy, aerodynamic lines. Our tester came in a bright "Orange Frost" that drew plenty of admiring stares. Machined, 18-in. aluminum wheels covered with Michelin tires complete the sporty look.
A roof rack, tie-downs on the inside and outside of the bed, and a safety latch inside the bed's tonneau cover in case someone should get trapped are some of the amenities. And with a 130.5-in. wheelbase, 210.2-in. length, and 72.5-in. height, the vehicle is almost the perfect size — big, but not humongous. In fact, it slips neatly into urban parking garages, without, for example, banging the radio antenna on the ceiling.
A minor gripe: stepping into the cabin is a bit awkward and might be easier without the running board getting in the way. Inside, everything feels solid and well put together. The cabin seats five adults comfortably, two in front and three on a split 60-40 bench in the rear.
Instrument controls are intuitive, straightforward, and placed exactly where you would expect them. However, a small annoyance is every time you turn on the navigation system, it's necessary to press a button to accept a warning disclaimer.
Along with its creature comforts, the SportTrac excels in handling. Electronic-stability control helps maintain mastery of the vehicle when driving over patches of ice or taking turns too fast. And the 281-cu-in. engine puts out 292 hp at 5,750 rpm, plenty of power for passing on freeways and climbing steep grades.
The engine mates to a six-speed automatic transmission with what's called an Adaptive Transmission Control Strategy. Basically, the transmission self-adjusts for your particular shifting and driving style.
We tested the 4 × 4 Auto, High, and Low modes on a hilly, muddy back road shortly after a downpour. Pressing a button on the dash puts the truck into Auto or High, on the fly. Going into High gave a noticeable increase in traction, letting us easily navigate through mud holes, up soggy hills, and around slippery hairpin turns. We did not try Low, which is intended for going through deep sand or pulling a boat out of the water and requires bringing the vehicle to a complete stop.
The truck garnered the government's highest safety ratings for front and side impacts. Other safety features include antilock brakes and a child-seat tether anchor. The 2007 Sport Trac carries a list price of $29,540. Optional equipment such as keypad, rear DVD player, and Class III trailer towing brought it to $38,240.