Almost every pickup truck sold in the U.S. today can be configured as a four-door crew cab. In some cases, a crew cab is the only version you can buy, but it wasn’t long ago that crew cabs were few and far between. The 1996 Ford Adrenalin concept truck helped change that, setting the stage for today’s pickups.
The tough-looking Adrenalin design study was one of the first concepts to foreshadow the trend of prioritizing passenger space over cargo space for the U.S. market. It featured a shortened cargo box but had plenty of room for five passengers in the four-door cab.
Prior to the Adrenalin concept, most U.S. crew-cab pickups were available only as extra-large heavy-duty trucks, while similar small crew-cab pickups had long been popular in overseas markets before 1996.
“It’s really the best of two worlds,” Jack Telnack, Ford’s vice president of corporate design, said when the Adrenalin was released. “It’s a fun-to-drive off-road sport utility vehicle that also expands on the practicality of a pickup.”
As revolutionary as the segment-busting Adrenalin was at the time, Telnack was used to pushing the design envelope of passenger cars and trucks at Ford, such as the 1983 Ford Thunderbird, 1986 Ford Taurus, 1994 Lincoln Mark VIII and 1996 Ford F-150.
The Adrenalin was aggressively more aerodynamic-looking than the 1996 F-150 and larger than the compact Ford Ranger. It featured a bright amber exterior with custom 32-inch Goodyear off-road tires mounted on 16-inch alloy wheels. A winch was integrated into the truck’s front bumper, plus tow hooks at all four corners. The lower rocker panels and front and rear skid plates were clad in nickel plating for extra protection while playing in the dirt or on rocks.
Inside, the Adrenalin showcased different colors and fabrics inspired by rock climbing and camping gear. Sturdy fabric covered the lower instrument panel, door trims and seats. Canvas was used to cover the sunroof, and removable day packs and bags were also part of the cabin. An innovative (at the time) GPS unit integrated in the dash could show the driver a real-time map of the crew cab’s location anywhere in the world.
Similar to what would later become the midgate on the Chevy Avalanche, the Adrenalin’s rear window could be lowered into the back panel of the cab, which could then be folded flat (along with the rear bucket seats) to extend the cargo bed’s loading area from the tailgate to behind the front seats. The tailgate had a special panel that could be folded out into a cargo bed extender when the tailgate was flat. Special storage compartments in the cargo box housed a water purification system that could be turned into a high-pressure wash to clean the truck up after a long day on the trails.
After overwhelmingly positive consumer response to Adrenalin, it arrived in 2000 as the 2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, sharing many of the mechanicals of the Ford Explorer and completely separate from the Ford Ranger, which has remained available in the U.S. with only a regular or extended cab.
The Adrenalin name was formally attached to the Sport Trac in 2003, when the Adrenalin option package was added. It included a Pioneer stereo with nine speakers and an 8-inch subwoofer, limited paint colors, side step bars and premium alloy wheels. The "Adrenalin" name appeared on the tailgate and was stitched on the head restraints of the truck's leather seats.
But all good things come to an end, even though the Adrenalin’s crew cab legacy carries on. Explorer Sport Trac production ended with the 2010 model year.