2003 Ford Explorer SUV Review | Edmunds.com

2003 Ford Explorer SUV

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Ford Explorer Features and Specs

Features & Specs

  • Engine 4.0 L V 6-cylinder
  • Drivetrain Rear Wheel Drive
  • Transmission 5-speed Automatic
  • Horse Power 210 hp @ 5100 rpm
  • Fuel Economy 14/19 mpg
  • Bluetooth No
  • Navigation No
  • Heated Seats Yes

Review of the 2003 Ford Explorer

  • Ford's Explorer is one of the best midsize SUVs on the market, made even better for 2003 with the addition of a DVD-based entertainment system and a dedicated Off-Road Package.

  • Safety
  • Pros

    Independent rear suspension, comfortable seating for up to seven, strong powertrains, foolproof Control Trac 4WD, available rollover protection system, optional stability control system, DVD-based entertainment system.

  • Cons

    Low-grade interior materials, quirky ergonomics.

  • What's New for 2003

    For the 2003 Ford Explorer, sport versions of the XLS and XLT debut, along with a new trim level called NBX (No Boundaries Experience). The NBX includes special exterior trim, unique 17-inch alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, a Yakima roof rack, rubber floormats and a cargo area liner. All-wheel drive is newly available on all but the NBX model. XLS models come standard with an automatic transmission and a CD player for 2003, while XLT models get a chrome grille and metallic interior accents. Eddie Bauer models have satin-finish 17-inch wheels this year. Limited models get upgrades such as chromed exterior trim, chrome wheels, a leather-upholstered center console cover and new woodgrain interior trim. A tire-pressure monitoring system is available on Limited models. An Off-Road Package including underbody skid plates, suspension upgrades, front tow hooks and unique wheels debuts. Finally, a rear seat DVD-based entertainment system will be available later in the year.

What Others Are Saying

Customer Reviews

  Average Consumer Rating (19 total reviews)


Original owner

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Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)

I finally choose to buy American with an extended warranty, glad I bought the warranty. The rear end was replaced within one year, tail lights replaced, several of the power windows replaced, ball joints replaced, a/c replaced. All of the repairs have been done under 60000 miles. Not a good testament to quality. I thought that I would save moneyand buy American, the resale value has offset any savings. I will purchase a Japanese vehicle next time.




Cruising down south

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Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)

I owned a previous Explorer(1995 Limited, 4X4). Was first SUV but ride and lack of power sent me to the 2003. I love the styling, improved ride and torque in this model. To my surprise, drove 20.000 miles in one year. Averages around 21 mpg on highway with A/C blowing and flat out cruising. Never had a problem with acceleration or performance. Recently had rear end clutch pack replaced at 49.000 miles. Made an earlier decision to purchase an extended warranty because I obtained vehicle used. Dealer fixed with no charge to me. This is a documented service issue for vehicle model. Driver's seat a bit firm and could use a little more adjustability.



2 of 2 people found this review helpful

It's the quality, stupid!

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Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)

We purchased our Eddie Bauer in September of '03 and have absolutely loved it, except for one thing...the QUALITY! This vehicle has been nothing but pure junk from the minute I drove it off the lot. It came from the factory with a bad moonroof seal. Wind whistled in for months, but I was afraid a trip to the dealer would make it worse. Of course, when water started pouring in at ~38K miles, they wouldn't repair it. Had documented problems with rear end at 32K, 41K, 60K and finally at 71K the rear end failed. Ford and dealer refused to help out even though I had receipts to document the problem. $900 out of pocket for a problem that began in warranty. Been a Ford man all my life, no more!




3 year review

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Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)

Bought the Eddie Bauer 2-wheel drive V6 back in May of 03. I have been pleased with the truck so far. I only have two minor complaints. One, on occasion it takes the computer around 50 miles on to compute the fuel remaining in the tank. Second, I have had two window motors go out, not a big deal, but pretty annoying. One problem for people with small kids is that it is next to impossible to put a rear facing car seat in the middle position in the back seat. It's actually more convenient in my Saab. My wife gets fiery red every time she puts in the seat in her Eddie Bauer. She has been pleased with the automobile overall, and would recommend it to anyone like I would.




3 years later

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Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)

My first review was in 2003, only a couple of months after my new purchase of Explorer. Now 3 years later, I have had several problems with it. The rear end has got something major wrong! It makes a horrible whining and grinding noise. I have had 3 window motors replaced. Radio will go off for no reason. Transmission is not right. I love the comfort and look and all of my "bells and whistles", however, I am now looking to get rid of it because of the rear end troubles. I have heard this will cost me a fortune. This happened at 37,000 miles and ever since the warranty ran out, it has been downhill!




Quality is not job 1

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Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)

I bought my Eddie Bauer 4.6L Explorer new and have been the vehicle's only owner. The engine is powerful. The vehicle is roomy, comfortable and stylish. However, reliability has been horrible. The 4X4 and transmission especially have been consistent problems. Ford has been unresponsive. Ford replaced the 4X4 transfer case to correct a defect, but only after being directed to do so by an arbitration board. The differential failed catastrophically after 45,000 miles, posing a safety hazard and necessitating a >$1000 repair. Ford took no responsibility. For a vehicle that cost $40,000, it has been a major disappointment.



Full 2003 Ford Explorer Review

What's New for 2003

For the 2003 Ford Explorer, sport versions of the XLS and XLT debut, along with a new trim level called NBX (No Boundaries Experience). The NBX includes special exterior trim, unique 17-inch alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, a Yakima roof rack, rubber floormats and a cargo area liner. All-wheel drive is newly available on all but the NBX model. XLS models come standard with an automatic transmission and a CD player for 2003, while XLT models get a chrome grille and metallic interior accents. Eddie Bauer models have satin-finish 17-inch wheels this year. Limited models get upgrades such as chromed exterior trim, chrome wheels, a leather-upholstered center console cover and new woodgrain interior trim. A tire-pressure monitoring system is available on Limited models. An Off-Road Package including underbody skid plates, suspension upgrades, front tow hooks and unique wheels debuts. Finally, a rear seat DVD-based entertainment system will be available later in the year.

Introduction

The Explorer debuted in 1990 as a 1991 model, and achieved instant success in a market that it ultimately defined, if not created. At the time, the trend toward functional, compact, four-door SUVs was in full swing: Jeep Cherokee was first to offer this kind of vehicle in 1984, but Ford, GM, Nissan and Toyota all followed suit at this time. Based on the Ford Ranger pickup, the original Explorer had the winning combination of size, style and utility that people wanted in an SUV. It came as the volume-selling four-door or a less popular two-door, and replaced the Bronco II in Ford's lineup. Initially, just XLS and XLT trim levels were available. In 1992, an Eddie Bauer edition joined the lineup, and a Limited model followed shortly thereafter. Explorer's first major revision occurred in 1995, when it received a new front suspension, revised styling and a new interior. This iteration soldiered on through 2001 with few changes, but by then accusations that the Explorer suffered a high incidence of tire failures and subsequent rollover accidents had tarnished the brand. Ford blamed tire supplier Firestone for equipping the Explorer with flawed Wilderness AT tires, and initiated a massive recall to replace the original equipment rubber. Firestone blamed the Explorer's design and Ford's recommendation that the tires be inflated to a relatively low 26 psi. Neither company publicly pointed fingers at consumers indifferent to the dangers of overloading vehicles, expecting a truck to handle like a car, failing to monitor tire pressures or dismissing the importance of seatbelts as possible contributors to blowouts and deaths. For 2002, just as the Explorer rollover debacle was winding down, Ford debuted the completely redesigned Explorer. A substantial improvement over the original, the new truck had a wider track, longer wheelbase, independent rear suspension and seating for up to seven adults. It should have been a runaway success, but the Ford-Firestone media fight kept buyers away from showrooms and forced Ford to offer cash rebates and low-interest financing to keep sales afloat. Notably, the two-door model, the Explorer Sport, and a four-door pickup version, the Explorer Sport Trac, are based on the aged first-generation platform. The new Explorer platform is used by the four-door model only. The 2003 Ford Explorer is little different from the 2002. Minor trim revisions have been made to the core model lineup: XLS, XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited. Sport versions of the XLS and XL debut, and a new NBX model is introduced with special trim and equipment designed to appeal to active outdoorsy types.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2003 Ford Explorer is available only as a four-door model in XLS, XLS Sport, XLT, XLT Sport, NBX, Eddie Bauer and Limited trims. The XLS comes standard with an automatic transmission and a CD player for 2003. The XLS Sport includes alloy wheels, side step bars, wheel lip moldings, an upgraded center console and floor mats. XLT models get a chrome grille and metallic interior accents, while XLT Sport adds special platinum gloss exterior trim and 17-inch machine-finished alloy wheels. The new NBX model includes special exterior trim, unique 17-inch alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, a Yakima roof rack, rubber floor mats and a cargo area liner. Eddie Bauer also receives 17-inch wheels this year, while Limiteds are upgraded with chromed exterior trim, chrome wheels, a leather-upholstered center console cover and new wood grain interior trim. Major options on the Explorer include a six-disc 290-watt sound system, rear-seat climate control, a power moonroof and a rear-seat DVD-based entertainment system. There are also a number of safety-related options available.

Powertrains and Performance

Standard on all Explorers is an SOHC V6 engine making 210 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. Optional on all models except the XLS is a 4.6-liter V8 engine good for 239 horsepower and 282 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission and two-, four- or all-wheel drive is available with either engine. The rear wheels propel 2WD models, while 4WD models have Ford's Control Trac system, which automatically sends power to the front wheels when the rears slip. Properly equipped, an Explorer can tow a maximum of 7,300 pounds.

Safety

Four-wheel-disc ABS is standard. The Explorer can also be outfitted with a Safety Canopy system of airbags that includes a rollover sensor. Power adjustable pedals are optional on XLT, while a reverse sensing system can be added to all but XLS. Advance Trac stability control is optional on all trims except XLS, but is not available on AWD models. A tire-pressure monitoring system is optional on the Limited. In government crash testing, the 2003 Ford Explorer received a four-star protection rating for the driver and a five-star rating for the front passenger. Side-impact testing has not been conducted, but the NHTSA gave the Explorer three-star rollover rating, good for an SUV. In offset crash testing, the IIHS gave the Explorer a "Good" rating and called it a "Best Pick" in the SUV class.

Interior Design and Special Features

Depending on the model you choose, the interior trim of the Explorer can range from bland to close-to-plush. All the controls are neatly arranged, and the gauges are clear and readable, but it's function over form. It's feasible to carry two adults in the third-row seats, but choosing the third-row option also reduces available cargo space. Seven-passenger Explorers max out at 81.3 cubic feet of cargo space, while five-passenger versions offer a more competitive 88 cubic feet. The folded seat also makes for a slightly sloped load floor, so if you value cargo-carrying capacity over people-moving ability, stick with the five-passenger version.

Driving Impressions

Any Explorer is a joy to drive, as far as SUVs go. Taking much of the credit for this praise is the rear independent suspension, which provides a smooth ride and nicely planted wheels on rough pavement. Power from either the V6 or V8 engine is acceptable. Though a true all-wheel-drive system is newly available for 2003, we see little need for it; the Control Trac 4WD system works transparently to distribute power to all four wheels as conditions warrant. The Explorer is also comfortable, with space for up to seven passengers.

Talk About The 2003 Explorer

Gas Mileage

EPA-Rated MPG

  • 14
  • cty
/
  • 19
  • highway
Calculate Yearly Fuel Costs