2003 Ford Explorer SUV Review | Edmunds.com

2003 Ford Explorer SUV

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Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) is a category of used car. Often late-model vehicles, they have been inspected, refurbished, if necessary, and are under warranty by the manufacturer.
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.

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.

What Others Are Saying

Customer Reviews



Best suv ever

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer AWD 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A)

I absolutely love my explorer had it for 2 years and no major problems bought it when it had 75000 miles on it and it now has 115000 miles. One thing I learned is its not the vehicle it's the driver that makes stupid mistakes. Just cause its an suv doesn't mean it's meant for off road use. I also disagree with the gas mileage I have the 4.6 v8 and it gets 17.2 in the city and 24 on the highway absolutely love the fact that when I fill it u p it says 387 miles to empty and it only costs about 65 to fill it up. Absolutely love it!!!




Won't go past 100,000 miles

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer XLT Sport 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)

Nice enough vehicle except access to the back seat in the 2 door model is close to zero since the driver's seat only moves forward/back 2". I'll never have a two door SUV again. With only 80,000 miles on it, the timing chain(s) are making noise. Apparently it was a recall issue that previous owners never took care of. It is expected to go out at 100K or so. Repair bill is $3200.00. Ford should honor this recall even though it's ten years old. I feel like I got screwed here, and I was happy with two previous Rangers, -a 98 and 01.



1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Old faithful

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer XLT Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)

I've owned my 2003 Explorer XLT for 11 years now, and have had no problems whatsoever. Although "Old Faithful" is now a "second car" (I bought a 2014 Escape SE for my 100 mile commute to work), it still tows boats, hauls canoes, transports the dogs, and is our favorite vehicle for camping trips. I've never had any trouble with this SUV, and plan to drive it 'til it drops - maybe in another 300,000 miles or so!




2003 ford explorer 4.0 v6,

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer XLT Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)

We have a 2003 Ford Explorer 4.0 v6 2wd with 113k. Love it! We have had 0 problems with it besides the oil temp gauge going out. Has leather that's in nice condition, only tear is on driver side and probably one inch long, but really thin. On the side of the seat... We have 3rd row also.




Do not buy a ford

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer XLS 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)

Previously owned ford explorer earlier year. Did not have any signifcant issues for the most part. This model major transmission problems. Not built to last more than 100,000 mi. heard clicking noise dealer could not find problem. paint on roof and hood is chipping off. Poor paint job Dealer rebuilt front bearings at 30,000mi Transmission now has to be replaced. Transmission, bearings and transfer case poor quality. Ford should recall this vehicle I wish I had read the reviews on this vehicle



2 of 2 people found this review helpful

Most reliable vehicle i've ever

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)

I've owned a Nissan, Mitsibushi, and a Pontiac, and have to say Ford is best vehicle I've had yet! I've had far less issues with my Ford Explorer and love driving it. I bought it in 2006 and put 37K miles on it. It currently has about 75K miles and only had routine maintenance on it. My only complaint is the crappy gas mileage 15mpg. The rear panel recently cracked, but you can avoid this. I had sprayed winshield washer fluid on it during a very cold Colorado winter day. The repair is outrageous, close to $700. The handling is excellent and the ride roomy and comfortable. Well built inside and out. Engine has plenty of power and 4WD is nice. I plan on keeping my Ford for a while.



Talk About The 2003 Explorer

2003 Ford Explorer Discussions See all Started By

amaelaw
amaelaw
11-16-2014
I have a 2003 Explorer, when I turn the defroster on the air all comes through the front vent and none through the defrost vents. Any idea what would cause this? Kinda hard to drive in the winter in M...


frostyman3
frostyman3
02-28-2014
In checking for engine temp issues, I slowing raised engine rpm to about 300 and the engine started missing / cutting out pretty bad, One other posting mentioned this issue on 2003 Sport Trac, but I ?...


robert117
robert117
12-06-2002
I am experiencing some braking issues with my new Explorer (2000 miles). Its happen three times... When at a complete stop at traffic light or in traffic the truck will lurch forward or shutter forwar...



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Gas Mileage

EPA-Rated MPG

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