Used 2003 Ford Explorer Sport SUV Review
Way past its expiration date. There's no logical reason to buy this truck.
Introduction: Logic and the law of product cycling dictate that Explorer Sport's days must be numbered. But as long as consumers buy them, Ford will keep building them. After all, the Jeep Cherokee lasted 18 years. But we don't think the Explorer Sport has that kind of staying power.
In 2001, Ford designers went for a rugged "No Boundaries" style for the Explorer Sport by giving the two-door Explorer the chiseled front fascia of the Sport Trac crew cab, along with flared fenders and lower body cladding. But underneath the stylized exterior, the Explorer Sport still rides on the old Explorer platform that dates back to the early '90s. The four-door Explorer, meanwhile, was comprehensively redone and improved in 2002.
Do not be mistaken. There is little "sport" in the Explorer Sport. Sure, most shoppers in this category aren't looking for an ultra-stiff canyon-carver, but the Sport's constant rocking and swaying practically leaves you seasick after a quick jaunt to the grocery store. A 2003 Explorer offers dramatically better handling and performance. We can only hope that the Explorer Sport moves to the new Explorer platform sometime in the near future.
Luckily for Ford, there aren't many other choices for two-door SUVs. If you gotta have a two-door, your choices include the Isuzu Rodeo Sport or the two-door Chevrolet Blazer. Compared to that motley crew, the Explorer doesn't look so bad. But with so many nimble and roomy mini-utes on the market, it would be a shame not to consider them first before this aging relic. According to Ford, the Explorer Sport is meant to attract young first-time SUV buyers to the brand. You know, the kinds of people likely to drive way too fast in a vehicle with a short wheelbase and high center of gravity. Kids, please, get an Escape.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options: The two-door Explorer Sport comes in two-wheel- or four-wheel drive, as well as three different trim levels: XLS, XLT and XLT Premium. The XLS trim (late availability) includes power windows and locks, styled steel wheels and single-CD audio system. The XLT adds aluminum wheels, power mirrors, a cassette/CD audio system, remote keyless entry, a tilting steering wheel and speed control. With the XLT Premium, you'll get bright-finish aluminum wheels, a premimum floor console with a front power point, rear audio controls and rear climate vents, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic on-off headlamps, a power-adjustable driver seat, front tow hooks (4x4 only), side steps and an overhead console.
Major options offered on the Explorer Sport include the Convenience Group for the XLS, the Premium Sport Group and Comfort Group for the XLT, and heated leather seating for the XLT Premium. You can also get a six-disc in-dash CD player, a power moonroof, front side airbags and a limited-slip differential. Powertrains and Performance: The Explorer Sport is powered by a 4.0-liter SOHC V6 engine that generates 208 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque (203 and 237 with the standard manual transmission). This translates to decent, if unrefined, acceleration. A five-speed manual is offered only on the most basic XLS models; all others come equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission. Shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive is optional.
Safety: Antilock brakes are standard, and side airbags are optional. The Explorer Sport has received a perfect five-star rating in front and rear side-impact testing by the government. However, it has a low two-star rating in rollover resistance (the four-door Explorer earns three stars). Neither front crash tests nor IIHS tests have been performed.
Interior Design and Special Features: Inside, the Explorer Sport's front seats are surprisingly comfortable perches from which to while away time. The 50/50-split rear bench seat accommodates adults, but is a hassle to crawl into and out of. It can be folded flat to allow more space for cargo. Maximum cargo capacity is 71.4 cubic feet. The instrument panel features a snazzy gauge cluster with white dial faces and metallic plastic trim, but otherwise is identical to what's been installed in the previous-generation Explorer since 1995. Driving Impressions: The Sport rides on the old Explorer's platform, which dates to 1990 and might become the subject of an intense NHTSA investigation. As we wrote after driving the revised 2001 Sport, "put a fork in this one." In other words, it's done. The Sport's short wheelbase, narrow track and high center of gravity mean that you'd better not take its name too seriously. This truck is ungainly, at best.
edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.