2003 Ford Explorer Review

Pros & Cons

  • 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.
  • Low-grade interior materials, quirky ergonomics.
List Price Range
$3,495 - $5,000

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Edmunds' Expert Review

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.

Vehicle overview

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.

2003 Ford Explorer models

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.

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2003 Highlights

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.

Performance & mpg

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.


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.


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.


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.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the Used 2003 Ford Explorer.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

Second Owner of a 2003
XLT 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)
I bought my Explorer from the same dealership that sold it to the original owner, and that owner had followed the service schedule to the letter (as shown in the Carfax report). It had 101,000 miles on it when I bought it in 2013, it's got 118,000 miles now. I don't much like trucks, being a sports car kind of driver, but I really like the Explorer (which btw handles WAY better than you'd expect, due no doubt to the IRS. I have emulated the first owner's habit of maintaining the snot out of it: new brakes/rotors, transmission flush and fill, cooling system the same (differentials and transfer case next). I am quite happy with my Explorer.
Excellent car
Eddie Bauer 4WD 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A)
This is the first Ford product I have owned and it has changed my opinion of Ford. I have owned this SUV for about 5 years and have found it to be very reliable. I have done mainly routine maintanence. Of course the hatch plactic/glass is cracked like all other '03s. I have not had any transmission problems. I have replace a couple of wheel bearings. But, I now have 225,000 K on the car. It doesn't burn a drop of oil and goes through any amount of snow. I would highly recommend this make/model/year/engine.
Excellent Vehicle after 7 Years
XLT 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)
After reading through the Cons. Reviews on this site, I felt the need to comment on my bullet proof Ford Explorer. I am at 99,900 miles and have had not one problem and the engine and smooth transmission still perform like the day I bought it. Before my daughter's try outs for a local perf. arts school, her clarinet lessons were a necessity. Through major snow storms that kept most in their homes, we were able to tackle the snow and ice with ease and still make it to her lessons. The ride and handling are exemplary and the hwy ride is very quiet-my family and I feel no pressure to speak up during front-to-3rd convers. I follow the maint. guide and it will likely serve me well for many more..
Best suv ever
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!!!


NHTSA Overall Rating

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver4 / 5
    Passenger5 / 5
  • Side Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
  • Side Barrier Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver5 / 5
    Passenger5 / 5
  • Combined Side Barrier & Pole Ratings
    Front SeatNot Rated
    Back SeatNot Rated
  • Rollover
    Rollover2 / 5
    Dynamic Test ResultNo Tip
    Risk Of RolloverNot Rated
IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
    Not Tested
  • Roof Strength Test
    Not Tested
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
    Not Tested
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test

More about the 2003 Ford Explorer

Used 2003 Ford Explorer Overview

The Used 2003 Ford Explorer is offered in the following submodels: Explorer SUV. Available styles include XLS 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), XLS Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), XLT 4WD 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), XLT Rwd 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), XLT Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), XLT 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), XLT Sport 4WD 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), XLS AWD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), XLT AWD 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), XLT Sport 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), XLT Sport AWD 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), XLS Sport 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), XLT Sport Rwd 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), Eddie Bauer 4WD 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), XLS Sport Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), XLT Sport Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), Eddie Bauer AWD 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), XLT Sport AWD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), XLS Sport AWD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), XLT AWD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), Limited 4WD 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), Eddie Bauer Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), Limited AWD 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), Eddie Bauer Rwd 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), Limited 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), NBX 4WD 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), Limited AWD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), Eddie Bauer 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), Eddie Bauer AWD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), NBX 4WD 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), Limited Rwd 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), NBX Rwd 4dr SUV (4.6L 8cyl 5A), NBX Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A), and Limited Rwd 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A). Pre-owned Ford Explorer models are available with a 4.0 L-liter flex-fuel (FFV) engine or a 4.6 L-liter gas engine, with output up to 239 hp, depending on engine type. The Used 2003 Ford Explorer comes with four wheel drive, and rear wheel drive. Available transmissions include: 5-speed automatic. The Used 2003 Ford Explorer comes with a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. basic warranty, a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. roadside warranty, and a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. powertrain warranty.

What's a good price on a Used 2003 Ford Explorer?

Price comparisons for Used 2003 Ford Explorer trim styles:

  • The Used 2003 Ford Explorer XLT is priced between $3,495 and$5,000 with odometer readings between 136074 and187656 miles.

Shop with Edmunds for perks and special offers on used cars, trucks, and SUVs near Ashburn, VA. Doing so could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars. Edmunds also provides consumer-driven dealership sales and service reviews to help you make informed decisions about what cars to buy and where to buy them.

Which used 2003 Ford Explorers are available in my area?

Shop Edmunds' car, SUV, and truck listings of over 6 million vehicles to find a cheap new, used, or certified pre-owned (CPO) 2003 Ford Explorer for sale near. There are currently 2 used and CPO 2003 Explorers listed for sale in your area, with list prices as low as $3,495 and mileage as low as 136074 miles. Simply research the type of car you're interested in and then select a used car from our massive database to find cheap prew-owned vehicles for sale near you. Once you have identified a used vehicle you're interested in, check the AutoCheck vehicle history reports, read dealer reviews, and find out what other owners paid for the Used 2003 Ford Explorer.

Can't find a used 2003 Ford Explorers you want in your area? Consider a broader search.

Find a used Ford Explorer for sale - 10 great deals out of 10 listings starting at $18,813.

Find a used Ford for sale - 3 great deals out of 10 listings starting at $22,203.

Find a used certified pre-owned Ford Explorer for sale - 12 great deals out of 24 listings starting at $19,907.

Find a used certified pre-owned Ford for sale - 9 great deals out of 14 listings starting at $23,801.

Should I lease or buy a 2003 Ford Explorer?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

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