Pros: Great Interior Space, Attractive Appearance, Much Larger Than Previous Model
Cons: Counter-Intuitive Locking & Safety Features, Weak V6 Engine, Bad Fuel Economy, Cheapy, etc.
Previously having owned a 1997 V8 Explorer Limited, I was anxious to get into a 2003 Explorer as my rental while my Supra was getting more than a month's worth of repairs. How did I like my new transportation for the next couple of months? Other than having a lot more space than my sports car, it was an overall terrible experience.
POSITIVES: Before we dive into the bad stuff, let's start with the stuff that I like.
1) EXTERIOR APPEARANCE: When you look at this car from the outside, it looks very grand, beautiful, and much nicer than the previous Explorer. It combines the more classic looks of the original Explorer with the more radically curvaceous looks of the model before this one. It looks more like an SUV than a soccer mom vehicle, or a glorified station wagon. It's very nice looking on the outside.
2) INTERIOR APPEARANCE: Ford did make an attempt to stay with the times and add some strange trim to it. It looks like a silly silvery fake carbon fiber trim on the dash and doors . . . but for some reason, I like the way it mixed with my silver Explorer, and the dark grey interior. It was a nice package.
3) INTERIOR SPACE: Immediately you notice this is MUCH larger than the previous Explorers. Not only can you pop up a third row of seats (albeit not as roomy as the middle row), but you can fold down everything in the back to carry large items. I relocated a 30 gallon aquarium, twin sized mattress and desk, many rounds of friends' stuff from apartments during college semester moving times, etc. It really did have a lot of space, much more than I was accustomed to with the 1997 Explorer. Good improvement.
NEGATIVES: The above really just sums it up for the new Explorer's positives, now . . . let's go on with the negatives. This will be an easier and longer list to make.
1) FLAWED SEATBELT WARNING SYSTEM: In an attempt to encourage drivers to wear their seatbelt all the time, Ford came up with a seemingly good system . . . after you start driving, if you do not have a seatbelt on . . . you will hear a very loud and audible alert for about 10 to 15 seconds. This reminded me many times to put my seatbelt on. Why is it flawed? Let's say you wanted to quickly pull from your parking spot to your apartment complex mailbox and run in there for a second. You park, you put your car in Park, and you walk in while your girlfriend waits for you . . . while the car is in park, this seatbelt warning continues to beep and repeat every 20 or 30 seconds, for about 10 to 15 seconds . . . also, if you put your seatbelt on immediately once you hear the sound, you get to continue to hear the warning sign for the duration of its time. Ford engineers should've caused this to automatically disable when the car is in park, and turn off when the seatbelt plugs in. Their mistake. Maybe it will be corrected in the future, but it is not for the 2003's. We'll just call it "Good Game, try again," since this feature can be disabled, and maybe they can correct it in the future or make a recall.
2) SEATS: The cloth seats have a bad habit of bunching up and catching your clothes, not to mention if you make a relatively sharp turn, without any bucket-like characteristics . . . you will slide the opposite way of your turn, whether it be into the center or the door. :(
3) COUNTER INTUITIVE LOCKS: I can't tell you how many times I had to unlock the doors 'cause all the passengers in the car couldn't figure out which way the door locks work. It is the exact opposite of what you expect. Maybe check this out next time you see one, and you will know what I am talking about. It's a switch you push or pull (with no red indicator), and it's kind of a half-button thing . . . it's terrible design.
4) ENGINE: The engine is terrible . . . I sometimes wonder if there is anything slower on the road. I see a Ford Festiva or a Chevy Metro across the light, and I am thinking, "There is no way that can be slower than this thing. It takes me a good long time to get to 60 mph." Also, if you are a speed demon and should drive at high speeds, once you hit the 107 mph speed limiter, instead of limiting you gently at that speed, it violently cuts fuel jerking the car dangerously slower in a sudden manner, and very roughly. Of course, you may not have enough time or road to get going this fast . . . since it is so slow.
5) OFF ROAD CAPABILITY: Although it looks capable, the 2WD version certainly is not. I can't speak for the 4WD or AWD versions, but the 2WD V6 is anything but . . . it's just a jacked up, roomy station wagon. =P
6) FUEL ECONOMY: You can expect below 20 mpg, if not right at 20 mpg on the highway, and closer to 15 mpg in the city during regular driving, even with this small engine. The EPA window sticker fuel economy rating for this is 16/21, and seems to be pretty close. In a foreign SUV, even with more weight and power, you can get better fuel economy.
7) AIR CONDITIONING: Not only is this air conditioner unbearably loud . . . in fact, so unbearably loud that when up all the way in the front and the back . . . you can't hear anyone who is not within a few inches of your ear. Makes conversation tough, if not impossible . . . this unit also takes a long time to cool down in Texas heat, which may sound normal, but it takes much longer than older cars I have driven. Once you have driven for a while, the unit gets extraordinarily cold, though, but it's very temperamental.
8) CHEAP TRIM: The outside trim is extraordinarily cheap. Someone closed the rear door relatively hard, and the trim started coming loose, the rental car company said this was normal with their Explorer . . . and noted it on the damage before I took the car.
9) STEREO: The stereo was terrible, if you turn volume up at all . . . it starts to crackle and mumble together. This did succeed, however, in breaking my habit of listening to loud music . . . since at loud volume levels, it doesn't sound like music anymore in the Explorer. Also, when you forward or rewind, it sounds like it is forwarding/rewinding fast at first . . . although it seems to be going at the exact same 1x play rate and just jumbling up the sound. It takes a solid 5 to 10 seconds to increase the rate of forward/rewind, but spends too long doing so . . . making this a very useless feature, and much more useless than it otherwise could have been.
10) HORN PLACEMENT: This may seem like a small thing, but usually when someone is in need of using the horn . . . they are in a high stress/tension situation, often reacting to an emergency. In this car, you have to remove your hand from the perimeter of the wheel and push on the inside of the wheel. The horn is not accessible with the thumbs in anyway while holding on to the steering wheel. Other car manufacturers think of these little ergonomic issues, while Ford apparently does not.
11) BRAKING: The brakes fade very quickly, and if they did this while I was not towing anything . . . I can only imagine how dangerous and amplified this would be if I were towing a boat . . .
The handling in this car is what I would expect out of an SUV . . . although it feels less prone to roll over than the 1997 version of the car, it certainly feels as if it is going to roll after each curve . . . maybe this is because of the news attention Explorers have recently gotten about rollovers and me just psyching myself out . . . but, it is definately not a handling machine.
Ride quality is moderate on smooth road, but still has quite a bit of road noise . . . however, a bump will send you flying higher than you expect.
I believe that sums it up, although I may have mixed up a few things . . . but I believe this car is not worth the money, at all . . . and priced into it is the hype that has come with the Explorer since it became the best selling SUV a number of years ago. I would look to Chevrolet or a foreign manufacturer for a better built SUV . . . you can even get a lightly used Mercedes ML320 (which will probably be more reliable) for less than this vehicle, and although that is not a perfect vehicle . . . it is far better value than this one.
Best of luck, and I hope I have been helpful, and I hope I didn't upset any owners of this vehicle . . . best wishes on your automotive search.