Pros: Good styling, good performance, excellent ride and handling, lots of goodies.
Cons: Can be expensive to operate. Repeat and repeat "It's a truck, not a Mustang"
This is a little behind the times, but I thought I would come back and update my original review, but the only one I could find is the review I wrote on the 1999 Explorer. Oops. Perhaps someone looking at a left-over or used 2003 Explorer will find this of use. Since it's the first and not a follow-up, I'll describe as much as I can. I traded in the '99 Explorer Sport 2-dr. 4x4 for this 2003 Eddie Bauer. I wanted to go with 4 doors this time (mom moved in and can't crawl behind a seat too easily) and I wanted the independent suspension too. There is one other reason - less obvious to most people - that we wanted to go with the 4-door version and that is so that we could tow it, 4 wheels down, with our motor-home. The installation of an inexpensive switch by Ford makes it possible.
I work for a Ford supplier, so I am eligible for special pricing on all Ford products. Before buying, we looked at the Ford's Escape (not towable) and the Land Rover Discovery SE and HSE and Honda's CR/V. The Honda was nice, but really an Accord in a small SUV body and we wanted something with some muscle for towing and hauling too. We had a Discovery picked out and were about ready to buy, but took one more test drive with a 3rd person (my daughter) who rode in the back. Her comment after about 10 minutes in the Discovery was something along the lines of "This rides worse that the school bus. It's hard and bumpy." That made us pause as we would be using the back seats quite a bit. As it turns out, as good as the Discovery was and is, it truly did have a harsh ride in the back seat. The Explorer on the other hand was almost car-like. Probably due to the longer wheelbase. The rear seat is not RIGHT OVER the rear wheels as in the Discovery. The Explorer does not handle quite as well as the Discovery does, but it is not bad. I still think it handles extremely well for a vehicle this size. It also turns in a surprisingly tight circle. This was very impressive. We think it might be tighter turning than the Honda CRV as well. The ride is incredible for this kind of vehicle.
The Eddie Bauer is pretty loaded in its base form, but this one has everything short of the rear dvd theater. Listing the major items which I've used and enjoy, V-8 engine, 4x4 with Advance Track (more about this later), leather seating, in-dash CD changer, moon roof, trailer towing package with Class III receiver, heated seats and mirrors. There are other things, but these have all been used and found to be of value to us.
First off, the V-8 engine with the automatic transmission. I love this engine! It sounds strong, it runs strong and it just loves to run. Whether cruising around town where you can hear the low rumble in the exhaust, or cruising down the freeway at legal and illegal speeds, it just purrs. This engine is smooth running and quiet and it is strong. On one of our recent trips, I wanted to see what it would do. (No comments from the left-lane patrols please)I reached 100 mph without difficulty. The handling was still crisp and clean, the ride smooth as silk and that engine was not yet working hard. There was noticeable wind noise at that speed and we did have to turn up the volume a little on the stereo. Simple to do because all the controls are on the steering wheel as well as on the stereo itself. I wouldn't classify the wind noise as abnormal or excessive, just noting that yes, when you're flying low, there is some wind noise around the driver's and passenger's doors and windows. I can't speak to what it sounds like in the back. We proceeded at 90 mph for about 35 minutes until we were at our exit. It's not a sports car but it certainly does ride and handle very well, a thousand times better than the pre-2002 Explorers. And you don't have the fear of being run over by a semi or larger car whether speeding or not as one sometimes has in a smaller vehicle. Just don't try any quick sports car maneuvers because it is still a tall vehicle and I'm sure will still tip over long before the sports car even begins to approach tire squealing. Drive responsibly and you shouldn't have any problems. Even with a strong wind it feels solid and well connected to the road. Yes, the V-8 lives to work. I have used it to both pull and push other sizeable vehicles (Crown Victoria, an older T-bird)and you hardly even know there is a load on it. Gas mileage? Yes, it uses gas, it's a truck after all, but by both my calculations and the onboard computer's calculations, I am averaging 16.8 to 17.3 mpg in the city and when on the highway maintaining 60-70, it climbs up to 19.7 mpg. The mileage has steadily increased along with the miles used. When we first purchased it new, it was averaging just over 14 mpg in town. I don't know about highway mileage when brand new as I didn't take it on the highway for quite awhile. We don't have one close. When I fill up the tank, I expect to get at least 285 miles worth of combined city/highway driving. The best I have done is 366 miles on a full tank. I thought that was excellent but I had to make a game out of it to keep my foot out of the gas. The computer claims 370+ miles til empty until it realizes you're in stop and go traffic. I commute on city and some county roads about 50 miles each way to work. I take the Explorer whenever I can. For ride comfort, we believe it unbeatable in this class. With the stereo turned up, the 8 speakers can make your head pound. The 4x4 works flawlessly thus far. You can switch between auto, 4x4 high and 4x4 low with push buttons on the dash. This vehicle also has the "Advance Track" feature. I found this useful in the snow and ice this winter. It automatically shifts power/braking to the appropriate wheel(s) when slippage is encountered thereby making full use of the 4x4 capability. When turning and you begin to slide, it kicks in and snaps you out of the slide. I played with this a lot in big parking lots this winter to try and beat it or defeat it. Advance Track is excellent for normal driving and even aggressive driving, but if you intentionally try to overpower it, you can. But there is switch on the console you can use to turn it off if you are so inclined or like to do loop-de-loops in the snow. Otherwise I have not found a reason to disable it.
The other feature we found wonderful this past winter was the heated seats and mirrors. It's the little things that mean so much. When you go outside and it's 0 degrees and you climb into a car and start it, your butt can get pretty darn cold! If you have leather seats, you can really feel it. Heated seats make it pleasant. You turn them on and even though there may be no heat from the heater, you are warm because your butt is warm! I don't think we'll ever buy another car or truck without them as long as we are in an area that has real winters. And while on the topic of winter, I can tell you the V-8 engine started within 2 seconds of turning the key on even the coldest days and never hesitated when cold. As I tend to leave for work as late as possible, when I would go out, I needed it to start and go right away with no time for warm-ups. It never failed to do that. As for complaints with this vehicle, the only thing I'm not crazy about is the third row seats do not fold entirely flat, so there is slight incline. This has not caused any difficulty to date and maybe it's just a mental thing, but when loading heavy stuff in the rear I can't help but think that the seats are going to be bent, crushed, twisted, or damaged in some other way. But like I said, it hasn't happened yet.
Opening the tail end, you have the choice of using just the glass which swings up letting you reach inside. We generally use this method to load in groceries or other small, relatively light stuff. If you want full access, you can use the hidden latch to open the entire rear of the vehicle. It also swings up and out of the way leaving you with nothing in the way. It clears the roofline so that you can load things straight in without having to bend down to get under the door but doesn't go so high as to be in the way. We have had the rear open and backed into the garage without fear of making contact.
Overall, it's an excellent vehicle. You may not want or need all the creature comforts loaded into the Eddie Bauer or Limited versions, but underneath all of the 4-door versions, they are pretty much the same chassis. If you need a good looking, strong dependable vehicle to haul a few people and or kids and pets around in, and tow that boat, this may be just what you're looking for. I dare say if I needed to, in a pinch we could use this to tow our new 35' motor home if we had to.