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2003 Explorer

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.0

Reviewed by 34 users

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Reviews written: 3
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Rough ride!


by mayobeach2000:      Nov 26, 2002


Product Rating: 2.0 Recommended: No 

Pros: Cargo room
Cons: Ride, Fuel economy
The Bottom Line: Even though the Ford Explorer Sport Trac is very versatile, its lack of heart and comfort brings it to its knees begging to be bought.


Sport and Sport Trac carry on for 2003 with some safety and equipment revisions to their 1995-vintage Explorer design; the more-popular Explorer 4-dr wagon was redesigned last year (see separate entry). Sport is a 2-dr wagon. Sport Trac has a 4-dr SUV cabin, but gets a 4-ft-long pickup-truck bed in lieu of an enclosed cargo area. Both use a V6 engine with manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. They offer rear-wheel drive or Ford's ControlTrac 4WD that can be left engaged on dry pavement and includes low-range gearing. ABS is standard. For '03, Sport Trac gets the 4-wheel disc brakes already standard on Sport. Sport Trac is also due for optional curtain side airbags later in the model year; Sport loses its optional front side airbags. Newly available on both models are heated front seats, and during the year Sport Trac is expected to add an option package with a high-end sound system and special wheels.

New to the class this year, Honda Pilot has taken the lead as a Best Buy. It offers ample cargo space, seating for eight passengers, all-wheel drive with a locking rear differential for added traction, and above-average refinement. Toyota Highlander is our other Best Buy, chosen for its on-road competence, convenience, and attractive pricing and design.

Year-to-year sales for the three-model Explorer line--Sport 2-dr, Sport Trac pickup and 4-dr wagon--dipped 6.6 percent in calendar 2001, a decent showing given the year's turbulent events. First-half 2002 sales were down a nomimal 0.7 percent vs. the year-earlier period, also not bad under the circumstances. The mainstay 4-door wagon got off to a slow start, but the factors working against it apparently have less effect on demand for the two Sport models.

Acceleration: V6 provides good off-the-line power and fine around-town response, feeling overtaxed only in highway passing or on mountain upgrades.

Fuel Economy: Test Sport and Sport Trac models averaged 15-16 mpg in our tests, about par for a 6-cyl midsize SUV. Ford recommends 87-octane fuel.

Ride Quality: Sport Trac has a longer wheelbase than the Sport, and a far better ride, though it's still unforgiving over sharp bumps, especially the 4WD model. Sport has a bouncy, unpleasant ride on most any surface.

Steering/Handling/Braking: Sport Trac has more-accurate steering and takes corners with slightly less body lean than Sport, though both handle with reasonable balance and confidence.

Quietness: Not car-quiet, but not excessively loud for a truck-based wagon, though tire and wind noise rise markedly with speed.

Instruments/Controls/Interior Materials: Straightforward and logical, but a mild stretch to climate controls. Power window switches are illuminated. Sport Trac's novel back window powers up and down at touch of dashboard button--great for ventilation. Materials range from serviceable to leather-fancy; workmanship is solid.

Room/Comfort/Driver Seating (front): Step-in height is slightly taller than SUV norm, but there's plenty of room and a comfortable driving position.

Room/Comfort (rear): Sport Trac's rear seat is roomier than that of any compact crew-cab pickup. There's ample space for two adults, and three can squeeze in. Sport's 2-dr body makes getting in and out a real chore, and for cramped accommodations once aboard. Seat in both models is hard and lacks much shoulder support.

Cargo Room: Good in-cabin storage, and both models' split rear seatback folds in single motion without removing the headrests. Sport has ample cargo room and separate-opening liftglass. For Sport Trac, we recommend the optional bed extender that effectively lengthens the bed about 2 ft. Both models have undercarriage spare-tire storage.

Value within Class: The uncomfortable 2-dr Sport is of limited appeal, while the Sport Trac has a deserved following based on its unique blend of passenger space and open-bed versatility.
Amount Paid (US$): 26,985
Model and Options: 4WD Sport Trac XLT 4-door crew cab, automatic
Product Rating: 2.0
Recommended: No 
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