HomeCars & MotorsportsUsed Cars
Read Reviews (34) Compare Prices View Details Write a Review

2003 Explorer

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.0

Reviewed by 34 users

Build Quality
Seat Comfort:

About the Author

Reviews written: 1
View all reviews by djarvis2

Best compromise of 3-seater mid-size SUV's, great to drive!

by djarvis2:      Mar 25, 2003 - Updated Nov 7, 2003

Product Rating: 5.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: Still love at 8 months. Comfortable seats, ride, lots room, gadgets. Leather seats NICE.
Cons: Buttons instead of dial for 4WD. Power mirrors don't "remember" drivers. Cargo cover not included.
The Bottom Line: UPDATE: Had it 8 months, still love it! Great family truck, hauls a lot in luxurious solid style.

UPDATE: 11-7-03
Still loving this truck! I get 21 mpg on the freeway, and about 14mpg in town. No problems yet after 8 months with the new truck. Now that it's getting cold again, I love my heated seats and strong fan with the Auto heater that only starts blowing when the truck is warmed up. The DVD keeps my boy happy watching Thomas the Tank Engine, etc, and I have found that I really do like to have 6 CD's in the changer at a time. The only problem I have had with this truck is that I never take a government car on trips anymore, because this truck is so fun to drive! As far as being a truck, it hauls everything I need it to, including so far an 8,000 pound tractor on it's 2,000 pound trailer. Even when I didn't have the trailer set well on the ball, and the trailer started swinging around on a highway, this truck stayed glued down to the road while I pulled over. That's twice it's saved my bacon in a tough spot, so far. Now on to the original review...


I like a truck to last 10 years, and we'd like to add a second infant car-seat to our family of 3 (currently). So when 2003 rolled around, it was time to start looking for something to replace my tried and true 1993 Dodge Dakota. Our criteria was an SUV that would hold us, tow a trailer or a boat a couple times a year, go up and down the Rockies every couple of years, not get stuck in a campground or shortcut, and for the other 99% of the time, be able to haul usual home stuff and me at 20 miles per gallon in comparative ease and comfort with heated seats.

Searching around MSN and Consumer Reports yielded 3 candidates: Ford Explorer, GMC Envoy XL, Honda Pilot. So for the last 2 weeks we've been trying them out. I must say that the dealers in Baraboo, Sauk Prairie, and Madison are very helpful with this.

So what did we find? We tried a regular Envoy first - WOW! I loved the ride. However, it costs a small fortune to get all the amenities, and the first day we asked, only a 2 seat version was available, so we kept looking.

Next we drove a Ford Explorer XLS (basic model). I thought it felt kind of rickety (not solid) and plasticky and my wife didn't care for the steering. Only had a short test-drive, so gave it a pass.

The next weekend we drove an Explorer XLT, this time with the car-seat and our 2-yr old in and one of us in the middle seat with him. The XLT drove very nicely - not quite as nice as the Envoy, but much nicer than my current truck, or the XLS Explorer, or as we found out, the Pilot. We both liked the power seat and pedals also. We had this truck for about an hour, and really tried it out. We took it up dirt roads, and when that wasn't bumpy enough, just drove on and off the shoulder of the road, and at one point out into a pasture.

WOW!!! This truck handled all that without batting an eye! Very smooth, yet not mushy. No excessive tilting on cornering either, and brakes that stick it down fast.

Therefore we really took more notice of this truck. Nice amenities, such as cup-holders, radio, and the back window that includes a little of the hatch so it's easier to put stuff in through it. A very solid feel to it, as compared to the XLS version. Quiet ride (kind of disappointing for a truck man....) Tons of safety features (side-window air bags, Advanced Traction for slide-out prevention, lower bumpers, etc.)

However, I did notice that the front roof is kind of low, and I am only 5'9"; if the sunvisor was down, I would have to "look under it". Flipping the middle seat row forward to access the rear seat was difficult for my wife, and a bit cramped. Hip and shoulder space could still be a bit better with a car-seat in place, but is definitely a little better than our Subaru Legacy. All-in-all, we didn't immediately love it like the Envoy, but were very impressed.

Now that we have the Eddie Bauer with heated/powered leather seats, I like it even better. The front seat height is OK, and I don't feel at all like I'm looking "under" the top of the windshield like the cloth seats XLT we test-drove, and head room is fine for me as long as I don't wear a hat that sticks up.

My wife and I have "programmed" our seat/pedal positions, which is extremely easy to do. Now, if she was driving, I hit the "1" button for my settings; if I was driving, she hits the "2" button for her settings.

Also, the leather seats seem to flip down easier in the middle and back rows. (Maybe it's because we learned to first pull the latch, then the seat?)

Car seat tether anchors and securing with a seat belt is the easiest of anything we've driven, and very securely tight.

Next we test-drove a Honda Pilot, Consumer Reports top-rated SUV this year, supposedly bigger and softer riding etc than all the American SUV's.

Well it is certainly bigger, and in some respects, the best thought out. The cargo space is huge, and the seats fold the flattest to make an almost floor-like cargo bed, compared with the Envoy XL (bumpiest) and Explorer (not bad). We loved the almost mini-van room in the middle seat, especially noticing with the car-seat in there is next to no shoulder-seat contact, ie squeezing. Driving it there is so much room in front that you feel like you are driving a Suburban. Also, the middle seats nicely slide forward to access the rear seat, instead of having to flip up like the Americans.

HOWEVER, the ride was lousy compared to the Explorer XLT we had just drove, and not remotely comparable to the Envoy. Every bump in the road was felt, and this was just a 15 minute test-drive on city/sub-urban streets in Madison! Furthermore, the front seat head-rests were not adjustable, and were designed to tilt your head forward to avoid whiplash; with me, they made me wish I HAD whiplash they were so uncomfortable. The rear seats had rather ridiculously short leg-room, and I didn't like the little "temporary" smaller-sized spare wheel.

Also, when driving, my wife couldn't reach the radio controls and felt uncomfortably far from the steering wheel. We decided, based on the front seat lay-out, that there was no way we could ever be happy with this SUV, a shame due to the roominess and obvious good component design. Differently sized people would probably love this SUV though.

Last, and most anticipated, I finally got to test-drive a GMC Envoy XL (SLE basic trim). The salesman actually brought it out to my clinic and drove my Dakota back to the dealer, so I would have several hours to try it out. Love at first sight! (for me). It is big in the hip-room and cargo space, with great vision out of the windshield, SWEET driving, and great gadgets very well thought out. There was a little more room for hips (though about equal shoulder room as the Explorer in the middle seat, due to the Envoy's inward angled walls, compared to the Explorer's more boxy construction). While taller and a little wider than the Explorer, it was still easy to park in our garage.

BUT, the middle-seat angles down at the rear deeply; you feel like your rear is in a hole. This pushes up under your thighs, and leaves your feet hunting for foot-rests like on an airplane. Furthermore, the driver seat just couldn't accommodate my 5'1" wife. The seat was too long, and the pedals were too far, and the dash/wheel too high for her to see over, even with maximum power-seat adjustments.

The car-seat tether anchors were very difficult to access, being almost under the middle seat. Because of the seats, we had to very reluctantly decide against this SUV, as she wouldn't be comfortable/safe driving it, and neither of us could be comfortable in the middle seat for more than 15 minutes, due to the excessive angle.

So, we chose the Explorer. After the GMC Envoy XL test-drive, I went to the Ford dealer and told him he had just sold an Explorer to us. It's not the biggest or the smoothest or the nicest of the mid-sized SUVs, but for us has the best combination of features. Now we can't wait until our Eddie Bauer version arrives.... heated seats in Wisconsin, DVD, lots of cargo space, and V8 power....!

UPDATE 4/8/03

We bought ours last week. I can't wait to drive it every morning, or night when I'm going in and out of the hospital. The heated seat and lumbar support are great to slip into, the sound system is great, and most importantly, the ride is solid and sticks like a leech to icy/snowy Wisconsin winter storm roads. It's the most fun, and safest feeling vehicle I've ever bought. (Eddie Bauer edition, 4WD, V8, all options.

Amount Paid (US$): 37200
Condition: New
Model Year: 2003
Model and Options: Eddie Bauer, V8, all the options
Product Rating: 5.0
Recommended: Yes 
Seat Comfort:  
Build Quality  

See all Reviews
Back to Top