2003 Explorer New Car Test Drive
The Ford Explorer is one of the best sport-utilities in its class. Redesigned and re-engineered last year, the Explorer is a much better vehicle than the previous-generation Explorer.
It offers a more solid stance than before, with a longer wheelbase and a wider track. A stiffer frame and a fully independent suspension provide superior ride and handling on road and off road. Its V6 was revised last year and a V8 was added as an option. Both are available with a superb five-speed automatic. It's roomy, capable of seating seven people when equipped with the optional third row that folds flat into the cargo floor when not being used.
For 2003, Ford added more standard equipment and important new options. Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability system is available for improved traction and safety, along with a rear-seat DVD system.
Ford Explorer is available in four trim levels: XLS, XLT, Eddie Bauer, and Limited. XLS and XLT come standard with cloth upholstery; Eddie Bauer and Limited come trimmed in leather.
An overhead-cam V6 engine is standard on all models. An overhead-cam V8 ($800) is an option for all models except the XLS. All trim levels offer a choice of two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive.
XLS ($25,970) comes with cloth upholstery, a center console with a storage bin and cup holders, and a five-speed manual transmission. Ford's new five-speed automatic transmission ($1095) is optional and we highly recommend it. Four-wheel drive adds $1880. XLS comes a high level of standard equipment, including a new AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, but it does not offer some of the high-zoot options available on the other models, including the V8. An $1150 Sport Group for the XLS adds the premium center console, step bars, body-color metallic wheel lip moldings, and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
XLT ($28,745) gets nicer sport cloth upholstery, a six-way power driver's seat, body-colored exterior trim, and more luxury features, such as a temperature gauge and compass, map lights and dome lights, outside approach lighting, extra power outlets, and an illuminated keypad for keyless entry. An upgraded console offers a tissue box, power points, pencil holder, and coin holder in addition to cup holders and a storage bin. The five-speed automatic transmission is standard, and aluminum alloy wheels replace steel wheels. New for 2003 are a chrome grille and black-grain outside door handles. Four-wheel drive adds $1965. Leather upholstery with a six-way power driver's seat is available for $655. XLT buyers can choose a $900 Sport Group consisting of 17-inch machined aluminum wheels, step bars, and special wheel lip moldings.
Eddie Bauer ($32,670) and Limited ($33,695) models come with leather seating surfaces, automatic dual-zone climate control, a 290-watt six-CD stereo with six speakers, fog lights, and wider tires. Six-way adjustable heated power seats with dual manual lumbar supports are used in front, and the driver's seat has a three-position memory feature. The top two Explorer models differ only in their distinctive trim: Eddie Bauer comes with Arizona beige bumpers, moldings, lower bodyside cladding, satin-nickel wheels and grille, and P245/65R17 all-terrain tires. Limited uses monochromatic bumpers, moldings and cladding with a silver grille and unique wheels; the Limited model is available in white pearl-coat paint with frost accents.
Options for all models except XLS include third-row seating ($670), auxiliary air conditioning ($610), running boards ($395), power adjustable pedals ($120), Reverse Sensing System ($255), and power moonroof ($800). A Trailer Towing Prep Package ($395) replaces the Class II hitch (standard) with a Class III hitch, and adds a 3.73 limited-slip rear axle, engine oil cooler, and other relevant hardware.
Instead of conventional front side-impact airbags, Explorer offers an optional ($560) safety canopy in the headliner designed to protect occupants during a rollover. The canopy also promises improved side-impact protection by staying inflated for a much longer period of time. Ford has done a great deal of research on this technology and we strongly recommend ordering the safety canopy. Dual front airbags are standard, and feature smart technology that adjusts their inflation rate according to the severity of the accident. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are standard on all models; ABS allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time in a panic stop. Seatbelts use retractors and pre-tensioners designed to reduce injuries in a hard crash. The second-row center seat offers only a lap belt rather than the preferred shoulder harness, however. This newest Explorer achieved a 4-star driver/5-star front-passenger ratings in the government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration front crash tests.