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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 Ford Econoline Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 Ford Econoline Overview

The Best Explorer to Date

The Explorer is one of the best-selling SUVs in America and a major source of income for the Ford Motor Company. After surviving the Firestone tire debacle, the Explorer experienced a rebirth, emerging with a completely new design that included a new suspension, bigger engines and a list of available safety features that made the government's mandatory requirements look outdated. The 2003 model Explorer is better in almost every respect than the vehicle it was just two years ago and one of the most impressive improvements comes in the area of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).

Ford wanted the Explorer to have a vastly better ride than its competition, as well as a quieter interior and safer environment. To accomplish this, the engineers began at the bottom of the Explorer and worked their way up, making improvement after improvement along the way. The Explorer now uses a fully-boxed frame which is important to the elimination of interior rattles and squeaks that develop as a vehicle ages. A boxed frame refers to the type of steel beams that are used to make up the frame rails of a car. Ordinarily, the rail is created by folding a sheet of steel in two places, forming a U-shaped member that runs the length of the truck. Between the two rails are cross members that strengthen the design, like the rungs of a ladder. A Boxed frame does not leave one side of the steel rail open (like the top of the U), but instead has all four sides connected. The result of this technology is a vastly stronger chassis that is less prone to flexing. The design also makes it possible for Ford to place a hole large enough to pass a rear axle through without weakening the Explorer's platform; Ford calls this design a "porthole" and it has allowed the engineers to equip the Explorer with a fully-independent rear suspension. Pretty neat trick huh? Because the axle shafts now pass through the frame, the rails can run straight back, allowing the rear differential to rest high up in the frame. This design gives the Explorer greater ground clearance while vastly improving its ride and handling dynamics.

Under the hood, Ford continues to offer the venerable 4.0-liter V6 as the Explorer's standard engine and a new 4.6-liter V8 as the only option. The new V8 is rated at 240-horsepower and is a great improvement over the old 5.0-liter V8, besting it in fuel economy, towing capacity and quietness. The 4.0-liter V6, though strong, struggles with the Explorer's new-found bulk. It has to work hard to move the Explorer—especially when passing—and feels strained when the vehicle is fully-loaded. The Explorer takes on a completely different feel when equipped with the torque-laden V8. We really like this engine both for its power and smoothness. The 5-speed manual transmission (a rarity in this type of vehicle) gets good marks for its crisp, decisive shifts.

If all this technology talk is beginning to make your head spin, wait until you see the model line up Ford has waiting for you. The Explorer can be ordered in no less than seven trim levels including XLS, XLS Sport, XLT, XLT Sport, NBX, Eddie Bauer and Limited. The newest addition, the NBX, is part of Ford's "No Boundaries" campaign and adds a Yakima roof rack, 17-inch aluminum wheels and special paint and interior treatments. A nice option to the standard gasoline engine is the flexible fuel V6, which can run on gasoline or a ethanol. Drivelines include your choice of 2WD, 4WD or AWD.

Improvements to the Explorer are not limited to the outside. The new independent rear suspension now allows room for an optional hide-away third-row seat, expanding the Explorer's seating capacity to seven. The dash has been redesigned with softer contours, user-friendly switchgear and a modular audio system. The seats have also been redesigned for better comfort and there are optional electrically adjustable pedals to accommodate just about any size driver.

All Explorers offer the added safety of a side-curtain airbag that deploys from the ceiling, protecting both front and rear passengers during a side impact. Ford also offers a roll-over protection system that can detect if the vehicle is about to flip, deploying the side airbag curtain and helping to keep occupants from being ejected. In addition to these features, the Explorer offers a new skid control system called AdvanceTrac. This system monitors all four wheels and when it detects the vehicle sliding or skidding out of control, sends power to which ever wheel will correct the slide and returns control to the driver.

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