When Ford launched its new midsize four-door Explorer sport utility vehicle as an early 2002 model, the previous design didnt disappear. Dubbed Explorer Sport, the two-door body style continues to attract buyers who dont need the extra interior space offered by the larger four-door model.
The Explorer Sport qualifies as an in-between size, and it is positioned between Fords compact Escape and the larger Explorer. As one Ford dealer explained, Explorer Sports are especially popular with people who live in city row houses with short garages, where a four-door Explorer might not fit. Nearly half of all Explorer Sport buyers are women, according to Ford, which aims the vehicle at younger, typically single people with active lifestyles. Ford also markets the Explorer Sport Trac, which is based on the earlier-generation four-door Explorer but comes equipped with an open cargo bed.
The Explorer Sport comes with either rear-wheel drive (RWD) or electronically controlled four-wheel drive (4WD). Twisting a knob on 4WD models permits shift-on-the-fly operation.
XLS, XLT and XLT Premium editions are available for 2003. A freshened interior features revised low-back bucket seats and two-tone colors. Heated front seats and power lumbar support are now available. Coat hooks and a 12-volt power point have been added to the cargo area.
Ford promotes the Explorer Sports rugged, sporty styling, which features wide bodyside moldings, flared wheel arches, integrated bumpers and wraparound headlights. Black roof rails may be fitted with optional crossbars, and they are capable of carrying 100 pounds. Side step bars that ease access to the interior are available. The Explorer Sport is 180.4 inches long overall with a 101.8-inch wheelbase. It measures 70.2 inches wide and stands 68.4 inches tall.
The Explorer Sports passenger capacity is far smaller than that of the four-door Explorer. The two-door Sport fits only four occupants on cloth-upholstered bucket seats or captains chairs up front and a split, folding rear seat. Cargo volume is 71.1 cubic feet with the split rear seatbacks folded down for extra storage room. Leather upholstery is optional.
Under the Hood
The lone engine is a 203-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 with a single overhead camshaft. Either a five-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission can be installed. Explorer Sport models come with either RWD or ControlTrac II 4WD.
Antilock brakes are standard. Optional equipment includes side-impact airbags for the front seats and a Reverse Sensing System that alerts the driver of nearby objects to the rear while backing up.
The basic design and engineering fall short of modern, yet the Explorer Sport has a certain flair of its own. Its a surprisingly friendly vehicle in an easy-handling size. Its acceleration is more than adequate, and the automatic transmission works efficiently. The Explorer Sport steers easily with mild effort, and it maneuvers neatly in smaller spaces. A bit of steering-wheel vibration was noted on urban pavements, but the two-door SUV runs quietly. The ride can get bouncy on city streets, but its about average for a vehicle of this type.
The Explorer Sports front-seat space is satisfying, but getting into the two-place backseat demands some agility. Behind-the-seat cargo space is abundant and augmented by a good-sized glove box. Visibility is good except for the view over the drivers left shoulder. Full black-on-white gauges are easy to read. The radio buttons are a bit complex, but the controls are mounted high.
Despite its more compact dimensions compared to those on the regular Explorer, the driver still feels high up and in command. Convenient size is the Explorer Sports main attraction, but a four-passenger limitation and an aging design cant help but restrain its popularity.