Unless you ordinarily commute in a Class A freight hauler, you might image that it would be difficult—at best—to maneuver a vehicle that measures 205.8 in. long, 78.7 in. wide, 77.6 in. high with a 119-wheelbase and weighs in at from 5,271 to 5,689 lb. while zooming along through mountain passes and damn near impossible to thread it through parking lots. Yet somehow, the 2003 Ford Expedition performs exceptionally well under these conditions.
For me, the most fantastic feature of the 2003 Expedition is how it is able to insulate you from the bumps, ruts and associated aspects of contemporary thoroughfares without isolating you from the road: You are in control, not essentially driving via remote control. This isn’t driving as PlayStation 2.
There are various ways through which this is accomplished. First, the steering. A rack-and-pinion steering gear is used in place of the recirculating-ball setup that had been used in the previous generation. It is a variable-assist system. Consequently, it provides the means through which you’re not feeling as though the wheel is twitchy while driving on a highway and yet proves to be responsive when making a parking lot maneuver.
Second, there is the structure. A good bit of the frame is based on hydroformed sections: they’re approximately 10 feet long. What this means as a practical manner is that there is a 70% improvement in torsional rigidity and a 67% improvement in bending stiffness. In addition to which, there is structural foam in body cavities, which help make the body sitting atop the frame a whole lot stiffer than the previous generation: 42% stiffer torsionally
Third, there is the suspension. For one thing, there are 10 body mounts that are deployed fore and aft. There are Bilstein shocks. And there is what could be considered by some people to be a controversial feature: a fully independent rear suspension. After all, this is a vehicle that is capable of running off road, right? IRS and off-road? Maybe there are some circumstances under which it is not the ideal setup, but from the opportunity that I had to bang it through the brush and over terrain that would be better for goats than SUVs, and it worked quite well, thank you very much. Of course, a large part of that off-road capability has to be attributed to the AdvanceTrac option—electronic traction control that sends torque to a wheel that has traction (modulation of torque is through braking) such that the vehicle can actually move forward even if two wheels are off the ground. For all Expeditions, there’s the standard ControlTrac system provides four settings: 2H (for highway driving); the active A4WD, and 4H and 4L, both of which mechanically lock the transfer case to appropriate apportion power to the front and rear axles.
Speaking of power, the Expedition is available with either the optional 5.4-liter (260 hp @ 4,500 rpm; 350 lb.-ft @ 2,500 rpm) or base 4.6-liter engine (232 hp @ 4,750 rpm; 291 lb.-ft @ 3,450 rpm). Clearly, when you’re talking about a nine-passenger vehicle, the former is a whole lot better than the latter.
When Honda came out with its current-generation Odyssey minivan, it changed some of the rules of the game with its fold-into-the-floor third seat. In some respects, the Expedition does it one better. On the up-trim Eddie Bauer version, the 60/40-split third row seat folds flat by simply pushing a button. There’s no need to grapple with an unwieldy seat. (And on the lower trim models, where power isn’t applied, the seats fold rather readily.) The second row can be quickly manually flipped forward so that there is a capacious area for gear: the cargo capacity is rated at in excess of 110 ft3. This third-row folding capability is a result of the independent rear suspension, as it provides the packaging space needed to accommodate the seat.
In terms of exterior styling, the 2003 is modified, not changed. The headlights are bigger; a fascia replaces a bumper, the door handles are more ergonomically appropriate. . .but for the most part, you have to be somewhat of an Expedition aficionado to really see a big difference. It is one of those cases of not messing with what was doing well.
With regard to pricing, the lowest base MSRP is $31,295 for an XLT 4×2 with a 4.6-liter engine. At the other end there’s the Eddie Bauer 4×4 with the 5.4-liter engine, which comes in at $41,935. Either way, there’s a lot of real estate there.
To be sure, the 2002 Expedition will probably be used more to haul soccer teams than to go bumping around in mountain passes. Remarkably, it can do both in comparative comfort and style.