Pros: Refined ride, quieter engine, nicer interior materials than before
Cons: Still feels a little trucky at times
The 2003 Ford Expedition has come along way in terms of refinement and civility since its introduction in 1997. While the Expedition was one of only a few choices in full-size SUVs back then, subsequent years have brought a flurry of new trucks. In previous years, Ford's trucks and truck based SUVs simply felt too primitive for everyday family hauling. For 2003 Ford has redesigned the Expedition and included a host of new features and industry firsts in full-size SUVs. Certainly exterior styling is subjective and while the Expedition seems to look neither good nor bad on the outside, the real improvements are inside and underneath the big truck.
Inside, Ford has taken a page from minivans such as the Toyota Sienna to offer the first fold flat rear seat in a full-size SUV. Not only do the split folding rear seats make a flat cargo floor, but they are now power operated folding seats - another industry first (along with the Lincoln Navigator). Combined with second row seats that also fold flat, the Expedition's power rear seats offer versatility and convenience any owner could grow to love. Adding further flexibility, the third row seats are arranged in a 60/40 split while second row seats can fold down in three separate sections, or a roughly 40/20/40 split. We found this to be especially useful when hauling more than two people and odd shaped cargo such as golf clubs, baby strollers, or skis. Fold all seats down and the flat floor combined with a high roof give the Expedition a cargo van-like ability to devour lots of cargo.
Up front, the Expedition has a much more quality feel than Ford SUVs of past. Granted this tester is an Eddie Bauer model, but it has a warmer feel than Ford trucks of past years that too often seemed like a work truck with a bunch of fancy stuff thrown in. With the possible exception of the HVAC controls, buttons and switches lack the plasticky feel typical of some Ford products. Most surfaces, including switchgear feel rugged without being rough. Audi-style metal rings surround the dash vents; the aluminum look adds a modern flair to an otherwise plain looking dash.
Looks aside, the way the dash is arranged could use some improvement. The navigation system/audio control screen is well placed but difficult to operate from the driver's seat. A "menu" button on the nav system is angled away from the driver and does not light up at night. A toggle type knob is used to navigate through the audio system functions, and it is quite a reach for the driver. Also, the buttons for the "driver information" display are completely blocked by the shift lever when the truck is in "Drive." Redundant steering wheel mounted controls help somewhat, but overall the dynamics of the dash need some work.
Like the dash, the navigation system itself is an odd mixture of good and bad. The LCD screen is simply too small, and the maps seem to redraw themselves at odd times. On the plus side, the system offers a few externally mounted buttons that allow quick access to the map in relation to your destination. A small "map" button instantly changes the screen to show the vehicle's current position. Two other buttons marked "here" and "home" quickly show the vehicle's position in relation to a programmed destination - it’s especially helpful if you get completely lost.
The interior has a very big, open feel. The new Expedition is 1.7 inches wider than last year's model and that extra hip room is noticeable. The center console storage bin is very accommodating and will easily swallow sunglasses, CD carrying cases, wallet, and various other everyday bits and pieces the modern world has saddled us with.
Front seats are firm but comfortable. Power adjustments are smooth and efficient, but the lumbar and seatback adjustments should be power as well. After all, this is the luxurious Eddie Bauer edition - any car costing nearly $45,000 should have front seats that are full power. Rear seats are roomy, comfortable and can also be reclined manually. For some reason, the middle section of the second row seats can slide fore and aft, but the two, larger sections to either side cannot - this is a minor complaint at best. Leg room is ample.
While the interior is a comfortable place to spend time and offers thoughtful and flexible seating/cargo arrangements, none of it would matter if the Expedition didn't deliver a certain amount of civility on the road.
Ford claims the 2003 Expedition has a frame that is 70 percent stiffer than last year's model thanks to more rigid frame rails. However, a rigid frame is not enough to deliver car-like ride and handling in a truck based SUV. Ford has given the Expedition a fully independent rear suspension with a double wishbone set up similar to that found on many passenger cars.
All this technology may be of little interest to the average SUV shopper, but no one can argue with the results. This Expedition delivers an almost car like ride that rivals the Chevrolet Tahoe. Rough or uneven pavement is little cause for concern as virtually none of the unpleasantness makes its way into the cabin. Handling is also improved by the new suspension. Extra refinement is noticeable at highway speeds; the cabin remains quiet for the most part. There is some wind noise, but road and engine noise seem to be far below that of the competition.
Acceleration is certainly not brisk, but adequate considering this truck's size. Under heavy acceleration the 5.4-liter V8 makes a pleasant noise. Ford claims to have specially tuned the Triton motor to deliver a "performance" sound while accelerating, but giving it a more quiet tone for normal driving or open highway cruising - it's not just PR hype, the engine really does deliver on this promise.
A quieter engine, nicer materials inside and a more compliant ride – it all adds up to a truck that looks like truck but behaves more like the family station wagon. If you're looking for a used SUV, this is the one to get. The price is right even for low mileage Expeditions and by opting for the 2003 model, you'll be getting a much nice SUV than the same truck that's just one or two years older.