2003 Ford Expedition

Technology makes this full-size sport utility more useful to outdoorsmen.

Field & Stream Online Editors

The new 2003 expedition may not at first glance seem all that different from the old Expedition, but a closer look reveals a vehicle loaded with new technology of interest to outdoorsmen, especially the disappearing third-row seats. Press a pair of buttons and the third-row seats slide neatly into the floor, presenting a large, flat, uncluttered cargo space. The second row also quickly folds perfectly flat. This is a huge improvement over not only the old Expedition but also the current Explorer, which features a less-than-desirable sloping cargo deck when the third-row seats are folded.

The operation takes less than a minute; buttons for the power third-row seats (split 60-40) are located just inside the rear hatch and behind the driver's seat. The big benefit here is not having to drag bulky rear seats out for storage before packing for deer camp. It also means that while you're on a trip, the seats can be stored as you take on cargo-e.g., deer or other big game.

Second- and third-row seats are split, so you can carry long items such as one-piece fly and surf rods and up to six passengers at the same time. Total payload for the 5.4-liter 4x4 is 1,615 pounds. Passengers in the third row will find far greater legroom and a more natural seating position. Unchanged, however, is the amount of cargo space behind the Expedition's third row; the Chevy Suburban is still the best choice for that.

The other key benefits of the new Expedition include greatly improved offroad capability as well as better ride and handling on paved surfaces. The achievement of these important goals is mainly due to a new independent rear suspension that replaces the traditional live rear axle. Not having to design around a rear axle that moves up and down over bumps let Ford's engineers lower the load height of the floor (easing access to the SUV), yet raise the ground clearance (for better offroad performance) at the same time. The new independent rear suspension features half-shafts that protrude through cleverly designed portholes in the frame. This allowed engineers to increase the ground clearance to nearly 9 inches and still lower the floor.

Further improving offroad worthiness is an enhanced four-wheel-drive system. Ford's optional AdvanceTrac traction control uses the brake system to transfer torque from side to side. Combined with Ford's standard ControlTrac 4WD, it'll keep the Expedition chugging ahead when just one tire has traction. Engineers say they designed the new Expedition to slog through deep sand and climb slippery slopes. Turning a rotary knob lets the driver lock everything up in high or low 4WD, shift into economical 2WD, or switch to automatic 4WD.

Other changes for 2003 include a rigid new chassis for better handling and a smoother ride, revised 4.7- and 5.4-liter V-8 engines for smoother and quieter operation, improved brakes with Brake Assist for shorter stopping distances and better response in emergencies, and redesigned interior packaging for increased comfort and convenience. The Expedition is rated to tow up to 8,900 pounds. An optional 4x4 offroad package includes skid plates, offroad shocks, and a 3.73:1 rear axle. Look for prices from $31,000 to $41,000.