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2003 Ford Expedition Special Service Vehicle

The Special Service Package 2003 Ford Expedition— larger than the Explorer, smaller than the Excursion— is an entirely redesigned vehicle featuring an all-new interior, exterior and chassis. The end result is a more durable, agile and responsive patrol vehicle that is equally suited for both on and off road situations. The main reason for this newfound durability is Ford’s new industry leading independent rear suspension, and its ControlTrac™ and AdvanceTrac driving systems.

ControlTrac enhances off-road performance and provides control on slippery surfaces. The ‘03 Expedition features a ControlTrac four-wheel-drive system, standard on the 4x4 models. The optional AdvanceTrac system monitors driver intent, road surface conditions and slip at all four wheels to deliver torque exactly where it’s needed. With its own computer controller, the system will respond even before wheels begin to slip.

AdvanceTrac is an electronic stability enhancement system that monitors traction at all wheels and automatically helps maintain stability while cornering on slippery surfaces. These features are welcome additions to a law enforcement or emergency vehicle where road conditions and weather correlate directly to a safe yet immediate response time to a myriad of situations around the clock. The AdvanceTrac system uses electronic braking to transfer torque from side-to-side, while the ControlTrac transfer case divides torque front-to-rear. Even with two wheels completely off the ground, the new Expedition can keep moving. Using the brakes rather than mechanical limited-slip devices inside the differential gives a quicker response and more seamless performance plus enhanced durability. An FX4 off-road package is available that includes factory-installed skid plates to protect the engine, radiator, transfer case and 28-gallon fuel tank, as well as shocks tuned for off-road performance.

The new Expedition’s stiffer chassis and body, and a stronger variable assist power rack-and-pinion steering (with 29% less friction) along with independent, coil-over-shock, double wishbone suspension, deliver a nearly two inch wider stance and more precise handling response.

Variable power assistance gives the truck solid road feel at all speeds and a shorter turning radius helps with maneuverability in tight spaces. The shorter turning radius is immediately evident the first time you attempt a U-turn in the new Expedition. The 2002 Expedition had a curb-to-curb turning distance of 40.5 feet and the 2003 Ford CVPI turns in 40.3 feet. In comparison, the 2003 Expedition turns in 38.7 feet.

The fully boxed frame uses hydroformed rails and laser-cut, through-welded cross-members in a design that is approximately 70% stiffer in torsional rigidity than the previous frame; the passenger compartment makes extensive use of structural foam, helping to make it 42% stiffer than the 2002 body, improving ride and handling. According to Ford, with the stiffer body and frame, engineers were able to isolate road vibrations for better ride comfort.

This suspension change instantly increased wheel travel, smoothing the ride while lowering the Expedition’s center of gravity (2.3 inches in front, 8.3 inches at the rear). The differential is rigidly mounted 10.5 inches above the ground, while the axle shafts run through the frame rails, rather than under them. The coil-spring rear suspension, using aluminum control arms, lowers unsprung weight by 110 pounds for better handling, but increases the vehicle weight by 75 pounds. The shocks are of the mono-tube design for the best transient handling response.

The end result is confidence, and sure-footed traction and handling every time and every place the Expedition is led to patrol the beat, on or off road. This is proven effective for grassy highway median crossing, gravel roads, muddy trails, open fields, and wet or snowy roadways. The independent rear suspension improves vehicle control and handling over washboard roads, railroad tracks and on potholed streets. The Expedition also handles well on smooth, dry pavement, too.

The test vehicle was a prototype based on the XLT trim level version of the 2003 Expedition, fitted with all of the Special Service package components, and powered by the smaller 4.6L (281ci), 232 hp, V-8 with aluminum block and heads bolted to a four speed overdrive transmission. The four-wheel disc brakes with standard ABS bring the 5500 lb vehicle to a stop quickly and safely using massive 13-inch (front) and 13 ½-inch (rear) vented rotors. The Expedition stops nearly a truck-length shorter than the Michigan State Police (MSP) standard for pursuit-capable SUVs, even though the Expedition is not pursuit-rated.

For 2003, the Expedition was upgraded from16–17-inch wheels and tires. The 17-inch heavy-duty steel wheels replace the 16-inch alloy wheels and are one of the main identifying features of the Special Service package. The rubber is street-oriented, P265/70R17, S-rated, all-season tires.

The test vehicle also included power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, front captain’s chairs with driver’s power lumbar support, second row bench seat, third row seat delete, vinyl floor covering, A/C, tilt wheel, AM/FM/cassette and cruise control. These features are all standard equipment in the Special Service Vehicle. Additionally, the ride-and-drive vehicle featured daytime running lights, Reverse Sensing System, shift-on-the-fly electronic four-wheel drive with ControlTrac, and optional AdvanceTrac driving systems, skid plates and front tow hooks.

Available SSV options include the 5.4L, 260 hp (330ci) steel block Triton V-8 engine, rear auxiliary heat and A/C, flat-folding third row seat, running boards and Safety Canopy (side overhead airbags).

The 4.6L-powered Expedition proved to be adequate for many patrol functions, while the 5.4L engine is a much better choice. During MSP testing, the 4.6L version hit 60mph in 12.3 seconds and 100mph in 40.9 seconds. The 5.4L version was a full second quicker to 60mph and five seconds faster to 100mph.

In on-duty applications in both rural and urban settings, the Expedition fared well. In a heavily urban environment, the higher driver’s seat provided a commanding view of road conditions while navigating through rush hour, expressway traffic. The power assist rack-and-pinion steering gave the driver the utmost confidence when maneuvering in tight streets and crowded alleys. This nimbleness was especially appreciated when parallel parking.

The optional Reverse Sensing System is also very helpful when parking or reversing. It is essentially a parking and back-up aid radar system with a range of approximately 20 feet. The radar unit is hidden behind the central area of the rear bumper fascia where it is protected from the elements. It looks through the plastic fascia to gauge distances and sounds an audible beep inside the vehicle with an increasing frequency as the distance between the rear bumper and the sensed obstacle shortens. This is much more effective and easier on the bumpers than the commonly utilized big-city method of parking by Braille.

A shorter turning radius than the standard police sedan is a definite plus and isn’t truly appreciated in full until it is experienced for the first time. The Expedition also has huge outside rearview mirrors.

Ford stated that with the new design of the 2003 Expedition an emphasis was placed on reducing noise inside the passenger compartment. One ride in the new truck proved it was successful. No sounds inside the cabin indicated that the 4.6L V-8 was even running. A lightweight magnesium beam is infused into a three-layer metal and plastic laminate dash to hold the panel in place. The beam assists in reducing squeaks and rattles as well as steering column vibration, and the laminate dash called Silent Steel helps dampen sound.

The rear cargo area of the Expedition is cavernous. The independent rear suspension in lieu of a full rear axle allows a lower floor in the rear compartment. With the second row of seats folded down it yields more than 110 cubic feet of cargo space— more than any SUV in that category on the road. Even with the rear seat in use Expedition still has 61 cubic feet of cargo space. This truck has all the room needed for use as a mobile crime lab, command vehicle, evidence technician, animal control officer or tactical assault vehicle.
When performing in a more rural application, the Expedition shined. The test vehicle saw service with a central Indiana county sheriff’s office and was well received once put to use. With the smaller engine and from a dead stop, the two and a half ton truck is clearly underpowered when compared to smaller sedans and SUVs. However, from a rolling start on open stretches of highway, the 4.6 V-8 was quick enough from 30–100mph and was able to easily overtake vehicles to perform traffic stops.

The Expedition easily handled curves posted at 45mph at twice that speed, which is a decades-old measure of high-speed handling. At its speed limited top speed of 100mph, the Expedition was stable and predictable in changing lanes. Center median crossing is a walk in the park for the Expedition wet or dry, even in two-wheel drive. This was impressive performance for a truck that Ford emphasizes is not designed for nor intended as a pursuit vehicle.

Rear compartment space was more than ample behind the second row of seats for the equipment required for rural sheriffing, which included portable truck weigh scale, first responders first aid gear, tactical assault team equipment bag, tow rope, etc. When these items are carried in a patrol car they must all be removed in the event of a flat tire. That can turn a 10-minute inconvenience pit stop en route to a call into a major delay when responding to a citizen’s call for service. As with all previous models, the 2003 Expedition’s spare tire is located underneath just forward of the rear bumper.

While the fleet price of the 2003 Ford Expedition is significantly higher than the four-door sedans, the overall impression was that the Expedition is a capable, proven performer worthy of donning the police badge for its seventh model year with new technologies and innovations that have collectively raised the bar for a law enforcement SUV.

Officer Greg Reynolds is a veteran of the Chicago Police Department, vintage police vehicle restorer and police car expert. He hosts the annual Chicagoland Emergency Vehicle Show for charity each summer and may be reached at

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jan/Feb 2002

Rating : Not Yet Rated

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