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2003 Ford Excursion

Endangered Species

Much to the chagrin of rabid environmentalists, Ford’s beastly Excursion soldiered on until 2005.

If you’re considering the purchase of a used Ford Excursion, better follow Janis Joplin’s advice and “get it while you can.” They’re getting scarce. Ford’s rolling temple to conspicuous consumption went away in the fall of 2005, and we miss it. Great truck.

So if you need a new vehicle with room for nine adults, loads of gear and up to 11,000 pounds of towing capacity, now is the time to get it before low-mileage examples get too thin and you can’t find the one you want.

For 2003, not much had changed on this behemoth save for a few refinements and the availability of an Eddie Bauer edition. A driver-side grab handle on the A-pillar became standard and ride, and handling were enhanced. Fire red was the only new exterior color and the Limited model came standard with new forged 16-inch wheels and a six disc in-dash CD changer.

The ride did seem to have been improved over earlier models. The handling was decent for a 7,000-plus-pound vehicle and if you’ve never driven one, it’s actually more maneuverable than you might think. For example, the front overhang is short and the front wheels turn sharply enough that parking in perpendicular spaces doesn’t always require a three-point turn.

But the big news happened later in 2003 when Ford’s new 6.0-liter diesel V-8 debuted. Mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, the new diesel will feature electronic turbo-boost control, increased torque and horsepower. In earlier models, the 7.3-liter turbodiesel, which came in the model we tested, was still a willing and able—though noisy—power plant.

It’s also efficient, to the point where you shake your head in disbelief. For example, we towed an 8,000-pound trailer from Ventura, Calif., to Fresno, Calif., and never netted anything less than 15 miles per gallon. More remarkable is that the trip involved climbing Southern California’s famous Interstate 5 “Grapevine,” a 4,000-foot pass over the Tehachapi Mountains. Without a boat in tow, the diesel was capable of 16 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

But even if it didn’t get that kind of mileage, it’s still the best power choice for the Excursion—at least for now. For example, the Grapevine is steep enough to slow big rigs and motorhomes down to about 35 or 40 mph. With our boat in tow, we could easily maintain 55 mph up the 10-mile grade with no trouble, thanks to the 525 pound-feet of torque. The converter would unlock and the truck would drop into third gear, but it chugged up the hill with authority, and it was even able to accelerate, albeit slowly. About the only side effects of the heavy load and the steep grade was that the transmission temperature gauge nudged northward a bit. The trailer also caused the rear of the vehicle to sag a bit, which pointed the headlights up into the fog.

On level terrain, the truck works as it should. With gradual throttle input, it’s actually possible to pass without downshifting, even with a boat in tow. At 60 mph, the truck loafed along at a lowly 1,750 rpm as it hammered out its diesel cacophony.

The noise is about the only complaint we have with the 7.3-liter engine. Without having a decibel meter, it’s difficult to tell whether it’s louder than the Cummins six-cylinder in the Dodge Ram, but suffice it to say it would wake the neighbors if their windows were open.

Other than that, this engine rocks. It loves to be loaded down and pulls with aplomb at all rpm. Typically, a drawback with diesel engines is that they don’t offer the acceleration of their gasoline counterparts. But the 7.3-liter doesn’t penalize the buyer who needs a good tow vehicle, and still wants to use it as a daily driver. Without a boat in tow, it actually offered decent acceleration.

Ford engineers also deserve credit for the transmission. It works beautifully under full throttle, delivering nice firm shifts—though never harsh—followed by a reassuring surge of power. With or without a load, it works the same hot or cold.
The same praise can be given for tip-in. The truck accelerates from stop lights with no abrupt surge in power and no undue clunking from the surge-brake coupler on the trailer.

As good as the engine and transmission combination is, it’s accentuated by the Excursion’s fantastic braking system, no small task in a hydraulically assisted diesel application. Power was prodigious and the feedback from the pedal was as good as any full-size truck we’ve tested. The antilock system, however, likely was the best we’ve seen. Stomp the pedal for a panic stop and the truck comes to a halt in a hurry, with no tire chirping, unwelcome noises or shudder. And it’s still pointed straight ahead when it’s all over. Progressive panic stops showed that the antilock engaged at the proper threshold. Awesome.

During our five-hour trip to Fresno, the quality of the front bucket seats really showed. Electrically adjustable, the seats provided ample lumbar and thigh support and were neither too firm nor too soft.

We’re almost embarrassed to admit how much we liked the backup sensor system. In truth, we like to think we can drive large trucks without it, but the sensor alerts you when a car comes out of nowhere while you’re backing up. For backing with a trailer, the system shuts off easily enough with a button on the dashboard.

Adjacent to the backup sensor switch, the HVAC controls were simple and worked well enough, but we would have preferred a separate button or switch to allow the air to re-circulate. Built as it was, the only way to re-circulate air was to turn on the air conditioning, which seems kind of wasteful when it’s 50 degrees outside.

Other nice features include the door handles, which were great because of their ergonomic design. The DVD player for rear-seat passengers would be a big plus on long trips. Running boards on either side were helpful to third-row passengers, but for all other occupants they only served to dirty your pant leg upon egress from the cabin. If you’re not getting four-wheel drive, you don’t really need them.

We also loved stereo system. And just before we returned the truck to Ford’s PR agency, we heard Janis Joplin singing: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me, a Ford Excursion.” Or something like that.


Fuel Consumption:
Towing...      15.1      mpg
Non-towing...     16          mpg

0-60 towing...     23.78 seconds
40-60 towing...  14.15 seconds
0-60 non-towing...  11.70 seconds
40-60 non-towing...  6.64 seconds

Engine... 7.3-liter diesel V-8
Horsepower...    250  @  2,600 rpm
Torque...  525 pound-feet @  1,600 rpm
Compression ratio... 17.5:1
Transmission... four-speed electronic automatic

Axle ratio... 3.73:1
Fuel capacity... XX gal.
Tire size...LT265-75R-16
Brakes... four-wheel disc with antilock
Suspension... Front: independent twin I-beam with coil springs; Rear: live axle with leaf springs
Tow rating... 11,000 lb.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating... XX,XXX lb.
Gross Combined Weight Rating... 20,000 lb.

Overall length... 226.7"
Maximum width... 79.9"
Wheelbase... 137.1"
Curb weight... 7,197 lb.
Base price... $41,680
Price as tested... $45,955

2002 Formula 271 FAS3Tech
8,000 pounds

Customer service... 800-392-3673
Web site...


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