A look at the second-generation Ford Expedition shows how far along the road of sophistication the sport/utility vehicle has traveled -- and this means not just the Expedition, but sport/utes in general.

To drive this model now is to experience dynamics, body composure, and cabin noise that barely pass muster today. But, when stepping into a new 2003-2006 after knowing only the first generation, refinements in those same areas would have been clearly apparent. A 70-percent improvement in torsional stiffness can be thanked for that, along with adaptive power steering assistance and better sound insulation.

This full-size, potential nine-seater retained the standard body-on-frame construction, but it dispensed with the earlier model's live rear axle to become the first vehicle of its kind to deploy an independent rear. It shaved 110 pounds of unsprung weight, enabled 9 inches of suspension travel, and pushed ground clearance up 1.4 inches to 8.9. Any fears that towing capacity would be compromised by such a move were put to rest when Ford announced a mighty maximum of 8900 pounds, up 800 pounds from before. Meanwhile, payload increased to 1614 pounds.

This generation also became the first SUV to offer optional power-folding third-row seats that disappear into the floor completely to form a flat load space. Engine choices began with a 4.6-liter with 232 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque and a 5.4-liter V-8, but the 2005 model year brought a consolation to one 24-valve, 5.4-liter V-8 with VVT that delivered 300 hp and 365 lb-ft.

Consumption ran around 12 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the highway. Perhaps surprisingly, the second-gen Expedition was classified as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle. Each V-8 was connected to a four-speed automatic transmission, driving either the rear wheels or all four.

Some owners have been pleased; others haven't fared so well. Many have complained of rust bubbling up through the paint, as well as engine and transmission gripes.

Most recalls have centered around exterior lighting problems, but there have also been issues with aftermarket fuel filters, compromised fuel lines, defective door handles, tires damaged during vehicle production, and wiper motors not receiving sufficient grease.

Buying a second-generation Expedi-tion requires more than just the usual common sense and inspection of vital fluids. Some specifics to look out for include checking the rear air conditioning, since a clicking noise could mean a failing actuator. The fuse boxes of 2003 models have a tendency to fry PCM relays. Changing the spark plugs of the 5.4-liter V-8 is a pain, so see if the current owner has done that recently. To avoid electrical gremlins, make sure all the power accessories work as Ford intended, including the keyless entry.

A 2005 4WD XLT Sport in good condition is valued at $8965. For comparison, a 2005 Chevy Suburban 1500 LT is about $11,450, and a 2005 Tahoe LT is valued at $11,750.


2003-2006 Ford Expedition
Body type 4-door SUV
Drivetrain Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Dual front
Engines 4.6L/232-hp SOHC V-8; 5.4L/ 260-300-hp SOHC V-8
Brakes, f/r Disc/disc, ABS
Price range, whlsl/retail (KBB) $3875/$5515 (2003 RWD XLT 4.5L V-8), $15,550/$19,050 (2006 4WD King Ranch 5.4L V-8)
Recalls Too many to list; see www.intellichoice.com
NHTSA frontal impact rating, driver/pass Five stars/five stars