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2003 Ford Excursion Eddie Bauer
Base price: $42,780
Price as tested: $46,535
EPA mileage: Not rated

By Des Toups
The 19-foot-long, 7½-foot-wide, 7,100-pound Ford Excursion is a
four-wheeled Flying Dutchman, doomed to circle the block endlessly but unable to park.

The Excursion was too tall for the airport garage, too wide for the
spaces at the mall, too long for parallel parking downtown, and its majestic, 50-foot-wide turning circle too large to make the tight turn into an hourly lot. The hood is too tall to see the bumpers of cars you’re approaching; the rear window too high to see those in back of you.

In short, the Excursion is probably the least appropriate passenger vehicle available for anybody who lives within sight of a skyscraper.
On the other hand, if you’re a Texan contemplating a regular haul from Abilene to Galveston, family and boat in tow, this is the ultimate. The Excursion is big enough for eight to stretch out; those in back can watch a movie. It’s powerful enough to loaf along at 80 mph with a horse trailer attached. It’s sturdy enough to handle offroad use, if you can find really wide-open country. It’s comfortable enough not to feel like a work truck.

Whichever side of this great divide you live on, the 2003 model year will be the Excursion’s last. Blame its demise not on the eco-furor against SUVs but on the obvious: declining sales. An initial rush seems to have sated any pent-up demand for super-size rigs; assembly-line time will go instead to the hot-selling F-250 Super Duty on which the Excursion is based.

And for its swan song, Ford unapologetically offers even more power and toys. New for 2003 is a well-trimmed Eddie Power edition with two-tone leather seats, cherry dashboard trim, second-row captain’s chairs and a flip-down DVD player. There’s also an optional, more powerful turbo diesel V-8, revised front suspension and a new five-speed automatic transmission.

Yet much of what buyers have come to expect in premium-priced trucks is still missing. There’s no set-it-and-forget-it all-wheel-drive. No stability control. No side-curtain airbags. No steering-wheel radio controls. No navigation system.

The Eddie Bauer trim does a good job of masking this relative crudeness, but there’s no way to hide the Excursion’s most glaring fault: It drives like a truck.

The ride is jiggly on smooth surfaces and downright harsh over speed bumps. Steering is vague; your course requires constant correction. Wind noise is constant. The big V-10 engine roars any time the gas pedal is pressed, yet it’s not particularly energetic. Brakes are only adequate. But handling is surprisingly good, stable and flat, and the big Ford is easier to drive quickly than two other mega-utes we’ve driven lately, the Hummer H2 and the
Mercedes-Benz G500.

What the Excursion lacks in refinement it makes up for in size, and that is its only compelling virtue, if what you need is a vehicle that can seat eight grown men or tow 11,000 pounds. Tow a slightly smaller boat or haul grade-schoolers rather than ranch hands and your options expand greatly. Ford’s own Expedition offers smooth, carlike handling and a world-class interior; Chevy’s Suburban a spritely V-8 engine and maneuverable feel; Toyota’s Sequoia a silky V-8 and bulletproof reliability. Any is a better choice than the Excursion.

Neither the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash-tested an Excursion, though simply physics tells you that the 7,100-pound Ford is likely to come out better than whatever it hits. The Excursion does offer front air bags and four-wheel disc brakes with antilock control, but it’s lighter on other safety equipment than the smaller Expedition and Explorer. There’s no
side-curtain airbag for rollovers, side airbags or electronic-stability control.

The Excursion is a Low Emissions Vehicle (cleaner than it has to be, legally); the EPA rates the biggest Ford a two on its 1-10 “greenness” scale; that’s actually a bit above average for big honkin’ sport-utilities. But make no mistake: This truck may be exhaling reasonably clean exhaust, but it is inhaling unleaded like there’s no tomorrow.

Feather the gas pedal, lock the cruise control at 40, coast down hills; it doesn’t matter. The Excursion will get 11.5 mpg, and there’s very little one can do to change that. With a 44-gallon fuel tank, fill-ups are reasonably spaced but jaw-droppingly pricey. With gas in some cities now crowding $2 a gallon, you’ll need to check your bank balance before popping into the corner Texaco.

Taking a little sting out of the equation is a new-for-2003 Power Stroke turbo diesel V-8, which approximates the horsepower of the V-10 but boosts torque to a mighty 550 pound-feet. It won’t have to work very hard to tow even the 3.5-ton Excursion around. The diesel and an accompanying five-speed automatic transmission are expected to boost mileage by about 10
percent and to lower emissions even further.

Des Toups is a Seattle free-lance writer whose work has appeared in AutoWorld magazine, The Seattle Times and newspapers nationwide.


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