Look beyond its size to judge Expedition
BY JIM MATEJA
CHICAGO TRIBUNE (KRT)
CHICAGO -- The Ford Expedition is rather likable for a villain.
Expedition is one of those huge sport-utility vehicles blamed for draining the United States of petroleum.
Sad that some see Expedition only as a 7,000-pound boat that blocks out the sun when traveling behind one and hides approaching vehicles when parked alongside one.
Sad because Expedition is well-mannered and offers a wealth of safety and security features. It just happens to be big.
For 2003 Expedition gets a styling upgrade and engineering refinements -- and stays big.
We tested the Eddie Bauer 4x4 edition with its standard 5.4-liter, 260-horsepower V-8 that moves the package with no strain, perhaps the reason 90 percent of all Expedition buyers opt for the 5.4- over the 4.6-liter, 232-h.p. V-8 despite its 14 m.p.g. city/17 m.p.g. highway rating.
For a full-size sport-ute capable of seating family and luggage, Expedition has surprisingly good handling thanks to suspension upgrades and a new power rack-and-pinion steering system that replaces the recirculating ball type.
With better steering dynamics, you get quicker, more precise reaction to changes in direction. You don't feel as if at the helm of a ship swaying side to side. You can slip into and out of the garage faster and those parking-lot spaces don't seem as narrow, though you still won't squeeze between the lines as nimbly as you would in a compact Ford Escape.
A new independent rear suspension added to allow room for a third-row seat also smoothes the ride, and with its anti-lift geometry, reduces lurching or pitching forward in heavy braking. You feel in control of the big machine.
The '03 also offers new ControlTrac four-wheel-drive. Dial up two-or four-wheel-drive or four-wheel automatic, which allows you to tool around in 2WD until slippage is detected and 4WD automatically takes over.
For added security, optional ($795) AdvanceTrac traction control monitors driver intent, road-surface conditions and slip at any of the four wheels and delivers torque to the needed wheel -- before the wheel begins to slip.
AdvanceTrac uses electronic braking to transfer torque side to side, and ControlTrac divides torque front to rear. With these two sophisticated systems, even if two wheels are off the ground -- those upfront when off-roading or on either side on a slippery road -- you keep moving.
Also standard are four-wheel anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist that shortens stopping distances up to 20 percent, Ford boasts, by sensing the driver wants to stop suddenly and automatically applying full brake force.
Capturing the most attention, however, is the new power third-row seat ($455). Push a button and the seat backs quietly motor flat so you don't have to remove them to increase cargo capacity. Remove the load, touch the button and the backs return to the upright position. The seat backs are split so you can lower only one if needed.
An added benefit: If an item is out of reach on the flat seat back, touch the button and as the back lifts, it will slip toward you. Works with a briefcase or small golf bag, though you might not want to try it with a dozen eggs.
Power-seat controls are in the cargo hold and along the second-row seat wall but won't function if the vehicle is moving to prevent inadvertently touching a button and upsetting the cargo.
To get to the third seat, second-row seats easily flip and fold over, but you'll find more head and leg room in the third-row seat in the midsize Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT and GMC Envoy XL.
Climate-controlled driver/passenger seats ($625) offer not only heat in the winter, but also cool air passing through the perforated leather in the summer to keep pants or skirt from sticking to the cowhide.
The climate seats are offered only in the Eddie Bauer Expedition but are standard on the SUV's cousin, the Lincoln Navigator.
Navigator offers two features Expedition doesn't -- power running boards ($925) that motor out to greet you when you open the door and retract when you close the door and power tailgate (standard) that opens automatically when you press the key fob.
Other noteworthy features include power side rear-vent windows; canopy air-bag system ($580 option) with rollover sensors, basically side-impact air curtains for first- and second-seat occupants (third seat not included) that deploy in an impact and stay inflated a few seconds longer in a rollover; lowered front and rear bumpers to make them more compatible with small cars; and a dash message center that offers a count of miles traveled but is best kept on the "miles to empty" reading.
There's also a most clever feature for those traveling with little kids: a mirror that pops out of the overhead console so you can see the goings on in back.
Expedition offers a cargo bin in the rear side wall to hold a gallon of milk, and coin/cup/tissue holders in the console, the last so big it holds a giant economy size tissue box to get you through the allergy season.
Expedition also came with sonar-radar reverse sensing that lets out an audible warning when backing up too close to an object, and Beltminder, which raises a ruckus every few seconds if you don't fasten your safety belts -- so much noise that few could refuse to buckle and remain sane.
Because drivers come in a variety of sizes, Expedition offers standard power adjustable brake/gas pedals that motor up to six inches toward the driver so he or she doesn't have to bring the seat forward toward the steering column housing the air bag.
Base price: $41,195.
Two optional items on the test vehicle were a rear-seat DVD entertainment system to keep kids occupied on long trips ($1,295) and a navigation system ($1,995) to keep adults occupied. The DVD makes sense.
The vehicle also came with second-row captain's chairs ($795) rather than a bench to provide a walk-through to the third row. With the bench, the center section slides forward 11 inches so the front-seat passenger can tend a young child.
Doug Walczak, Expedition brand manager, wouldn't comment on rumors that an extended-length Expedition would fill the gap when the automaker is expected to phase out the biggest SUV in its fleet, the Excursion, after the '04 model year.
He also wouldn't comment on the future of diesel engines or a hybrid gas/electric Expedition to improve fuel economy.
"Without talking about future product, I can say we're looking at any and all avenues and ways to improve fuel economy and meet future consumer demand," he said.
Ford is known to be working on a compression-on-demand engine that automatically adjusts compression ratios to deliver optimum mileage or performance based on driving demands -- such as coasting or climbing. Again, no comment from Walczak.
2003 Ford Eddie Bauer Expedition 4x4
Wheelbase: 119 inches
Length: 206 inches
Engine: 5.4-liter, 260-h.p.V-8
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 14 m.p.g. city/17 m.p.g. highway
Base price: $41,195
Price as tested: $47,775. Includes $795 for second-row captain's chairs; $795 for AdvanceTrac; $1,995 for navigation system; $580 for safety canopy air bags; $495 for power third-row seat; $625 for climate control seats; and $1,295 for DVD entertainment system. Add $740 for freight.
Pluses: Big for those who need the size and towing capacity, but doesn't feel as big as it looks. Power third-row seat that folds flat to increase cargo capacity. Power adjustable pedals and heated/cooled seats available.
Minuses: Meager mileage. Power running boards and power tailgate not offered as they are on Lincoln Navigator cousin.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....