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Expert Reviews 1 of 9
By Jim Flammang
January 24, 2003
Posted on 10/23/02 Vehicle Overview Ford hails its redesigned 2003 full-size sport utility vehicle as the best on the road, best in the dirt, best in the snow. The Expedition is second in size only to the Ford Excursion. The Lincoln Navigator, which is related to the Expedition, has also been redesigned for 2003.
More than 1.1 million Expeditions have been sold in the United States since the vehicles debut as a 1997 model, though sales dropped by more than 16 percent in 2001 to 178,045 units, according to Automotive News. Ford says that 78 percent of customers use them for vacations and long trips. The full-size customer tows more, hauls more and goes off-road more, says C.J. Lammers, the Expeditions vehicle dynamics manager.
Ford claims it developed the worlds first power-folding, into-the-floor, third-row bench seat. It is split 60/40 and is said to comfortably accommodate three adults. The Expedition may now be equipped with new optional Safety Canopy curtain-type airbag system that the company claims is another industry first. The Safety Canopy uses separate sensors and deployment strategies to provide both side-impact and rollover protection to first- and second-row passengers. The standard 40/20/40-split, second-row seat can be slid forward 11 inches; this handy feature allows a child in a safety seat to be closer to its parents in the front seats.
All-new ControlTrac four-wheel drive is now available. This on-demand system automatically distributes torque to the wheel that has the most traction. Four driving modes are possible: 2-High, 4-High, 4-Low and A4WD (automatic); the last option offers set and forget operation. Switching from 2-High to 4-High takes two seconds. The Expedition is said to be the only vehicle in its class with a locked 4-High mode. Ford promises that it operates in proactive (predictive) mode rather than reactive mode. An optional electronic stability system, called AdvanceTrac, monitors traction at all wheels and applies brakes to the individual wheel or wheels to help control a skid or spin.
Fords reverse-sensing system now works with radar rather than just sonar, and it uses two sensors instead of four. This system is standard on the Eddie Bauer edition and optional on the XLT.
Ford reduced the Expeditions friction by 29 percent, doubled the stiffness of the steering, and stiffened the body to reduce noise, vibration and harshness. During assembly, 34 pounds of structural foam is injected into the Expedition at seven locations throughout the body to aid noise reduction. The 2003 models unsprung weight is 110 pounds less than its predecessors. A new independent rear suspension is installed, along with new rack-and-pinion steering. Ford says the Expeditions revised braking system has the largest brakes in its class.
An improved coefficient of drag promises greater ease in slipping through the air, and the SUVs ride height has been lowered for greater compatibility with other vehicles. Engineers also worked on engine noise to yield what is now called a confident sound. Ford claims the ability to converse inside the vehicle at wide-open throttle beats the competition.
Exterior In its 2003 form, the Expedition has more defined fender and wheel lip moldings. According to Chief Designer Mike Arbaugh, short-statured drivers can see the SUVs hood, and the vehicles track width has grown by 1.6 inches. An all-new, mostly hydroformed frame contains nine cross-members. Ford says the body is 42 percent stronger and vibration has been improved by 67 percent.
Like its predecessor, the four-door Expedition has a 119-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 205.8 inches thats 7 inches longer than the Chevrolet Tahoe but nearly 21 inches shorter than Fords giant Excursion. The 2003 Expedition is 78.7 inches wide and 77.6 inches tall. The mirrors are 33 percent larger than before and feature turn signals that can be seen in a 180-degree area. Full bodyside cladding is standard.
Ground clearance peaks at 8.9 inches, and the Expedition promises 9.4 inches of rear wheel travel. Clearance to the rear differential is 10.5 inches, which Ford claims is the best in class. Standard tires measure 17 inches in diameter. An air suspension with three height positions will be available during the 2003 model year. In addition to the Eddie Bauer and XLT models, an FX4 model is available and includes unique shock absorbers with progressive damping, skid plates, fog lamps and running boards.
Interior Three different seating configurations are available, which pushes capacity to nine occupants when properly equipped. The second row is available with a 40/20/40-split bench seat or a pair of captains chairs. The second- and third-row seats fold flat, and the power-folding third-row seat is optional in the Eddie Bauer edition. Climbing aboard still requires a high step up. Second-row occupants dont have an overabundance of legroom, but toe space is good.
Adjustable pedals are standard, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and a satellite-based navigation system are optional. A Cool Seat function that heats and cools the front seats is available for the Eddie Bauer model. The Expeditions instrument panel is tipped forward, 11 cupholders are installed, and the 2003 model boasts the largest center console in the industry. Cargo volume totals 110.4 cubic feet, and interior capacity measures 60.9 cubic feet with the second-row seats in their up positions.
Under the Hood Two V-8 engines remain available: a 232-horsepower 4.6-liter and a 5.4-liter that cranks out 260 hp and 350 pounds-feet of torque. Both power plants team with a four-speed-automatic transmission. The Expedition comes with either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive and can be equipped to tow as much as 8,900 pounds.
Safety The Expedition is the only full-size SUV to earn a double five-star crash-test rating by the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Fords AdvanceTrac stability system calculates the vehicle path every seven milliseconds to help control skids while the vehicle is cornering. Antilock brakes and a tire-pressure monitor are standard. Electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist systems are included, and Ford says the latter can produce up to 25 percent better braking in a panic situation. An optional reverse-sensing system detects objects to the rear while the vehicle is backing up.
Driving Impressions Ride quality is the most evident improvement in the latest Expedition. Compared to its predecessor, the 2003 model feels lighter and not as trucky. Drivers arent likely to mistake it for a passenger car while theyre behind the wheel, but the sizable SUV does yield a lighter, almost carlike sensation. The ride isnt gentle, but its definitely softer than that of the previous model.
Occupants get tossed around a bit when riding on rolling pavement, but this experience isnt as harsh as that of a true truck. Even relatively smooth surfaces tend to produce considerable bumpiness and excess motion, but it is soft in nature and not as annoying as the roughness felt in typical trucks.
On twisty, two-lane roads in the mountains, the Expedition behaves admirably and not like a big truck at all. Now and then, you might find yourself driving a trifle too fast into a curve, but the Expedition is easy enough to get back down to a reasonable speed. When driving off-road and along snow-covered trails, the SUV proved to be quite sure of itself even if the differences between it and rival models arent necessarily massive.
The 5.4-liter V-8 produces plenty of power under most conditions, but the Expedition slows considerably when trudging up moderate inclines. Otherwise, engine power and transmission response are excellent and refined.
The comfortable, well-cushioned seats deliver good support. Passengers are more likely to appreciate the Expedition after a few hours on the road rather than those first moments aboard because a long drive doesnt mean theyll experience appreciable fatigue. Ford has given its full-size SUV considerable improvements, but the Expedition hasnt leaped quite as dramatically beyond the competition as some would suggest.