2003 Ford Expedition Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-new, smoother, more comfortable, more convenient.
Ford has launched an all-new Expedition. This second-generation model shares almost nothing with last year's model. It's packed with new features, but the biggest improvement is its ride quality, a benefit of a new independent rear suspension.
When I last drove the Expedition, it was for a long comparison test with one of its prime competitors. Not an hour out of town, the Expedition pulled off the flat, straight highway. My fatigued co-tester was eager to trade vehicles with me. Indeed, keeping the giant sport utility, with its darty steering, sloppy suspension and rough ride, on the straight and narrow was tough duty. We made frequent driver swaps during the remainder of the five-hour journey, and, needless to say, the Expedition didn't win the bake-off.
Were we to travel in the new Expedition on same route, the results would be dramatically different. A driver could comfortably stay behind the wheel for the entire trip without fatigue, and the Expedition would have a great shot at beating competitors in a comparison test. That's how much better the 2003 model is over its predecessor. Ride and handling are greatly improved, the steering is more responsive and more stable on the open road.
New features for the 2003 Expedition include a power third-row seat that disappears with the press of a button, leaving a large, perfectly flat cargo area. The interior is all new. A small center seat on the second row slides forward to give front-seat parents access to a small child. Safety is enhanced with a lower front bumper, an optional safety curtain designed to protect occupants in a rollover, adjustable pedals, a tire-pressure monitor, and advanced electronics designed to help the driver maintain control.
The Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator full-size sport utilities were originally introduced as 1997 models for people who needed three rows of seats like a minivan but wanted to trade the soccer-mom image for the rugged, outdoorsy appearance of an SUV. At that time, few competitors existed, primarily the Chevrolet Suburban and other full-size utilities from General Motors. Toyota has since added the Sequoia, and GM has launched additional iterations of its full-size and almost full-size sport utilities.
A choice of engines is offered in the Expedition: the standard 4.6-liter V8 rated at 232 horsepower and the 5.4-liter V8 that produces 291 horsepower. Both are paired with the same four-speed automatic transmission.
Two trim levels are available: XLT and Eddie Bauer. The XLT is equipped well.
Eddie Bauer adds front captain's chairs with two tone-leather and 6-way driver power, automatic climate control with rear A/C, a premium sound system, Arizona Beige lower body side cladding, floor console, overhead console, 11 cup holders, fog lights, privacy glass with power flip-open rear windows, satin nickel grille, Homelink, electrochromic mirror, power outside heated mirrors with memory, security approach lamps and integrated turn signals, power adjustable pedals with memory, power driver's seat with memory, reverse sensing system, black non-illuminated running boards.
Expedition prices run a wide range: XLT 2WD ($30,555); XLT 4WD ($33,425); Eddie Bauer 2WD ($37,050); Eddie Bauer 4WD ($41,195). Numerous packages are available for the XLT. A fully loaded Eddie Bauer edition goes for nearly $45,000.
An FX4 off-road package ($4,185) is available on XLT models that features distinctive exterior cues that give it a more rugged appearance, including tubular steel running boards, foglamps, an FX4 badge on the liftgate. Unique 17-inch chromed steel wheels and all-terrain tires complement special shocks tuned for off-road performance.
In spite of all the changes underneath, there is little to visually distinguish the new 2003 Ford Expedition over the 2002 model. A new Expedition owner may be unhappy when the neighbors don't notice they've traded the old one in for the new model. Then again, maybe not. Auto companies have found it doesn't always pay to mess with winning formulas.
With roughly the same overall dimensions as before, the new Expedition looks bigger and bolder than its predecessor. The track has been widened nearly two inches to give it a well-planted stance. The hood is raised four inches for a more towering presence. The standard wheels increased to 17 inches for a bolder look. The roof height is lower. Bumpers are integrated more smoothly into the overall design. Door handles are the full-grip variety, making them easier to grab for occupants, whether left- or right-handed, gloved or not gloved.
Climb aboard, and we do mean climb as this is one tall vehicle, and you'll immediately notice the differences over the previous-generation model. Previously, the Expedition's interior was virtually identical to the Lincoln Navigator and the Ford F-150 pickup trucks upon which they are based. In this new generation, however, distinctions have been made. The Navigator is far fancier than the Expedition, which, while quite refined, has a more outdoorsy, everyday workhorse ambiance.
The Ford Expedition's interior is dressed up with a metallic satin finish on such items as the rings that surround the vents and door handles. Shapes are round, and controls are hefty for an easy grip.
Storage space is generous. The roomy pockets in all four doors have space for a 20-ounce water bottle. The front center console available in some versions of the Expedition can fit a small laptop computer. The console has a slot to hold pens and a Palm Pilot or other PDAs. The lighter colors used for the upholstery give it a lighter, more car-like air.
The interior features a number of clever and useful innovations, some of them industry firsts. The Expedition, along with the Navigator, offers the industry's first power-operated third-row seat that folds flat. The third-row seat splits 60-40. Push a button on the wall of the cargo area, and one side powers down. Hold down the other button, and the other side powers down. The Honda Odyssey minivan introduced the fold-flat third-row seat, which is accomplished simply in a non high-tech fashion by pulling a couple of straps. The power-down buttons are more convenient. The disappearing third row is handy when you don't know what you will be doing or how many people you'll be carrying from one minute to the next, as there is no need to store the seat in the garage. Indeed, it is a beautiful piece of engineering to watch as the seat folds down and the flaps to cover the gap between the cargo floor and hinged seats gracefully flop into place. We experienced only one hitch on our Expedition, which was a prototype built before actual production began. One side did not power up without a hand because the headrest didn't retract fully, creating too snug a fit against the second row seatback. We assume this has been addressed in production.
When folded down, the cargo floor is perfectly flat, in contrast to some Expedition competitors who say the floor folds flat but actually slant. The flat floor combined with the flaps that cover the gap where the seats hinge make it easy to slide objects in and out. Another nice feature is the window in the liftgate that pops open so you can lift groceries out without having them tumble out of the vehicle and down a sloped driveway.
On our test drive, the Expedition's power third-row seat got a tough work out. It proved invaluable during a variety of typical weekend chores. We changed the Expedition repeatedly from a people hauler to a cargo hauler and back again with just a simple push of the button. First, we loaded it with a day bed and other furniture for delivery to our summer cottage. After dumping that off, a pack of teenagers piled in to go to a punk rock concert. The third row is comfortable enough for a couple of full-size adults. The next day we picked up a high-backed wicker chair from the furniture store.
The second row features a clever feature Ford claims is another industry first. The bench seat splits roughly into thirds. The middle section moves forward by about 11 inches, almost abutting it to the back of the front center console. That gives front-seat parents access to a small child or a child in a safety seat. The small center seatback can also be folded down and used as a work surface. The two outboard second-row seats fold easily forward for access to the third-row seat.
The Expedition can be outfitted with enough safety equipment to create a cocoon inside in case of an accident. Dual-stage front airbags are standard. An optional side.
It is what you can't see that truly makes the difference in the new Ford Expedition. The Expedition is now outfitted with an independent rear suspension. The suspension, combined with a stiffer chassis, gives the Expedition dramatically improved ride and handling. It makes the Expedition feel far smaller than the large vehicle it is.
Ford introduced a similar independent suspension on the 2002 Explorer, but it's more common to cars than trucks. The efficient packaging of the independent rear suspension made it possible for Ford engineers to accomplish a fold-flat third-row seat.
Yet, the Expedition doesn't sacrifice its truck-like capabilities. It still carries heavy loads and tows trailers and boats with the best of them.
Another major mechanical improvement to the Expedition was the switch to the more car-like rack-and-pinion steering system. The change significantly improves steering response. On our ski trip with the previous Expedition, the driver constantly had to adjust the steering wheel to keep the Expedition in a straight line even on flat highway surfaces. The new Expedition requires only small inputs to the steering wheel, to which it answers immediately.
The all-new 2003 Ford Expedition sacrifices none of its large truck-like capabilities but adds more car-like ride and handling along with some very convenient and clever features. A rigid new chassis and a new independent rear suspension dramatically improve ride and handling. A sophisticated four-wheel-drive system was developed to help the Expedition tackle all types of surfaces. New safety technogies are available, including the electronic stability program, Brake Assist, and Safety Canopy side air curtain. The disappearing third row is well engineered. The second row offers great flexibility with three independently moving seats. And all rows fold down for a flat load floor. Overall, the 2003 Expedition is greatly improved, yet the concept hasn't changed.
XLT 2WD ($30,555); XLT 4WD ($33,425); Eddie Bauer 2WD ($37,050); Eddie Bauer 4WD ($41,195).
Options As Tested
5.4-liter V8 engine ($695); Safety Canopy ($580); AdvanceTrac ($795); power folding third-row seat ($455); rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,205); climate-controlled seats ($625).
Eddie Bauer 4X4 ($41,195).
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