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Monday, February 3, 2003

Review: 2003 Ford Expedition


I’ve always taken a liking to bright, red wrapping paper.  There’s a sensation of butterflies in the stomach, coupled with anticipation that makes the entire experience worth it—it’s just short of actually crapping in the pants.

Of course, the contents of the ever-inviting wrapper may not always live up to expectations, as experiences of the past Christmas can vouch for this.  On the other hand, it could be the complete opposite, where the contents may actually bring a teary-eyed experience—rainbow colored socks is a good example.

With the bight, red exterior paint and huge size, the all-new Ford Expedition is surely like any Christmas dream come true.  With all of Ford’s techno-babble about improvements and changes, this is surely one inviting piece of machinery to drive—the anticipation heightened further because of the still-present new car smell (less than 2,000 kilometers).  Step into the world of this new king of the SUV hill and experience one of the biggest surprises in the automotive industry.



Despite the nearly 1.5 million-peso price tag, the 2003 model XLT is the best full-sized SUV money can buy.  There are simply no compromises in here—everything has been well thought of and executed, that Ford has brought their flagship model into another dimension.  Compared to its aging competition, the Expedition has come in, not as just the most muscular, but as the most refined and well-executed of the lot.

Beneath the brand-new sheet metal, the XLT is still powered by the potent Triton V8 engine.  This SOHC two-valve per cylinder engine still has the same 4.6-liter displacement—changing neither the overall power nor torque output.  Nonetheless, the figures generated by this venerable engine are nothing to be ashamed of: 232 bhp and 395 Nm—figures still unmatched by most of its rivals.

The surprise comes from the how this engine delivers the goods.  Unlike rivals’ turbo diesels which are lethargic below the forced induction kick-in point, this high-displacement petrol’s power band is wide and flat.  Acceleration whether from a stand still or moving at 75 km/h is brisk and seemingly endless, despite the Ford’s 2288-kilogram curb weight.  The exhaust note is fruity, with a hint of sports car flair, and paired with the revised four-speed electronically controlled automatic, it pushes this behemoth to speeds above the legal limit in absolutely no time.  Close your eyes (not while driving!) and from the sound and acceleration you might imagine you were in a Mustang.



Accompanying the spirited acceleration is the highly improved handling, thanks to a heavily modified suspension system.  Though still employing a ladder-on-frame construction, the 2003 Expedition is the first in its class to use fully independent double wishbone suspension all around.  Along with the wider track, this results in a well-balanced and sorted out driving experience.

If the previous model was synonymous to an uneducated brute, the new Expedition has some years of etiquette school under its belt.  The most obvious difference is that bigger model feels smaller and nimbler than its exterior dimensions suggest.  Slicing through traffic isn’t just done with intimidation and power; because of the Expedition’s new found stability, it’s starting to behave like a tall wagon.

Besides the new suspension system, the Expedition’s standard 275 / 60 HR 17 Continental ContiTrac TR tires provide just enough road contact to ensure that this SUV is able to put its huge power and torque figures down properly.  The rear-axle Limited Slip Differential system keeps tire squeal in check, especially during brisk accelerations.



Another astonishing improvement is the surefootedness of the brake system.  The four-wheel vented disc system provides ample stopping power, further enhanced by the better pedal feel and modulation plus less fade.  Nose dive is reduced thanks to Electronic Brakeforce Distribution.

The only downside is that with all the improvements to the handling, the ride is somewhat stiffer and firmer.  Though still not as Popsicle-harsh as some of its rivals, it is noticeable, especially if driven back-to-back with the previous Expedition.

Perhaps the most important subject for any potential Expedition owner has to be the interior comfort and accommodations.  Can Ford justify the heightened pricing?  If looked at in careful detail, certainly.  Though it doesn’t have the obvious ‘luxury features’ such as plastic wood trim and leather, this one at least improves on the old Barbie Doll plastic.



The black and beige interior scheme is certainly lively and doesn’t suffer from the same austere feeling of the previous model. Lined with high-grade plastics, chrome and moquette fabric, it’s more Lincoln in here than Ford.  In fact, stepping inside would make one forget about getting something that barely passes for cow hide.  Designed, by surprise—a woman, the Expedition’s interior radiates more family-like, cuddly warmth compared to the older one’s tourist bus feel.

Like all full-sized SUVs in the Philippines, seating is ten.  However, unlike its rivals, the Expedition features three forward-facing rows, all of which are commendable in comfort and support (there are adjustable headrests for eight of the ten passengers).

Ford added some IQ points for the Expedition’s second row: the seatbelts now allow a division of space among three or four passengers.  If you’re less than four, you can choose the wider setting, and if you’re four, choose the narrower ones.  The result is seven seatbelt buckles, but the unused ones can be pushed into compartments.  The second row also offers a split-fold function in 40 / 20 / 40 ratio, creating a large, flat load space without the need to remove any of the seats.



The third row bench is a genuine three-seater with generous legroom, headroom and a deep foot well.  There’s 3-point seatbelts for everyone here.  Like the second row, this one can be easily collapsed flat into the floor in a 60 / 40 split for cargo.  With the seats up, however, there’s still enough room for small pieces of luggage, but not for the airport run.

The driving position, though improved, still borders on the truck-like.  Though the steering wheel, driver’s seat and adjustable pedals do provide fine tuning and adjustments, the overall position is still a bit too upright, especially those accustomed to a car or a soft-roader.

Exterior visibility, especially from head-on front and back are fairly limited because of the Expedition’s bulk.  However, Ford tries to remedy the problem by giving large, almost foot-wide side mirrors that considerably ease nipping around town.  Backing up in tight spaces isn’t too much of a problem thanks to the standard sonar parking sensors.  Compared to conventional ones found in other vehicles, Ford’s can detect even off-angle objects such as poles, security guards and even stray dogs.  It does have the tendency of being overly sensitive.


With the new Ford Expedition being a commendable improvement on all possible fronts: performance, handling, comfort and accommodations, where could it possibility go wrong then?  Certainly, small gripes are unavoidable, but there are still two areas, which are, for me major concerns: mass and consumption.

Though Ford has done everything to make the new Expedition handle and perform ten times better than the model it replaces, nothing can change the fact that it’s still a land yacht.  Though it may be perfectly alright for some, for most, the 5227 mm overall length classifies this as the big kahuna of full-sized SUVs.  Going biggie-size means having less options of choosing a parking space, being less zippy in bumper-to-bumper traffic and of course, not being able to easily get out of a tight situation, especially on a Saturday evening in route to watching The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on its opening weekend.

Confidence levels will surely drop when you’d see that mall vertical clearances are usually 1.9 meters (the overall height of the Expedition is 1.97 meters).  Moreover, maneuvering inside these parking lots will prove to be a handful, especially if you’re parked alongside an F-150.  I’ve found another unorthodox solution to my parking problem: instead of having an Expedition owner doing the maneuvering for me, I switched my Expedition for my brother’s Toyota out of sheer frustration for that evening.

Like before, the 4.6-liter V8 still has an astonishing appetite for petrol: city driving merited only 4.45 kilometers for every liter.  Though a slight improvement over the version it replaces, this is still leagues off compared to the kind of mileage possible on its diesel-powered rivals.  The Expedition still needs a personal oil well, unless you’re willing to shoulder an estimated four-digit gasoline bills every week.

All in all, I have to liken the 2003 Ford Expedition XLT to a new high-tech toy given by Santa Clause on Christmas Eve.  Definitely, with the looks and the badge, you’ll be the talk of the entire neighborhood.  With the huge size and imposing demeanor, you’ll inflict penis envy on many motorists—even owners of the previous Expedition.  With the surprisingly agility and powerful engine, you’ll be the terror of Zigen-ed Civics everywhere.

However, like any other toy, driving the Expedition is different from owning one.  The mass and the bulk may prove to be a handful on more than one occasion.  However, if you’ve got a chauffer and you can afford the gasoline, then why go for those over-priced entry-level European saloons that are as cramped as a sardine can?  With the huge leaps in refinement, gracefulness and size, this is the best thing your less than two-million pesos can buy.

2 comments:

  1. i really want this SUV they only big factor is the fuel consumption.how can i reduce the fuel consumption of this giant SUV?

    ReplyDelete

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