A family looking for a large go-anywhere vehicle that is comfortable, kid friendly and rugged.
Comparable cars in this class:
Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia
Every January, thousands of automotivejournalists from all over the world descend upon Detroit for their traditional gathering at the North American International Automobile Show. Here, a few days prior to theofficial opening of the event to the public, anxious vehicle manufacturers treatmembers of the press to a sneak preview, giving them a first look at the latestand greatest that the automotive world has to offer. The experience isboth exhilarating and exhausting.
This year, I decided to drive from New York to Detroit and the vehicle I chose for the trip was the 2003 Ford Expedition. A Ford seemed like an especially appropriate choice for 2003, since this year marks the one hundredth birthday of the Ford Motor Company. Founder, Henry Ford, is credited with developing the techniques of mass production that made owning a motorized vehicle affordable for the average working stiff and is responsible, in no small measure, for putting America on wheels.
AsI approached the Detroit area, my decision to take a vehicle with an American nameplate was validated. As Ineared the Motor Capital, Toyotas, Hondas and Volkswagens became scarcer than baby-boomers at a rap concert. By the time I hadreached Detroit proper, I noted that more than 90% of the vehicles around mewore American name tags.
I also took note of another peculiarity of the Michigan roadways: standard 18 wheelerswere joined by trucks with 40 wheels or more. Apparently the state allows trucksthat use their highways to carry much heavier loads than in other states, but the catch is that there is a relatively low limitation on the amount of weight per axle they can carry. Morewheels allow truck owners to carry larger loads; while the weight distribution across all those axles has the effect of reducing the wear and tear on the road surface. It makes sense.
Since this was a marathon trip of 14 hours straight with stops only for meal andrestroom breaks, the comfort of the driver'sseat and the accessibility of cup holders for that endless supply of coffee, became a priority. This was another reason why the big Expedition was a good choice. The front seats on the Expedition wereroomy and comfortable, 6-way powered, with a manual recliner and a manual lumbar support activated by turning a large dial. The lumbar knob was hard to reach while driving and is only two way, in and out, but it was in a good position for me, so I just left it where it was. The front seats were both heated and air conditioned. Obviously we didn't try the seat cooling on our way to Detroit in the middle of January, but it's nice to know they are available when needed. I have tried them on other Ford products during summer months and found them to be a blessing on those hot, sticky August days.
The gas and brake pedals are power adjustable for reach, which effectively eliminates the need for a telescoping steering column. Small drivers can move the pedals closer so that they do not have to sit too close to the air bag equipped steering wheel. One thing that I didn't like was the absence of a dead pedal for my left foot. Most modern vehicles have a place to rest your left foot that is on the same plane with the pedals, but I guess when you have adjustable pedals, it's hard to determine where to position that foot rest. Here's an idea Ford, how about connecting a dead pedal to the mechanism that adjusts the gas and brake pedals? This will allow you to have a new feature to talk about when everyone else has copied the adjustable pedal idea.
The top of the dash in front of the driver is done in matt black to reduce reflections in the windshield and works well, proving that good ideas that cost nothing to implement are sometimes as effective as all that expensive computerized stuff.
Our Expedition was the top of the line Eddie Bauer Edition and came fully loaded with lots of bells and whistles for use on this long trip. Things to like are the Navigation system with true radio station buttons for the integrated sound system. The steering wheel controls were well placed so that they were not easily bumped during parking maneuvers.
With all the fancy options, I was disappointed that there wasn't a cassette deck included with the otherwise excellent sound system. When I go on a long trip like this, I like to listen to "Books on Tape" to pass the time, especially when driving through the mountain passes that make up most of the length of Pennsylvania where radio station choices are largely non-existent. Sure, there are books on CD these days, but the selection is not nearly as extensive as the ones on tape.
The instrument cluster has 4 gauges besides the speedometer and tachometer. The extra two gauges are a voltmeter and oil pressure gauge. They aren't very informative however. Both the voltmeter and oil pressure gauges just show L and H, while the temperature gauge reads C and H and the fuel shows E and F. With the exception of the fuel gauge, all the readings stay in the center of the range which is considered normal.
The center console contained a large glove box between the front seats as well as a good sized bin at the front of the console with a pair of cup holders in between, just the ticket for marathon driving. This center compartment housed a 6-disc CD changer, but it didn't take up much space. There was still enough room for my camera, thermos, snacks and... oh yes, my gloves.
The second row seat is both roomy and comfortable and is split in three sections with the center section able to slide all the way up against the front seat to allow tending a child in a child seat. The Expedition has an airy interior with good visibility all around. Seating capacity is up to 9 people if you choose the split bench front seats. There are several other interior configurations. The one we had with the front Captain's Chairs seated 8.
The Expedition is equipped with LATCH child seat attachment points. There is also an available rear entertainment system with a flip-down screen that is capable of playing DVD movies or connecting to those electronic baby-sitters like X-Box and Game boy. The system is also blessed with rear headphone jacks for added peace and quiet.
The weather for this trip was nasty. The first half of the trip had me driving through a snow storm that put about 6 inches down before I was able to get passed it half way through Pennsylvania. The big Ford handled the elements quite well and gave me first hand experience on how well the AdvanceTrac Electronic Stability Enhancement System worked.
AdvanceTrac is a computerized system to assist with both stability and traction. The system will detect that the vehicle is loosing traction in a number of scenarios. Let's say that you are driving down a road and take a turn too fast. You are steering the car into the turn, but it continues to go straight. This condition is called "understeer". AdvanceTrac will detect this situation and immediately apply the brake on the inside-rear wheel and reduce engine power in order to coax the car to follow the driver's intended course. In many cases, this all happens before the driver even realizes that he's in trouble. The system also handles oversteer conditions where the car tries to spin out. It does this by applying the outside front brake and reducing power in order to bring it back into line.
AdvanceTrac also assists the 4-wheel drive system by directing power to the wheels that have the most traction. It can detect the difference between an icy surface where it is best to reduce power to retain traction, and heavy snow or gravel where it might be better to keep the power applied so you don't get bogged down. All-in-all, this is a very capable system that I can tell you first hand, (and the snow plow drivers that I passed along the way will affirm) works well in the real world.
The good handling on the Expedition was not only due to sophisticated computer software, they got the hardware right as well. Ford engineers starting with a new hydroformed frame that is stiffer than before and provides a solid platform for the new 4 wheel independent suspension system. Couple that with a new rack and pinion steering system for improved steering feel and larger brakes and you are left with a full-sized SUV that is a major improvement over the old model. The end result is a vehicle that has the heart of a truck and the soul of a luxury car. (This is the same platform used for the upscale Lincoln Navigator) This is a quiet, smooth riding vehicle that hides the fact that it is a rugged truck-based SUV until it is called upon to do "truck" stuff, like towing an 8,900 lb. trailer for instance.
Directional stability could use improvement and some wind noise gets through at around 80 mph, but none of this is objectionable. At highway speeds over 70, the windshield wipers tend to "sail" and miss the left corner of windshield, but not enough to cause a real problem. All-in-all, this trip would have been considerably delayed had I been driving a lesser vehicle.
Using a nav system is like asking the car for directions and blindly following it to your destination. Up until now, I've been testing navigation systems in areas that I'm familiar with, but on a cross country trip like this, you come to rely on that screen to keep you from getting lost. The system got me to where I needed to go, calling out turns and warning me to go straight when it might have been easy to inadvertently find oneself on an exit ramp. When I decided to take a 100 mile detour to visit my son (who lives near Lansing, MI), I simply plugged in his address and it took me right to his door with a voice saying "You have arrived at your destination". What did we ever do without these wonders?
As you might expect, not everything was hunky dory. For one thing, Ford has not yet upgraded their system to use DVD discs. Instead, you need a separate CD for each section of the US and one CD for Canada, 10 discs in all for full coverage. This means that as you pass through zones, you have to switch CDs in order to display any road that is not part of the Interstate system. This is not an issue for the vast majority of people who rarely venture out of their region, but if you often drive cross-country, this is a minor inconvenience.
Whenever I am in Detroit, I try to include a visit to the Henry Ford Museum. If you are at all interested in how we evolved into this technological society, this museum is not to be missed. Formerly known as "Henry's Attic" this sprawling museum complex, the largest in America, celebrates the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the American mind and what it is capable of. While some of the museum is devoted to automobiles, there are many diverse sections. There is a section on railroads with the worlds largest steam locomotive buried in one corner of the vast main building. You appreciate just how huge this engine is only after you walk up to it and realize that it is as tall as a two story building. Other exhibits range from the history of electric power plants (with several humongous examples) to kitchen appliances of the past 100 years to typewriters. There is even a section of the Model T assembly line that started it all.
The automotive world has come a long way in the past hundred yearsthanks to visionaries like Henry Ford who pioneered many of the conveniences that we now take for granted. Our Ford Expedition is a prime example of just how far we have come.
The highway stability of the new Expedition is a vast improvement over the previous model, but it needs a bit more sway control for it to match the handling control of the Chevy Tahoe
How does theExpedition fit yourdriving style?
Conservative driversThis is a big vehicle and feels it. Visibility is good to the front and sides. Parking could be a chore for drivers who are not used to a vehicle of this size. The ride is comfortable
Sporty driverswill be slowed down with this one. Handling on good roads is better than last year's model, but it still feels its size. Off road it's a different story. That's where the Expedition is in its element.
Fast driverswill want to look elsewhere for on-road fun and excitement. The Expedition is not meant for thrashing around corners and blasting along straight-aways. This is a truck, albeit a quiet, comfortable one.