- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

As youngsters grow from toddlers to teens, families have a way of outgrowing things clothes, shoes, even the family car.
No wonder Ford's full-size, four-door, Expedition sport utility vehicle was such a hit when it debuted in 1996.
Rugged SUV styling combined with expansive interior space and seating for up to eight proved the right mix for busy American families on the go.
Now, for the first time since its original introduction, the Expedition is re-engineered, adding innovative features such as independent rear suspension and power, fold-down rear seats. There are new safety items, too.
But exterior styling on the new 2003 Expedition is similar to that of the previous version. Consumers must look closely to notice that virtually all the sheet metal, except front doors and roof, is subtly restyled and that standard wheels and tires are larger than before.
Pricing hasn't changed much from 2002 models. The lowest-priced 2003 Expedition the base, 2WD XLT value model starts at $31,295 manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge.
The top-of-the-line 4WD Eddie Bauer model is up $110 from the 2002 version for a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $41,935.
The new Expedition's 17-foot length impresses, thanks in part to a hood that has been raised, a bigger, bolder grille and wheels that are pushed out farther to the corners of the vehicle than before.
Everyone rides high in this 6.5-foot-tall Expedition and gets a good view.
Despite the tall profile, however, the 2003 Expedition rides and handles more stably than any Expedition before it, as engineers revised the vehicle's suspension and boosted chassis rigidity.
In fact, the Expedition and its sibling, the 2003 Lincoln Navigator, are the first full-size SUVs with an independent rear suspension.
It's a configuration found on many cars, while trucks and truck-based SUVs have traditionally used live rear axles that contribute to a somewhat bouncy, truckish sort of ride.
"One of the complaints [about the previous Expedition] was people said it felt a bit 'too trucky,'" even as they enjoyed the image and ride, said Leo Williams, global marketing manager for Expedition.
So Ford engineers sought to provide a more carlike ride in the new Expedition, he said.
They succeeded. Back-to-back drives of a 2002 Expedition and a 2003 model illustrated that the newer model felt more connected to the road, with less bounce and sway.
In fact, the new Expedition felt a bit smaller, from the driver's seat at least, and I found myself taking mountainside roads and curves with more confidence than I expected.
Other changes involved lighter-weight, aluminum suspension components, which reduce the tendency for the Expedition's tires to feel like they're doing a jitterbug over some bumps.
Brakes are upgraded and provide a more responsive, stronger response.
There's a shorter travel distance needed on the pedal before a driver feels brake power starting. The new brakes also promise to be more fade-resistant, which is good news for people who haul trailers and boats.
The Expedition's old recirculating-ball steering is gone, replaced by a carlike rack-and-pinion system that gives a more precise, better on-center feel.
The new rear suspension means mechanicals are repackaged underneath the vehicle, allowing a lower rear floor area that Ford used to install new third-row seating that can be folded flat into the floor when not in use.
Best of all, on top models, the rearmost seats can fold with the push of a button as the Expedition and Navigator become the first full-size SUVs with power, split, fold-down rear seats. This is an optional feature for $455.
After the seats are lowered into the floor, there's a flat cargo floor, and it materializes without anyone having to lift and haul heavy and unwieldy seats out of the vehicle.
This isn't the only seat innovation in the 2003 Expedition. In the second row, which comes standard with a 40/20/40 seat split, the middle 20 percent section can slide forward, closer to the back of the front console.
This allows parents riding in the front seats to more easily reach a youngster seated in the middle of the second row.
The child has a clear view out the front of the vehicle, since the view is not obscured by front seatbacks.
In another family-friendly move, the new Expedition offers the same, wide-angle mirror found in the Ford Windstar minivan; it allows the driver to keep an eye on back-seat activities without having to turn around. This additional mirror is installed on the ceiling, near the windshield.
Most consumers naturally assume that big, heavy, full-size SUVs are safe, Mr. Williams said. Indeed, Expedition has received five-star crash ratings for both driver and front passenger in government-conducted frontal crash tests in the 2001 and 2002 model years.
The 2003 Expedition adds more safety items, with curtain air bags offered as a $580 option. They can provide injury protection in side crashes and rollovers.
Tire pressure monitors are available for the first time as a $150 option.
Advance Trac traction control is another option, priced at $795.
Power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals are standard on Expedition, helping drivers properly position themselves in front of the steering wheel-mounted frontal air bag.
Of course, Expedition can be had with a four-wheel-drive system. It worked competently to move the test vehicle up hillsides, on dirt paths and through a muddy ditch.
The new Expedition has the same two V-8 engine offerings that were in the predecessor vehicle with the same performance stats.
Engineers worked, however, to make engine sounds more pleasing and to keep unwanted exterior noises from reaching riders. The result is an Expedition that seems a bit more refined than before.
In addition, the uplevel, 260-horsepower, 5.4-liter Triton V-8 has a new cast-iron engine block, and both it and the 232-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 use sophisticated hydraulic engine mounts now to isolate riders from engine vibration.
Over the years, many buyers of the Expedition have been couples and families, Mr. Williams said. "Many were growing out of minivans, either because they didn't like the minivan image or because the kids really liked this Expedition [instead]. It was better adapted to the older kids, 13 to 17 years old [and] these are very active families for the most part."


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