- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

If Americans viewed it as a matter of need, we'd still have sport utility vehicles. They do, after all, have a utility component. But they wouldn't be nearly as ubiquitous as now.
However, it's mostly a matter of want, not need, and that is what explains vehicles such as the 2003 Ford Expedition, a full-size SUV. Who really needs a four-door truck that seats up to nine persons, can tow 8,900 pounds, go off-road or through snowstorms with its multitasking four-wheel-drive system, and haul huge amounts of cargo besides?
Truth be told, not too many. But that doesn't stop folks who are convinced that they just might require all that capability at some point and are willing to spend huge amounts of money to have it. Or maybe they simply like the confident feeling that goes with driving a tanklike conveyance that is equipped as well as a luxury car.
Some, of course, will play the safety card, arguing that they and theirs are less likely to get hurt if they sit high in a steel cocoon. They have a point, of course, but all these things are relative.
Expedition will come off second-best in an encounter with a cement-mixer truck or a bridge abutment, and might wind up in an accident that could be avoided in a smaller, more nimble vehicle.
In the end, however, if it's a matter of want instead of need, there's a very large emotional component. And the Expedition is a fine example of satisfying those desires.
The test Expedition was the top-of-the-line, named Eddie Bauer for the famed purveyor of outdoor clothing and equipment. It had a starting price of $42,005 and, with a fair list of options, topped out at $48,600.
At that, it was about as well-equipped as you can get any vehicle these days. Standard equipment included a brute-force 5.4-liter V-8 engine, four-speed automatic transmission, eight-passenger seating (with separate seats up front), automatic climate control, a stereo system with a six-disc CD changer, fog lights, remote locking, power mirrors and a proximity-warning system.
The warning system is one of the better features to have on a big SUV like this one. It beeps at ever-shorter intervals as the vehicle approaches obstacles to the rear and sides. It likely will save many a dent or scratch, or even a life if a child is playing in the driveway.
Options included an in-dash navigation system, a power sunroof, a rear-seat entertainment system with DVD player, traction control, and a motorized third seat that folds away at the touch of a button. The last is an exclusive on Ford products and greatly simplifies the task of converting that third-row seat into a cargo area that will swallow 61 cubic feet of stuff.
The Expedition looks ponderous, and it is. For most people, getting in and out is a two-step process: First step on the built-in running board, then swing into the seat. Once in the driver's seat, there's no question that the Expedition has that much-sought-after "command of the road" driving position. There are few passenger vehicles that are taller.
Surprisingly, the handling once you get used to the sheer bulk of the vehicle is reasonably adept. You can't fling it around like a sedan or station wagon, but it follows steering inputs and changes directions with ease.
Even with 260 horsepower, you're not going to win many drag races in the 5,686-pound Expedition. The engine's forte is torque, defined as low-rev pulling power for hauling big loads. This one develops a whopping 350 foot-pounds of torque at a mere 2,500 rpm.
On the highway, the Expedition tracks straight, without the need for many steering corrections. And it's as quiet as a limousine. Ford, in fact, is getting so good at eliminating noise inside that it's now working on ways to reintroduce pleasant sounds into interiors.
The company, which is the leading truck manufacturer, also is putting a lot of effort into interiors, on the theory that modern truck and SUV buyers use their vehicles less for hauling manure and more for transportation to the performing arts center.
The Expedition's interior design is part of that ongoing effort. The dash is a pleasant combination of colors, shades and textures that bespeaks quality and attention to detail.
Up front, the leather-covered seats are comfortable and supportive, though without much lateral support. Second-row seating also is reasonably comfortable, though the middle of three passengers does not fare as well as those on the outboard positions. The third row can accommodate adults of middling stature, but will likely welcome more youngsters than grown-ups, partly because of the contortions it takes to get back there.
The third row also is a better place to watch the DVD screen. It's mounted rather close to the second-row passengers.


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