by Jim Kerr
Seven Ford Cars, Six Ford SUV’s, Five Ford Trucks, Four Lincolns, Three SVT specials, Two Think electric vehicles, One Mercury Marauder, and a partridge in a pear tree. Oops, I forgot the Econoline vans! Add in the wide variety of trim levels and powertrain options and you will find a vehicle to fit anyone’s needs and desires. Put all these vehicles together at Ford’s Michigan Proving Grounds near Romeo Michigan, give the journalists the keys, and you have a recipe for fun and excitement.
Ford’s Michigan Proving Ground features over 160 km of test roads, an 8 km high speed oval, hill climb circuit with grades up to 60%, ride and handling circuit, off-road course, and huge garage facilities. We were there to drive the 2003 vehicles.
New vehicles for 2003 include the Mercury Marauder, Mustang Mach 1, Think City, Think Neighbor Wagon, Expedition, Supercharged SVT Mustang Cobra, Lincoln Aviator, and Lincoln Navigator. Other models have been refined or upgraded, from changes in upholstery fabrics to the introduction of the new 6.0 litre Powerstroke diesel engine. Interior comfort was high on the list of changes, and some changes are heard, not seen. For example, 75 incremental changes in design, materials, and manufacturing on the 2003 F-150 pickup have improved the ease of conversation during full throttle operation by 10%. Here is what I found exciting:
2003 Ford SVT Focus
Power is always lots of fun if used wisely, and Ford’s SVT lineup adds a 5-door hatchback Focus to the 3-door model. Power comes from a 130 hp 2.0 litre Zetec engine, but the handling and steering of the SVT Focus are what make it so endearing. Fun at an economy price.
The most exciting SVT product has to be the SVT Mustang Cobra. A supercharged 4.6 litre V-8 transfers 390 horses through a new six speed manual gearbox and independent rear suspension. 275/40ZR-17 Goodyear tires put it all on the ground.
The regular Mustang lineup doesn’t have to take a back seat. The re-introduction of the Mustang Mach 1 nameplate first used in 1969 is a blast from the past. Shaker hood scoop, leather “comfort weave” seats, rear spoiler, and aluminum shifter ball bring all the fun of the past into a modern car. A little less aggressive look is offered in the new Pony Package; the appearance of the Mustang GT but available on even the V-6 models.
Marauder. The name implies power and stealth. Available this fall, the Mercury Marauder is performance in a full size car. 302 horses, 18-inch wheels, gloss black paint with blacked out grill and trim, and console-mounted Auto Meter gauges give classic muscle car look. Equipped with a full load of options, the Marauder handling on the road course was superb. A modern car with the right look.
Ford’s truck nameplates have remained the same, but there are a thousand small improvements. Ride and handling was a priority throughout the truck lineup, as was interior noise reduction. The big news is the 6.0 litre Powerstroke diesel available on F250 through F550 trucks and Excursion SUV. New pilot fuel injection make the diesel engine much quieter than the current 7.3 Powerstroke. This 32 valve turbodiesel V8 puts out 325 hp and 550 ft lbs torque. Combined with the new five speed automatic transmission, there is no shortage of pulling power.
Ford’s lineup wouldn’t be complete without SUV’s. Three all-new SUVs make their mark this year. The Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator share a new independent rear suspension chassis design, and both offer excellent ride on rough roads, but these two vehicles are largely different. Different exteriors, different interiors, and different handling and steering characteristics. The Navigator is a little softer, smoother, and plusher. That doesn’t mean the Expedition is bad; it is a fine vehicle, just different. Things to look for: electric folding third row seats, AdvanceTrac electronic stability system, and Navigator’s power folding running boards.
Finally, there is a new Lincoln nameplate: the Aviator. A mid-sized SUV based on the Explorer, the Aviator has V8 power, four-wheel independent suspension, burl walnut interior trim, and three rows of premium leather seats.
Ford has been in the doldrums lately, but according to Jim O’Conner, Group Vice President of North American Marketing, Sales and Service, 2003 is the start of a product-led revitalization. It looks like a good start, and they are promising much more for the future.