One Cool Concept
Concept vehicles are kind of a funky bunch. Usually they are very appealing visually, and sometimes even provide a glimpse into the thinking of those weirdos known as automotive designers and engineers. But like most cars built for show, their beauty is often only skin deep. Rarely are they truly functional vehicles that can be taken out and hammered on. Most often, these offshoots of wild fantasy are slapped together like a Russian submarine, and are definitely only for show.
So when the kind folks at Ford invited us out to take a look at their EX concept vehicle-that spidery little buggy-like rig you see at shows and in BFG tire ads-we were about as elated as we'd have been if we'd won tickets to a Wayne Newton concert. Possibly sensing our feelings, the Ford public relations crew quickly upped the ante by telling us we could take the EX for a spin. We've driven some semi-functional concept vehicles and knew that such drives usually consist of putting along some closed and paved road at 5 mph with a nervous and sweaty engineer riding shotgun. Not exactly our idea of fun, but we decided to check it out anyway.
Arriving at the top-secret Ford Proving Grounds deep within the Arizona desert, the first thing we realized is that the EX is more work-of-art than concept vehicle. The EX looks like a dune buggy that has received a massive steroid injection, and then been slathered in billet aluminum. Somebody obviously had spent some quality time with a CNC machine during its construction.
So for starters, the EX is a visual feast from which it is hard to take one's eyes. After all, that is the job of the concept vehicle. While we admit to drooling over the EX's machined billet pieces and to trying to figure out how to pocket some of them, the basic question remained: Was the EX actually more than just a show car? We would soon find out.
We took the EX and headed out into the desert. The start-up procedure is fairly familiar-if you race NASCAR. Flip a switch to arm the ignition, depress a button, and what follows is one of the sweetest sounds known to mankind. The EX's V-8, robbed from an Explorer, absolutely roars to life; its sound would instill fear and panic in the majority of conformist SUV drivers out there, making them scramble to dial 911 on their precious cell phones. Even better is that its supercharger, which helps it to produce an estimated 375 horsepower, whines and whistles angrily to let anyone in its radius know that the EX is not in any way, shape, or form naturally aspirated.
We took a couple of nervous runs up and down a nearby wash, expecting at any moment for a remote-control kill switch to kick in, or to spot a nervous engineer frantically waving his arms. Coming in for a bit of a break, we asked Bud Bennett and Bill Kessler, who built the EX, what our shift point should be, and what weak points we should be aware of. Their enthusiastic reply was to shift where we liked and that there were no weak points. That is exactly what we wanted to hear. From then on it was go time: Our next run up the wash was much more spirited, as we took the rpm up as far as we dared before shifting the short-throw and definitely-not-from-an-Explorer transmission.
Flying up and down the wash, we used the ultra-responsive and powerful brakes to rapidly ditch some speed the multitude of times we got too happy with the go pedal. The BFGoodrich Proto T/As that grace the EX are more for show than go, and provide little traction, but luckily a transfer case, also sourced from an Explorer, puts power to the ground front and rear. Also helping fight a lack of traction is the super-quick and plenty-firm steering that allows for rapid course corrections.
To test the suspension, we careened towards a large cross-rut and punched it. The estimated foot of wheel travel controlled by coilover shocks at each corner gobbled up the massive rut with hardly an impact to its occupants. Even British photographer Richard Newton, who was riding shotgun, managed to mutter a "Wow!" Damn, if this thing impresses the English, it must be good.
We continued to frolic in the wash until near dusk, when we were forcibly extracted from the EX. Explaining to the folks at Ford that the EX is equipped with lights that needed to be night-tested didn't go over too well, and we headed off into the sunset in our brand-new Expedition, which now seemed pass and boring. Punching its throttle just didn't produce the same response, either physically or emotionally, that the EX was capable of.
Somewhat dazed from actually being able to flog a concept vehicle, we wondered if the EX would ever see pro-duction. Ford would probably have to sell a lot of Tauruses before it could venture down the path of producing what would surely be a niche vehicle like this one. Of course, darker thoughts also entered our minds. In this day and age of lawyers at every turn, massive lawsuits, and drivers that can't even check their own tire pressures, we figured that the EX would be so watered down and clad with warning stickers by the time it got through production that it wouldn't be worth it. Be that as it may, at least we will always have memories of our one day in Arizona with the EX.