Large, and in charge of the heavy-duty segment. by Sue Mead
BIG SKY, Mont. - The sky is big here, and the view seems to go on forever - just like the vehicle I'm driving.
Easing the all-new 2000 Excursion onto the highway, I feel like a captain in command of a cruise ship. Not only does this behemoth of an SUV part the waters on the roadway, leaving lesser vehicles - that is, all other passenger cars - in its wake, but it has a slightly "high-seas" ride when maneuvering at speed.
Despite its monster size, however, it has low-effort steering, gives a smooth ride with its wide-track frame and comes with plenty of power to move it quickly. And, its standard disc brakes with four-wheel ABS stop it very competently.
The massive Excursion is an interesting exercise for Ford, and probably will be a very profitable one on a per-vehicle basis. The heavy-duty utility segment has grown from 80,000 to over 150,000 vehicles during the past decade, and many of these vehicles earn their makers more than $20,000 in profit.
After deciding that it wanted a chunk of that business a few years back, Ford started studying the market to find out how to appeal to buyers of GM's Suburban/Yukon/Tahoe triplets. They learned that over 90 percent of the customers in this market use their vehicles to haul people and things as well as to take vacations. Thus the Excursion has been built to be the biggest SUV on the planet and has more power, torque, cargo room and towing capability than its closest competitors from GM.
Built on Ford's Super Duty platform, the Excursion measures 7.2 inches longer, 3.3 inches wider and between 4.3 and 5.8 inches (in its 4x4 form) taller than the Suburban. Yet, Ford claims it fits under the typical 7-foot garage opening and is short enough to keep clear of the closing door.
From the A-pillar forward, this super-SUV shares much of its exterior hardware with the Super-Duty pickup line updated in 1999. Much of the front end - including that "big rig" inspired grille - is lavishly chromed. Well-proportioned slab sides, framed by standard running boards and a low-profile roof rack, hide the size of the doors. (They're simply enormous, at 5.5 inches longer than those of a Suburban.) In back, a three-way split tailgate is standard: the glass liftgate offers easy access to the cargo area, while the lower portion divides into halves that swing French-door style nearly 180 degrees out of the way. They can be fully opened even when towing a boat.
A relatively low beltline lends the cabin an airy feel and aids visibility, especially from the driver's seat where the "step down" at the leading edge of the front windows is especially useful during close-quarter maneuvering and towing with the optional (and highly recommended) power trailering mirrors.
The Excursion comes in two major versions, the XLT and Limited, each with a host of standard features and luxury appointments including five rear-seat ventilation registers with individual controls and auxiliary air conditioner, reading lamps, and storage bins everywhere. Four 12-volt power points are also standard, as is the AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system; the six-disc changer is optional.
Hustling this container ship on wheels down Main Street is one of three engines. The standard 5.4-liter V-8, with its 260 horses and 345 lb-ft of torque (standard with 2WD versions) is adequate for general use. The better choice for many will be the 6.8-liter V-10, which makes 300 horsepower and some 430 lb-ft of torque, standard on 4WD models and optional on the 4x2 versions. With either gas engine, fuel economy ranges from 10-14 mpg, whereas the optional 7.3-liter turbodiesel returns up to 20 mpg and boasts 500 lb-ft of torque. The price premium is $3000 on the diesel, however.
No matter the engine choice, the transmission is automatic - the six-speed stick offered on the Super Duty pickups won't be fitted to the Excursion. Four-wheel drive is the now-familiar push-button shift-on-the-fly type, with low range for tough going and heavy hauling. With the V-10 or the turbodiesel, Excursion can tow up to 10,000 pounds. A Class IV receiver hitch and seven-pin wiring harness comes with all Excursions. Payload is 1900 lb for the 2WD versions, 1700 lb for the 4WD.
Handling isn't a question the Excursion really cares to answer. Although heavy-duty truck drivers will feel at home behind the wheel, the Excursion's rather lazy steering response and sheer mass makes slow and steady its mantra. The Excursions we drove had a few errant body shakes, too, and its brakes felt taxed by the duties of slowing down from freeway to mountain-road speeds.
Safety features on the Excursion include dual-stage "next generation" airbags for driver and front passenger with three-point seat belts for outboard seating positions, and a belt-minder system that urges you electronically to buckle up with an insistent pinging tone. Furthermore, the Excursion is fitted with a standard "BlockerBeam" below the front bumper to prevent it from riding up on a smaller vehicle. The trailer hitch in the rear accomplishes a similar function.
Although it is not required to do so, the Excursion meets the heavy-duty low emissions vehicle (LEV) requirements - emitting up to 43 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than required by law. (Still, we observed around 12 mpg in mixed driving.) Nearly a fifth of each vehicle is made of recycled materials, while 85 percent by weight can be recycled at the end of its automotive life.
Priced between the Suburban choices; a base XLT 4x2 starts at $34,135, while a top-of-the-line Limited 4x4 is priced at just over $40,000. On sale September 30th, Ford hopes to sell 50,000 to 60,000 of the year 2000 models in U.S., some 2,000 in Canada, and approximately 1,000 in the Gulf Coast Cooperative (GCC) countries.
Ford expects that over half of Excursion sales will be 4x4 versions, some 70 percent will be ordered with the 6.8-liter V10 engine (standard on the 4WD) and approximately 15 percent will be sold with the 7.3-liter diesel.
We expect that soccer moms and weekend warriors looking for a semi-ute would be better off looking at Ford's own Expedition. But anyone needing a work truck with enough space to carry the whole crew will be pleased by taking this Excursion.
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