Roominess and style.
by Mitch McCullough
Base Price (MSRP) $29,845
As Tested (MSRP) $43,850
Ford's Expedition continues to be popular with its strong V8 engine, seating for up to nine, and available four-wheel drive. Flexible seating arrangements give families versatility. It's roomier than the Explorer, but not as unwieldy as the mammoth Excursion.
Expedition offers comfortable seating in the first two rows; leather-clad seats in the pricey Eddie Bauer edition approach luxury-car levels. The third row is cramped for all but smaller children. Expedition's soft suspension filters out unwanted road vibration, and softens potholes, driveway entrances and other bumps. Its 5.4-liter V8 delivers responsive acceleration performance, while the automatic transmission provides impressively smooth shifting. Power steering is over-assisted to ease maneuvering in crowded parking lots, and a reverse warning system reduces the chance of backing into something.
Two trim levels, XLT and Eddie Bauer, make up the Expedition model range. With little demand for plain, entry-level vehicles in this class, Ford equips the XLT well and the Eddie Bauer even better. Standard equipment for both models includes antilock brakes, third-row seating, and remote keyless entry. Visual differences between XLT and Eddie Bauer versions are confined to paint and trim. Checking off items from a long list of optional equipment for the XLT blurs equipment level distinctions between the two.
XLT and Eddie Bauer trim levels are available with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The Expedition derives much of its chassis and mechanical hardware from Ford's F-150 pickup.
XLT comes standard with a 232-horsepower 4.6-liter V8.
Stepping up to the Eddie Bauer 4x4 model brings a larger, more powerful 5.4-liter V8 that produces 260 horsepower. Eddie Bauer also adds a power moonroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 290-watt Mach AM/FM cassette audio system, a 6-CD changer in the center console, and automatic climate control. A TV/VHS rear-seat entertainment system is a new option for the top-level Expedition.
Expedition borrows the best styling elements from the F-150. From nose to windshield, the Expedition shares sheet metal with the Ford's best-selling pickup.
Even though the Expedition debuted in 1997, it has aged well. It's still handsome, with a sloping hoodline and rounded front end that reflect attention to aerodynamics. It's a design that pays off with improved fuel efficiency and reduced wind noise. As a matter of necessity, the sides and back are shaped more for utility than style, which look similar to the 2001 Explorer. Clever use of trim and rounded corners add eye appeal.
Stretching more than 17 feet from nose to tail, the Expedition is big. Ford claims the Expedition's shorter length when compared with the Chevy Suburban is a benefit when trying to fit it into a garage; while an Expedition will fit into some garages that are too small for a Suburban, you might want to measure yours to be sure before you buy.
Twisting the lever on the back of the Expedition clockwise opens the rear glass, permitting quick loading of gear or grabbing something small. Twisting it counterclockwise opens the rear liftgate for better access and bigger load jobs. The load height is a bit high on the Expedition, however. A Windstar minivan is far better in this regard.
Lights on the running boards make climbing aboard easier on dark and stormy nights. Clever turn signal indicators faired into the outer edges of the outside mirrors offer warning to vehicles one or two lanes over that you are moving over. Hefty front tow hooks facilitate yanking for those who stray too far into the muck.
Expedition's interior is big and comfortable. Climbing in and out is a chore, however, with the tall ride height. Women wearing nice dresses often struggle to climb up, something that's impossible to do gracefully. Grab handles and running boards help, but my passenger managed to bang her head into that grab handle while trying to get out after a long and taxing day, an event that soured her mood further.
Several seating configurations are available. Expedition can carry up to nine people, when equipped with bench seats at all three locations. A more comfortable arrangement is six passengers, two in each row.
Optional captain's chairs in the second row ($795), give rear-seat passengers a more luxurious experience. The downside is that the space between them is still there when the third-row bench is removed and the rear seats are folded down; this can present a hazard for a big dog because it can step or fall into the well between the seats, so it's better to have the center seats folded up for this situation.
The available third-row bench provides seating for two more passengers, but it's cramped back there. Getting in and out of the third seat requires some agility, so it helps to be small and young. Once back there, there's no headroom and legroom is cramped. It's best reserved for children who have grown out of booster seats, but haven't grown to adult heights.
The third-row bench can be folded up: flip the lever, fold the seatback down, grab the floor lever and lift up. A kickstand secures it in the up position. This is a good solution when carrying cargo, but it isn't a friendly place for a dog because of all the hardware sticking out of the exposed seat bottom.
A better option is to yank the third row out and wheel it into the garage. It's easy to remove once you know how: simply flip and lever and fold the seatback down, then grab the floor lever and yank rearward. Four wheels make rolling it to the back of the vehicle easy. It's quite heavy though, so dropping it to the ground won't help a bad back. Once on the pavement, it can be wheeled to the garage. Lifting it back into the vehicle requires some heft when doing it alone, another back-strainer, but once it's in, it pops right into place.
Front seats offer a myriad of power adjustments, but I had trouble finding a comfortable setting. They were covered in nice leather on our Eddie Bauer model; it's too bad Ford didn't finish the inside panel of the seats off, however, because the less-attractive furry material on them is visible to driver and passenger.
Second-row seats are as luxurious and comfortable as the front seats; in fact, I found them more comfortable. Lots of legroom and headroom adds to the comfort of center-seat passengers on long trips.
First- and second-row occupants get separate heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls; a third set of controls for the third seat is optional.
A curved dashboard houses instruments and controls where they can easily be reached. An optional large center console offers additional storage space and a place for front-seat occupants to rest their arms. The Eddie Bauer version comes with an overhead console with a digital display that provides compass headings, date and time and average fuel economy; a switch operates power swing-out rear quarter windows. Nicely designed cruise controls are mounted on the steering wheel. The wiring around the rear-view mirror is untidy.
Attractive and durable materials are used throughout the Expedition's cabin. Soft-touch coverings are applied to switches and door panels. The window switches are lighted internally at night, a nice touch that not all vehicles carry. Optional adjustable pedals allow the driver to adjust the pedal cluster at the touch of a dashboard-mounted switch. With a range of adjustment of three inches, this feature allows shorter drivers to find a more comfortable driving position with greater ease, and permits sitting a much safer distance away from the airbag in the steering wheel.
From the driver's seat, you can't help but notice the size of the Expedition. Speed-sensitive variable-assist power steering works in the driver's favor by keeping steering effort low.
Lots of large windows, along with big mirrors, make it easy to see in all directions. Extra care and attention is required when maneuvering in close-quarters, however, because the Expedition sits tall with tall fenders. Backing up is aided by the optional reverse sensing system ($200), which starts beeping as you approach objects behind the vehicle; this system offers great convenience and can even reduce the chance of injuring someone when backing up.
ZExpedition feels softly sprung, meaning the ride feels cushioned over bumps and jolts. It felt far more comfortable than most pickup trucks and sport-utilities and even on many sedans when traversing the rough, cobblestone streets in the historic Fan district in Richmond, Virginia. The tradeoff is that the Expedition bobs around over big undulating bumps like Dad's old station wagon.
The two-wheel-drive Expedition feels slightly smoother on the highway, but both two- and four-wheel-drive versions ride nicely considering their size and weight. Vibration can be felt through the steering wheel, acceptable for a truck like this one, but not a luxury car. An advantage of the Expedition's long wheelbase is a resistance to pitching over freeway expansion joints and other irregularities. When driven on back roads, the Expedition does not lean unduly in corners, nor does the front end dive excessively under hard braking. Brake pedal feel is light, yet precise. The over-assisted power steering does require frequent corrections on the highway, which keeps the Expedition driver busy.
An optional load-leveling system ($815) uses compressed air to compensate for varying loads while improving ride quality. Built into the system is a one-inch increase in ride height, as if the Expedition wasn't tall enough. When parked, however, the system can make the Expedition 4x4 kneel down to lower the step-in height, which makes getting in and out of the vehicle easier.
Four-wheel-drive Expeditions are more competent off road than their size and fancy trimmings suggest. While serious rock-climbing is not suggested, occasional forays off the beaten path can be undertaken without fear of being left stranded. By simply turning a rotary knob on the dashboard, the driver can choose between full-time four-wheel drive, part-time four-wheel drive, and low-range four-wheel drive.
Beyond the choice of two- or four-wheel drive, the buyer also chooses between two V8 engines. The 4.6-liter engine produces 232-horsepower; the 5.4-liter puts out 260 horsepower. Both are smooth and quiet, and mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Shifting is surprisingly smooth, given that the Expedition is based on a pickup truck. Shifting up from second to third to fourth when cruising is almost seamless - you can barely feel it.
The larger 5.4-liter V8 delivers extra pulling power for full passenger loads and heavy trailers. It produces 350 foot-pounds of torque, that force that propels you away from intersections and up steep grades, enabling the Expedition to pull a trailer of up to 8300 pounds when ordered as a 4x2 with 16-inch wheels and the 3.73 axle ratio limited-slip rear differential ($255). An Expedition 4x4 with the smaller 4.6-liter engine and big 17-inch wheels can only muster 5500 pounds, though one of our correspondents was quite pleased with it when towing a big travel trailer from Portland to the Baja in Mexico.
Ford Expedition offers a blend of strength, refinement, comfort, good road manners and finish quality. The lure of the Expedition is its versatility. The Expedition can carry a large family in limousine-like splendor, pull a trailer, move cargo or explore places beyond pavement's end. Overall, the Expedition offers a stylish alternative to the Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and Toyota Sequoia.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.