2006 Ford Expedition
Now in its fourth season since its last major redesign and facing new competition, the Ford Expedition remains the established benchmark in this class.
Expedition is smooth, stable and refined. The Expedition benefits from a four-wheel-independent suspension, an unusually sophisticated design for this class, which gives it a smooth ride and responsive handling. Expedition also benefits from Ford's 5.4-liter V8 featuring three valves per cylinder and variable valve timing, which produces 300 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque.
What Expedition does best is move large quantities of people and their gear. Its perfectly flat cargo area makes it particularly adept at hauling. The available PowerFold third-row seat folds perfectly flat with the press of a button. Open the seat back up, and Expedition can carry up to eight passengers. And Ford hasn't forgotten the special needs of children. The second row features CenterSlide, a small center seat that slides forward to give parents in the front seat access to a child in a safety seat. A rear-seat DVD system is available for entertainment. And the Reverse Sensing System can alert the driver as the Expedition is backed toward an object such as a parked car, a short pole, or a child on a tricycle. When properly equipped, the Expedition is rated to tow up to 8900 pounds. All of this makes the Expedition a good choice for families with a boat or horse.
The popular Eddie Bauer model best exemplifies the Expedition with its luxurious and inviting interior and feature details that make for a more comfortable and convenient ride. Limited and King Ranch models feature special trim colors and come loaded with luxury features.
Ford Expedition XLS 2WD (33,455); XLS 4WD ($36,055); XLT 2WD ($35,505); XLT 4WD ($38,285); Eddie Bauer 2WD ($39,720); Eddie Bauer 4WD ($42,905); Limited 2WD ($41,515); Limited 4WD ($44,700); King Ranch 2WD ($43,155); King Ranch 4WD ($46,340)
Walk AroundThe Ford Expedition is larger than the Chevy Tahoe, but smaller than the Suburban. It's slightly larger than the Toyota Sequoia and about the same size as the Nissan Armada. All of them are considerably larger than the Dodge Durango.
The Expedition has a towering presence, thanks to the raised center section of its sloped-down hood. Big 17-inch wheels enhance its bold look. Bumpers are smoothly integrated into the overall design. Expedition's slab sides, forward-slanting C-pillar, and relatively simple front-end treatment all contribute to its unmistakable Ford identity.
Door handles are the full-grip variety, making them easier for occupants to grab, whether left- or right-handed, gloved or not gloved. Expedition's low bumper beams are designed to prevent smaller cars from sliding beneath its frame in an accident.
InteriorAn attractive cabin makes the Ford Expedition a pleasant place to be on long trips. Shapes are round, and controls are hefty for an easy grip. This is particularly true of the upper-level models such as the Eddie Bauer and Limited. The Eddie Bauer Expedition features handsome leather trim that's warm and friendly with metallic satin finish trim on the rings that surround vents and door handles. The lighter upholstery colors give the Expedition a lighter, more car-like air. Lower-level models are nice, too, with padded door trim in nicely contrasting materials that looks and feels good.
Storage space is generous, a great feature for a big family vehicle. The roomy pockets in all four doors have space for a 20-ounce water bottle. The center console (that comes in most models) can hold a small laptop computer. The console has a slot to hold pens and a Palm Pilot or other PDAs. Its lid is comfortably padded, and feels nice to the touch even on the XLT, where it's covered in faux leather.
The available power-operated (PowerFold) third-row seats fold flat with the press of a button. The third-row seat is split 60/40. Push one button on the wall of the cargo area, and one side powers down. Hold down the other button, and the other side powers down. The power-down buttons are convenient. The third row disappears into the floor, leaving a perfectly flat cargo area. It is an impressive piece of engineering to watch as the seat folds down and flaps gracefully flop into place to cover the gap between the cargo floor and hinged seats.
The power third-row seat is invaluable when changing roles from people hauler to a cargo hauler and back again with just a press of a button. Expedition's third row is comfortable enough for a couple of full-size adults. When no one is seated back there, the third-row headrests can be pushed down flush with the seatbacks, greatly improving the driver's rearward visibility.
With the seats folded down, the cargo floor is perfectly flat, in contrast to many SUVs, which have a slanting platform. The Expedition's flat floor, combined with the flaps that cover the gap where the seats hinge, makes it easy to slide objects in and out. Another nice feature is the window in the liftgate that opens so you can quickly load or unload stuff without opening the whole liftgate.
The second-row bench seat splits roughly into thirds. The middle section can be moved forward 11 inches, almost abutting it to the back of the front center console. Ford calls this feature CenterSlide, and it gives front-seat parents easier access to a small child in a safety seat. The small center seatback can also be folded down and used as a work surface for two people in back. The two outboard second-row seats fold easily forward for access to the third-row seat.
The Reverse Sensing System is available as a stand-alone option for 2006. It's a great feature, particularly on large SUVs, whose rearward blind spot can be three times as large as a sedan's. A tone alerts the driver to objects behind the vehicle whenever it's shifted in reverse. Don't depend on it, though, it's an aid and is not designed to absolve drivers of the responsibility of looking where they're going.
Some of Expedition's interior systems are programmable, and the programming is relatively easy. Tired of fighting those automatic locks? You can turn off the auto-locking feature. You can set whether the seat automatically moves back when you shut off the ignition. You can decide whether you want the right mirror to automatically tilt down when reverse is selected.
The optional navigation system has a nice bright screen. It works well, but like all navigation systems, takes some time to master.
Driving ImpressionsThe Ford Expedition is the standard bearer for the class for several reasons. Its sharp steering, and smooth, robust acceleration make it easy and enjoyable to drive.
Ford's 5.4-liter V8 delivers strong power, excellent fuel efficiency and low emissions. This Triton V8 is a modern, sophisticated engine with single overhead camshafts and three valves per cylinder in aluminum heads. Rated at 300 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque. Two-wheel-drive models are rated to tow up to 8,900 pounds (8,600 with 4WD). Fuel economy is 14/19 mpg City/Highway (14/18 with 4WD).
Ride quality is an important consideration for a family vehicle and the Expedition offers a good ride for the most part, even over broken pavement. Potholes and rough pavement are heard more than felt. It is not a magic carpet ride, though, and it's important to remember that the Expedition is a full-size truck. On the other hand, the Expedition provides the driver with feedback rather than isolation. The Expedition benefits from an independent rear suspension, almost unheard-of in a full-size truck. (The Lincoln Navigator is the only other example that comes to mind.) Though more expensive, the independent rear suspension offers better handling and a smoother ride than the live rear axle commonly used on trucks and full-size SUVs.
On the highway, the Expedition inspires confidence. It's stable at high speeds. We were conversing in a relaxed manner at 90-100 mph in an Eddie Bauer while whistling around a high-speed oval at Ford's Michigan proving grounds. When the road is windy, the Expedition offers sharp steering response. Small inputs to the steering wheel are answered immediately by its car-like rack-and-pinion steering.
The four-wheel disc brakes are smooth and responsive. The Expedition comes standard with ABS and Brake Assist. Brake Assist is designed to recognize a panic-braking situation and maintain full braking force even if the driver mistakenly relaxes pressure on the brake pedal.
Ford Expedition remains a benchmark against a strong field of full-size SUVs. The Expedition features a smooth ride for passengers and responsive handling for the driver. It can haul a big load of cargo on its flat cargo floor and it can tow heavy trailers. Clever features such as the power folding third row and the independent rear suspension make it enjoyable to own.
Michelle Krebs filed the original report from Detroit. New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.