Ford is the first to admit that the sales of full-size, truck-based sport utilities have dropped some 40 percent since 2004 as people turn to smaller, more fuel-efficient, car-based utilities for their daily transportation. But Ford also reminds us that fuel prices have simply chased away the people who really shouldn't have been driving a full-size sport-utility in the first place.
The Expedition is meant for utility, not profiling. It carries people, hauls gear, tows boats, and pulls campers. The Expedition offers towing capacities in the 9000-pound range. When it's equipped with four-wheel drive, the Expedition will also get you there whether the road is dry, wet, snowy, or even when there's hardly any road at all.
Ford reminds us that full-size sport-utilities can still play an important role in our everyday lives. To start with, Ford's research shows that 92 percent of the Expedition owners use their big SUV for vacations. Some 60 percent use it to transport outdoor sports gear, while 40 percent of Expedition owners use the vehicle's towing capacity. Some 84 percent routinely carry more than three passengers behind the front row of seats.
Moreover, Ford notes that the place of the sport-utility in American life isn't going to disappear. Sales of personal watercraft have increased 9.2 percent since 2005, while there will be some 6.3 million households with tow-able recreational campers by 2010. Finally, three-generation families are becoming a substantial part of the vacation picture, so plenty of passenger seats are a necessity, not just a convenience.
With this in mind, the Expedition has been thoroughly revised for 2007 to make it a platform for family-friendly adventures. Every aspect of its utility has been improved: towing capacity, passenger comfort and even driving enjoyment. Meanwhile, a new, extended-wheelbase Expedition EL adds more cargo-carrying capacity, especially noticeable when trying to load groceries or gear behind the third-row seats.
Ford has made the Expedition even more family-friendly by substantially reducing its price. While the reductions have more to do with real-world transaction prices of the past and mirror similar pricing strategies at Chrysler and General Motors, the fact remains that a base model XLT Expedition retails for $29,995, some $5485 less than in '06. Ford tells us that Expedition models across the range have been reduced in price by an average of $4300. Just as important, a new warranty extends bumper-to-bumper protection to three years/36,000 miles, while the powertain is covered for five years/60,000 miles. In addition, the warranty is fully transferable to subsequent owners.
Ford Expedition XLT 2WD ($29,995); XLT 4WD ($32,895); XLT EL 2WD ($34,445); XLT EL 4WD ($37,345); Eddie Bauer 2WD ($36,395); Eddie Bauer 4WD ($39,295); Eddie Bauer EL 2WD ($39,045); Eddie Bauer EL 4WD ($41,945); Limited 2WD ($37,845); Limited 4WD ($40,745); Limited EL 2WD ($40,495); Limited EL 4WD ($43,395)
Both the long and regular-length versions of the Expedition are based on the tough, durable components of the Ford F-150 pickup. However, the Expedition features independent rear suspension, chassis technology that improves driving precision, ride comfort, and even passenger packaging.
In the past, the Expedition hasn't been able to establish much of a visual identity, as Ford tried to make the first-generation Expedition look like a car and then went to the other extreme with a notably clumsy interpretation of the heavy-duty tractor-trailer look in the second-generation version.
This new third-generation Expedition features a three-bar grille, large jewel-like headlights, and a domed hood that combine to deliver a look that's both distinctive and respectable. Moreover, there are five different wheel designs, including new 20-inchers with a chrome finish. The Expedition doesn't have the style of GM's sport-utilities, but at least it avoids the science-fiction look of the Nissan Armada and Toyota Sequoia.
The overall dimensions of the standard Expedition are much the same as before, while the new Expedition EL stretches the standard vehicle's wheelbase by a foot to 131 inches. Overall, the EL measures 14.8 inches longer than the standard Expedition, and that adds 24 cubic feet of cargo volume, an increase to 130.8 cubic feet behind the front seats from 108.3 cubic feet.
Both the standard Expedition and the Expedition EL are great big vehicles, measuring more than seventeen feet from nose to tail. As a result, they're not at their best while maneuvering closer to the dry cleaners at a suburban mini-mall. The Expedition has a turning circle of nearly 41 feet, while the EL requires 44 feet. They're also heavy, as even the base 2WD Expedition weighs 5578 pounds, while the base 2WD EL tips the scales at 5825 pounds. The addition of 4WD adds another 235 pounds to the bottom line.
To be frank, the Expedition is the kind of vehicle that comes with running boards as standard equipment, and we're glad it does.
This new appreciation for passenger comfort is best reflected in the new front seats, as captain's chairs with movable armrests are now standard across the three model lines. Leather-upholstered examples are available with an optional heating/cooling feature that makes them a more comfortable companion in winter and summer. Seat travel for the driver's seat has been increased three-quarters of an inch to help accommodate taller drivers, and it's a perfect match for the Expedition's movable pedals, so a wider range of drivers can be accommodated.
The second seating row also reflects Ford's thoughtful approach to passenger comfort, as the standard 40/20/40 bench seat incorporates a center section that slides forward up to eleven inches, bringing a child seat within easier reach of front-seat passengers. Optional second-row captain's chairs with a center-aisle pass-through can be substituted for adult-rated comfort.
The Expedition's available third-row seat is also impressively unique. Packaging advantages afforded by the Expedition's independent rear suspension enable this rear seat to deliver a far more comfortable seating position to adults compared to the accommodations provided by the Chevy Tahoe. Moreover, the three-row canopy airbags ensure the third-row passengers have the same head protection in a collision as passengers in the forward seat rows. As with the previous model, the amount of room afforded to passengers by the standard Expedition is generous.
The Expedition's liftgate with its flip-up glass hatch also makes access to the cargo area very easy. The best thing about the Expedition's bench-type seats in the second and third rows is the way in which they can be folded flat onto the cargo floor, affording a long cargo area that can be easily loaded. This means you don't have to unbolt the passenger seats and leave them on the floor of your garage every time you're making a serious run to Home Depot. The Expedition is available with an optional power-folding third seat and electronically powered liftgate to make it even easier to load cargo. At the same time, the seat squabs of the second- and third-row seats are a little slim in order to allow the seats to fold properly.
Yet the new Expedition is about more than convenience. A new climate-control system dramatically reduces the time required to cool or heat the cabin. A new DVD-based navigation system with sizable 6.5-inch screen is available as an option. The rear-seat DVD entertainment system has an eight-inch screen that flips down from the ceiling and also includes two sets of wireless headphones. A plug-in jack for an MP3 player is standard across the line. The Expedition is even a nice place to be when all the entertainment is switched off, as the combination of thicker glass and a generous amount of acoustic insulation behind the dash and on the floor makes this a remarkably quiet interior, and it's actually possible to have a conversation with the people in the third-row seat while you're at the wheel.
In this regard, the 2007 Ford Expedition is notably superior to the 2007 Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, and it tracks down the highway with excellent straight-line stability, negotiates forest roads with surprising agility, and absorbs impacts from bumps or broken pavement without straying from its path. While the Tahoe bounds from bump to bump as its heavy rear axle rebounds from impacts, the Expedition maintains a surprising calm considering its truck heritage.
Most of the magic comes from car-like engineering, a synergy between a chassis frame that's 10 percent more rigid, high-pressure gas shocks that afford excellent wheel control, and a second-generation, link-type independent rear suspension. Moreover, steering effort has been reduced 15 percent, while the brakes have been upgraded to deliver more stopping capability. The two-speed 4WD system is engaged with a simple rotary knob mounted on the dashboard, and it automatically reduces throttle sensitivity in low range for better traction in slippery circumstances.
As before, the overhead-cam 5.4-liter V8 delivers 300 hp, but it's really tuned to deliver 365 pound-feet of torque for towing, a product of variable valve timing and cylinder heads with three valves per cylinder. In the past, this engine has seemed sluggish compared to its competition, despite its excellent power rating, but the addition of a new, six-speed automatic transmission for 2007 has transformed its personality. The seamless transition through the gears keeps the engine from laboring through its rpm range, and the result is an impression of reliable power.
This engine performance also has a notable impact on towing, making it seem like a pleasure instead of a chore. With its optional towing package in place, the standard Expedition will now tow 9000 pounds, the best rating in this class. (A 2WD Expedition is rated 9200 pounds, a 4WD 9000 pounds, a 2WD EL is rated 9000 pounds, a 4WD EL is 8750 pounds.)
Oddly enough, the Ford engineers tell us that the Expedition's complement of dynamic safety features makes it possible to deliver this improvement in overall driving performance. The Expedition can be tuned for far greater responsiveness to the driver because the electronics can be relied upon to compensate for any unusual circumstances.
The prime technology here is Ford's unique stability control, which incorporates sensors to detect both roll angle and yaw rate. If the Expedition gets out of shape, the system reduces the throttle or applies the brakes to help keep the vehicle upright. This is the third generation of a system originally engineered by Volvo. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety claims its data suggest stability systems in general reduce the chance of single-vehicle rollovers by SUVs by an astonishing 80 percent.
For all its comfort and stability, the Expedition is still about utility rather than sport. When it comes to driving, the Expedition feels very heavy, and while it offers driving precision, it's not as alert or sporty as its GM and Nissan competitors. Though the brakes have been upgraded for 2007, they still seem to require a lot of effort to get the Expedition whoa'd down. Nevertheless, The Expedition's overall driving performance is far more refined than any other vehicle in its class.
Fuel prices have chased lots of people away from full-size sport-utilities, but all the vehicles in this class now offer a surprising amount of car-like refinement in addition to the customary utility. Even in this group, the 2007 Ford Expedition stands apart because it not only offers the best overall utility package but also delivers superior performance in virtually every way. As fuel prices help shift priorities to smaller, more efficient vehicles, it's important to remember that full-size sport-utilities will become more useful than ever simply because no other vehicle can do so much with so many people. Ford is right on target with its family adventure concept, and the Ford Expedition is the best vehicle for family vacation travel on the American road.