By Bruce W. Smith Truck Test Digest / GCN Automedia
When cargo space and passenger carrying ability during road trips become primary concerns there’re not a lot of options out there in the world of full-size SUVs. The choices comfortable seven-passenger vehicles boil down to one of three vehicles—the redesigned ’07 Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon XL, or the all-new Ford Expedition EL.
The latter is quite impressive as the Truck Test Digest staff found out after living with a top-of-the-line Eddie Bauer 4x4 model for a couple weeks.
First of all, the Expedition EL (Extended Length) now looks like it’s a fruit of the Super Duty F-Series family, renown for their rugged looks and ability to handle tough jobs.
"The crisply defined surfaces and chiseled good looks exemplify the feeling of athleticism," says Chelsia Lau, Expedition chief designer. "Expedition’s unique design proudly displays its Ford SUV heritage while creating its own unique personality and character."
Its most prominent features are the bold three-bar chrome grille and the raised “powerdome” hood. The new dual-beam headlamps, which integrate side-marker lights and wrap around into the front fenders, are also a big cosmetic change form the previous model.
The Expedition’s chiseled, slab-sides look and the 20-inch tire/wheel combo that nicely fills the bulging fenders, combine to give it a very robust overall look.
A SIZEABLE CHANGE
The EL is the replacement for the now extinct Excursion. The Expedition EL is about 15 inches longer overall than the standard Expedition, making it a mere five inches shorter than the Excursion.
That additional length more than doubles the storage space found behind the second- and third-row seats of the base Expedition, providing an enormous amount of space to store gear, clothing, and food for those outdoor vacations or long family trips. With the power up/down third-row seats folded flat there’s plenty of cargo space to load a family of four’s camping and fishing gear while keep the vacationer’s comfortable up front.
Ford completely redesigned the interior. The loaded EL we tested came with Captains chairs in front, second-row high-back buckets, and a split 60/40 third-row bench—all leather clad, and all comfortable for adult use.
The third-row seats are also electrically operated so they can be folded flush into the floor with the touch of switches on the passenger-side cargo wall just inside the power-lift/close tailgate. And, when those seats are folded down you can carry 4x4 sheets of plywood or an 8-foot stepladder without compromising second-row seating.
Although the new EL is longer than the standard Expedition it rides and handles more like the smaller model thanks to a brand new chassis and rack-and-pinion steering.
Ford engineers did a superb job in the refinements, too.
The new Expedition’s chassis features an all-new front suspension, front frame section and modular front-end construction for ease of assembly and improved quality. The tube-through-tube frame construction increases frame stiffness to provide a solid foundation for improved driving dynamics.
Ford’s patented porthole-through-frame design is the second-generation of a system used in the complete re-design of the 2003 Expedition. This setup allows the drive shafts to feed through the frame rails, lowering the center of gravity for better ride and handling and maximizing passenger space in the third-row seat.
A huge change is dropping the solid rear axle design for an all-new independent rear suspension (IRS) that features a five-link design for far better ride.
"The independent rear suspension is a superior architecture for controlling and tuning ride and handling," says Raj Nair, executive director, SUV and Body on Frame Platforms. "While Expedition has plenty of room and plenty of capability, it doesn’t handle like a big truck."
Steering performance also has been improved on the new Expedition. A new variable boost steering pump uses lightweight aluminum components and reduces steering efforts by 15 percent for easy maneuverability at slow speeds while delivering a firm, responsive feel at highway speeds.
The brakes are much better than the previous Expeditions, too. The new model uses larger front and rear brake calipers and thicker rotors to improve both durability and stopping capability.
What we felt during 70mph panic stops is a brake pedal feel that is very linear; the harder you press, the faster it pulls down the speed. There’s no jerkiness in the brakes at all.
The Expedition EL’s resulting ride is one of the best out there in a full-size SUV; it’s very quite on the road, rough road surfaces melt away as they pass beneath the tires, and it glides down the interstate like a limo.
SAFETY, COMFORT & CLASS
Expedition offers more standard safety content for 2007, including seat-mounted front side air bags and three-row Safety Canopy™ rollover detection system that includes extended-duration side curtain air bags that extend down to the beltline for increased coverage.
Ford’s exclusive AdvanceTrac® with RSC® (Roll Stability Control) also is standard on both Expedition and Expedition EL.
Unlike competitors’ systems, Ford engineers say their system utilizes a gyroscopic roll rate sensor to accurately measure the vehicle’s yaw and roll angles. If the roll rate sensor detects a significant roll angle, the system applies additional countermeasures – such as applying brakes to one or more wheels or reducing engine power – to help the driver maintain control. (The system is so advanced that Ford has 82 active patents and 197 pending patents.)
"Expedition’s confident handling paired with standard class-exclusive AdvanceTrac® with RSC® (Roll Stability Control) actively helps drivers prevent accidents from occurring,” says Stephen Kozak, safety chief engineer.
“Should an accident occur, Expedition features a comprehensive package of passive safety features to help enhance safety protection,"
As for creature comforts, the Eddie Bauer edition EL we drove lacks none. Power everything, wood-grain interior, six-disc CD system, running boards, leather power seats and a multitude of other niceties greet those who step inside the spacious interior. The interior of the leather-clad Expedition EL is plush, and it’s filled with premium features that make long hours on the road quite comfortable for both driver and passengers.
Options that make this model even more of a head-turning family mover included 20-inch chrome wheels, the “Convenience Package” that includes reverse back-up sensors and power quarter windows, a navigation system and rear DVD entertainment, and climate-controlled front seats that heat or cool your derriere.
"Like we’ve done for F-Series, we’ve aimed with Expedition to set a new standard for interior refinement for full-size SUVs," says Viera. "Expedition’s all-new interior is as comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans."
WEAK ON POWER
From a power perspective, the Expedition EL is not quite as impressive. The only engine available is the 300hp 5.4L V-8 found in Ford’s other full-size pickups and SUVs.
Three-hundred horses sounds like a lot, but when they are trying to move three tons of SUV into fast-moving interstate traffic, especially towing a horse trailer or pleasure boat, they aren’t enough. The EL’s power is adequate –but definitely not class-lading.
We noted the six-speed automatic tends to start in second gear, which really sucks the wind out of the Expedition’s acceleration sails. Only a very heavy right foot—or manually shifting from 1st gear—gets the big SUV rolling along somewhat briskly from a dead stop. But despite the lack of power, the new Expedition could easily handle a 4,000-pound fishing boat. This 4x4 model is rated to tow up to 8,750 pounds when properly equipped. But just don't expect snappy acceleration.
Fuel economy is another weakness; EPA numbers give it 14mpg in the city, 17mpg on the highway. We saw 11-12mpg around town and 16 on the open roads. Make use of its 8,750-pound tow capacity and you’ll be looking at single-digits.
THE PRICE OF BIG
On the plus side, you’ll be paying less for more. Ford has simplified the Expedition lineup to three trim levels – XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited – and reduced starting prices an average of $4,300.
Base MSRPs for the 2007 Expedition range from $29,995 to $40,745. (Prices for comparable 2006 models range from $33,480 to $44,460.) The all-new Expedition EL is priced $2,650 above the comparably equipped base Expedition series.
All Expedition and Expedition EL models are available with 4x4 capability for an additional $2,900.
The new Expedition limited warranty – like all 2007 Ford brand products – begins with bumper- to-bumper coverage for three years or 36,000 miles and includes five years or 60,000 miles of powertrain coverage. The warranty is fully transferable and there are no deductibles. Complimentary roadside assistance is offered for the full duration of the warranty.
Bottom line: The 2007 Ford Expedition EL is a consummate people and cargo mover that’s a big jump in quality from the previous model. A big family in need of comfortable, safe, spacious transportation wouldn’t go wrong stepping up to the newest and biggest of Ford’s full-size SUVs.
As Cisco Codina, Ford group vice president, Marketing, Sales and Service says, "Full-size SUV buyers are, perhaps, the most demanding customers of all. They want uncompromised capability and unquestioned toughness, along with interior flexibility and refinement. The new Expedition has been designed with unique customer appeal that makes it stand out in a competitive market."
We agree. --Bruce W Smith
Ford Expedition EL Basic Specifications
Engines: 300hp 5.4L V-8
Transmission: 6spd automatic
4WD system: AdvanceTrac (2WD; 4WD Auto; 4WD Hi; 4WD Low)
Suspension: Four-wheel independent w/ coil-over shocks
Axle ratio: 3.73:1
Turning circle: 43.9 ft
Brakes: ABS 4-wheel disc
Overall length: 221.3”
Fuel Capacity: 33.5 gals.
EPA mpg City/Hwy: EPA 14/17; 11/16 (observed)
Curb weight: 6,053 lbs. (7-passenger, 4x4)
Max towing capacity: 8,750 lbs. “properly equipped”
Warranty: 5 years/ 60,000-mile powertrain
(Link to full Ford Specifications: http://media.ford.com/products/presskit_display.cfm?vehicle_id=1377&press_section_id=398&make_id=92)