Other than the fact that I don’t own a trailer to tow behind this big Ford, I used the Expedition to its full extent this past weekend. I loaded up two car seats and three adults for runs to Trader Joe’s, Ikea, Target, and Whole Foods. I never ran out of space for the shopping and no one complained about not having enough room. The ride and lack of noise on the highway is impressive and it plugged through the snow with little trouble Sure, it’s still a big huge beast and doesn’t exactly handle well or slot easily into parking spaces but it does what it sets out to do quite well. I find the interior packaging far superior to that of a Suburban. The seats fold flat, making it very easy to load flat pack boxes at Ikea. In a Suburban, you have to decide if you need to remove the third row before heading off on your errands. If you then need to haul extra people, you have to reinstall the third-row seats. Not good. I also find that the Ford doesn’t have the annoying secondary vibrations through the chassis and the suspension that you feel in the GM product.
But it’s not all good news for the Expedition. The engine isn’t especially strong and uses a ton of fuel. The transmission is a bit slow to shift as well. The Suburban, especially with the six-speed automatic fitted, has a superior drivetrain. I also find Ford’s SYNC audio system less than impressive. It sometimes goes on strike, not allowing you to control anything and I find it much easier to just use the touch interface then to go through the multi step voice command process to change a music track. It needs some more work before I’m sold. Still, the touch-screen interface for the navigation and audio system is impressive.
I know that recent high fuel prices and environmental concerns are turning vehicles like the Expedition into a dinosaur, but it’s a solid choice for those American families who have more than three kids and own a big trailer. Still, families who don’t need to tow a large trailer are much better off with a minivan.
Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor
Unlike Marc, I only used the Expedition to drive myself and my husband to visit friends in Chelsea (about 25-30 miles from our house). To say that the Expedition was more vehicle than we needed for the trip is an understatement. The fact that this particular example is an XL (extended-length) version made it even more absurd that we chose to drive the Expedition rather than our much more fuel-efficient Hyundai.
The Expedition goes down the highway pretty well, but the 300-hp V-8 doesn’t feel particularly powerful, owing to the fact that it’s tasked with moving three tons (!) of metal down the road. And when we got home, the darn thing was too long to fit in my garage, so I had to park it in the driveway. In the morning, I then had to scrape the frost off the windows – thank goodness for the power retractable running boards, because without them it would have been impossible to reach the windshield at all. As it was, I still could only reach about a third of the way across it.
It’s interesting that Marc used the word “dinosaur” to describe the Expedition, because that’s exactly what I called it when talking to Francois, our friendly parking attendant who makes it his business to ask about the vehicles I drive out of the structure each night. And like the dinosaur, it appears that vehicles like the Expedition will soon be extinct, or at least on the endangered species list.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I drove the Expedition XL shortly after spending a weekend with our Four Seasons Toyota Land Cruiser. I came away from my back-to-back drives of these two big, gas-guzzling SUVs with this idea: I would like to combine the Toyota’s superior powertrain with the Expedition’s superior packaging. Now THAT would be one nice SUV! See, I helped my friend Charley with a painting project over the weekend. I supplied much of the equipment, including a small set of scaffolding (when erected, it’s about 6 feet long and 5 feet tall and 2.5 feet deep, but I hauled it in pieces, of course); a large halogen work light set on a tripod; a four-foot stepladder; and a plastic bin full of painting supplies. Now, wouldn’t you think that I could easily fit these items plus my own self into the huge Land Cruiser with ease? Nope. The middle-row seats fold forward but not flat, and the third-row seats don’t remove or fold flat, either; they fold up to the side windows. It was all I could do to wedge the aforementioned items into the Toyota in a haphazard manner.
But tonight I returned to Charley’s house to pick up my stuff in the Expedition. The two middle-row captain’s chairs folded down flat in a flash, and as for the third-row split bench? I just pushed a couple of buttons inside the tailgate and it folded flat electrically. The interior was so elegantly turned out, I felt kinda guilty about putting anything in it, so I lined the whole cargo area with a couple of thick moving blankets. The scaffolding, the ladder, and the halogen-light tripod all fit in the back completely flat, with plenty of room to spare.
I say, if you’re gonna have a big, gas-guzzling SUV, it might as well have lots of space, and in that regard the Expedition serves its purpose well. I just wish it had a more refined and energetic powertrain (not that it’s that bad). I agree with Marc that, in terms of solidity, ride and handling, and steering feel, the Expedition is quite well-engineered.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
I have gone on record as anything but an SUV lover. My personal opinion is that all trucks are appliances lacking in the requisite fun-to-drive joy that warrants housing them in the garage with real cars. There are a few exceptional trucks – Porsche Cayenne, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 to name two – that have nudged my affection needle, but for the most part I’ll take any pickup over practically every SUV because I believe an open bed is a far more useful hauling platform than a carpeted, fully trimmed extension of the passenger compartment. Cleaning a pickup bed after a nasty job is optional, something that can’t be said when an SUV is used for dirty work.
So, last week on the very day the president’s office wrote the $17.4 billion bail-out check to Detroit, after roundly castigating the Motor City for becoming so dependent on large SUVs, it was my day to drive a 2009 Ford Expedition. To help focus my thoughts on the legitimate reasons these motorized mastodons exist, Mother Nature dumped a heap o’ snow on the entire state of Michigan.
The Expedition turned out to be the perfect tool for several tasks, not all of which were planned. During a two-day period, I used it to:
- Extract one BMW 135i from its snow bank burial site;
- Mash down the huge drift created by well-meaning plow operators who shoved their loads in a pile enveloping my mailbox;
- Haul several worthy Automobile Magazine staff members to and from a not-to-be-missed holiday party where gifts more precious than gold, frankincense, and myrrh were exchanged;
- Travel a long distance on hazardous roads to my son’s wrestling tournament (where he won three of his four matches).
But the incident that decisively uplifted my opinion of the Expedition in particular and SUVs in general occurred while traveling home from the sports meet on a cold, snowy night. First the low-tire warning lamp lit up in the dash. Before we could find a roadside inflation pump, bad sounds began emanating from the right-front corner of the vehicle. By the time we did stop to invest $0.75 in a slug of air, the Expedition’s right-front tire had grown a nasty goiter.
I elected not to change the failed tire for two reasons: it was still holding air and we were less than five miles from home.
When the tire turned square and the Expedition became a rolling vibratory massage machine, we stopped for a second dose of air. Now there were several goiters growing out of the sidewall. By traveling at low speed on back roads, we made it home with no wheel damage and no fingers frost-bitten by a roadside tire change. Somehow, goiters and all, the tire was holding air when we rolled in the driveway.
What did I learn from these experiences? That large SUVs are sometimes indispensable. What makes them great in winter is their ability to keep rolling – and helping others in distress – against tall odds. So, thanks GW for sending that check so Detroit can keep Expeditions and their ilk rolling.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
2009 Ford Expedition EXP Limited EL 4×4
Base price: $47,460
As tested: $55,015
Power running boards: $995
2nd row captains chairs: $795
Luxury value package: $5280 (discounted to $4380)
-20″ wheels/all-season tires
-Rear DVD system
Rear load leveling suspension: $485
EPA Fuel Economy: Not required for this vehicle (but 14/20 mpg for SWB, 2WD Expedition)