Ford first introduced the Expedition in 1996 as a rival to the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon full-size SUVs. The vehicle would evolve through the years and spawn the Lincoln Navigator. In 2003, the Expedition received a major redesign that incorporated an independent rear suspension, something that even the upcoming 2006 Tahoe and Yukon eschew. The Expedition is a capable truck, with decent power, plenty of room, and lots of safety features. But since the Expedition first appeared on the scene, the competition has gotten stiffer. Ford’s full-size SUV now faces a redesigned, larger Dodge Durango as well as fresh competition from Japan in the form of the Toyota Sequoia and the Nissan Armada. Changes for 2006 are limited to color and trim tweaks, along with the availability of reverse park assist and side curtain airbags as standalone options. Covering all the bases, the Expedition is offered in no fewer than six trim levels: XLS, XLT, XLT Sport, Eddie Bauer, Limited, and King Ranch.
The Expedition looks a lot like an inflated Explorer; it shares the same styling cues and profile, stretched over a larger frame. The various models all have subtle exterior cues to differentiate them. The XLS has 17-inch steel wheels and tires; the XLT gets aluminum wheels; the Eddie Bauer has machined aluminum rims; the Limited gets chrome-finished wheels; and the King Ranch sports identifying logos. XLT models have front foglamps and running boards, the XLT Sport adds dark grey exterior cladding, the Eddie Bauer gets a two-tone finish, and the Limited has body-color monochromatic exterior parts. For all the fuss and frippery, however, only dedicated Expedition fans will know the differences between the models.
The main thing to note about the Expedition’s interior is its massive size. It will seat up to eight with the standard second-row bench seat, and there’s an enormous 110.5-cubic-foot cargo area with the second- and third-row seats folded. Behind the third row, there’s 20.7 cubic feet of space, and a goodly 60.9 cubic feet behind the second row. Head- and legroom are as ample as anything in this class.
The base Expedition has a decent interior, with attractive chrome-rimmed gauges and aluminum accents on the air vents, but you need to go up through the trim levels to turn it into a luxurious vehicle. The base XLS gets cruise control, a front bench seat with power adjustment for the driver, cloth upholstery, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CD stereo. The XLT adds auxiliary rear air conditioning, an overhead console with storage, and a wide-angle rear-view mirror. The Eddie Bauer boosts the amenity count with dual-zone air conditioning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel that incorporates audio and climate controls, leather-trimmed front captain’s chairs, power adjustable pedals, and an in-dash six-CD changer.
In the Limited, the front seats both get eight-way electric adjustment with powered headrests. Pony up for the King Ranch, and you’ll get woodgrain trim and a powered folding third-row seat added to the mix. In addition to the standard features, in-dash navigation, heated and cooled seats, second-row captain’s chairs, a DVD rear-seat entertainment system, and a power-folding third-row seat are all available.
Ever since the Explorer/Firestone debacle, Ford has almost overcompensated by adding safety features to its SUVs–all the better for the consumer. The Expedition is available with side-curtain airbags and a stability control system with a rollover-avoidance feature. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard on all trims, and all-wheel-drive is available on every variation. A reverse park warning system is also on the options list. Finally, the Expedition has been awarded the Federal Government’s highest frontal crash test rating for five years in a row.
Ford doesn’t give you any choices in this department: the Expedition comes with one engine, a 5.4-liter V-8 that’s mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. This engine was introduced in the Expedition for the 2005 model year and features three-valves-per-cylinder technology for optimal emissions performance. Output is 300 horsepower and a robust 365 lb-ft of torque, although the engine does have to propel a vehicle that weighs between 5,352 and 5,607 pounds.
The Expedition drives a lot better than most enormous trucks because Ford equipped it with a fully independent suspension and paid a good deal of attention to the truck’s dynamics, particularly the steering. This truck rides quite well, without the head toss that often afflicts large body-on-frame SUVs with a live rear axle, and it can be guided along two-lane roads quite swiftly as its body motions are well controlled. Where the vehicle’s mass becomes apparent is when you’re accelerating onto the highway and when you need to stop in a hurry. Because the peak engine torque is delivered rather high in the rev range, it requires aggressive throttle merging onto the Interstate. And though the Expedition has decent brakes, you still need room to come to a complete stop.
The Expedition certainly feels big from behind the wheel. You sit very high, with a commanding view of the road, and you soon realize that it’s a long way back to the tailgate. On many cars, a reverse parking sensor is an annoyance, but it’s a welcomed feature on a vehicle that measures 205.8 inches from stem to stern.
Ford offers a relatively basic warranty–three years/36,000 miles–on all Expeditions. If you need to haul trailers, the Expedition has an 8,900-pound capability when properly equipped in two-wheel-drive form; that figure falls to 8,600 pounds in all-wheel-drive models. The Expedition has a good service record and is reasonably secure SUV when all the safety options are selected.
Ford stands tall in the full-size SUV arena, with generous safety gear, a well-executed cabin, a standout suspension, and a solid, overall package.
After adding a larger, more powerful engine for the 2005 model year, changes to the ’06 Expedition are relatively minor. There’s a new interior color added to the Limited model, two new exterior colors, and standard chrome-tipped exhausts on the King Ranch version. The reverse sensing system and side-curtain airbags are now available individually.
The stability and rollover-control system is desirable in a vehicle, and for added peace of mind, the side-curtain airbags are a must-have. The optional load-leveling air suspension is extremely useful if you want to haul large trailers. In the Snow Belt, all-wheel drive is essential–it also helps if you tow boats or other large loads in the sunshine states. Finally, if you have young ‘uns, the optional DVD rear entertainment system helps alleviate that bane of all long journeys: “Are we there yet?”