1999 Ford Expedition Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Minor improvements throughout make it better.
If mousetraps were 17 feet long, one might characterize the Expedition as Ford's better mousetrap. Since its introduction three years ago, Ford's biggest sport-utility vehicle has been a resounding sales success. The assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, has been running full steam to meet the demand for the Expedition and its luxurious near-twin, the Lincoln Navigator.
Why is the Expedition so successful? The reasons may go beyond the current enthusiasm for large sport-utilities. The Expedition is selling like hot cakes at least partly because it does everything it was designed to do and it does it well. Its good looks certainly don't hurt, either.
With demand running high, Ford has wisely made only evolutionary changes for 1999. Both engines get more power -- without hurting EPA fuel economy ratings. The Expedition has been certified for 1999 as a low-emissions vehicle, or LEV, in states that have adopted California's tougher emissions regulations.
A new front fascia, grille and bumper system with fog lamps incorporated into the lower valence give the Expedition a fresh look. And the base model comes with more standard equipment; even though the base price has gone up, this move actually lowers many out-the-door prices.
The stylists at Ford took a sensible approach when they set out to shape the Expedition. They already had two winners to their credit -- the F-150 pickup and the Explorer. So they borrowed the best elements from each to create another success. From nose to windshield, the Expedition shares sheet metal with the F-150. From the front doors back, the Expedition has the contours of an Explorer. No panels interchange between Expedition and Explorer, but the resemblance is unmistakable.
This combination of ingredients works well. The Expedition is handsome, with a sloping hoodline and rounded front end that reflect attention to aerodynamics. It's a design that pays off with improved fuel efficiency and reduced wind noise. As a matter of necessity, the sides and back are shaped more for utility than style. Clever use of trim and rounded corners provides some visual definition, however.
Stretching more than 17 feet from nose to tail, the Expedition is certainly no compact. There's no way to disguise that. GM's Suburban is even longer, adding a foot-and-a-half to the total. Ford touts the Expedition's shorter length as a benefit when trying to fit into a garage. An Expedition will fit into some garages that are too small for a Suburban -- ours, for example -- but check yours to be sure as garage sizes vary.
Two trim levels, XLT and Eddie Bauer, make up the Expedition model range. With little demand for plain, entry-level vehicles in this class, Ford equips the XLT well and the Eddie Bauer even better. Visual differences between XLT and Eddie Bauer are confined to paint and trim, and equipment level distinctions between the two can be blurred by checking off items from a long list of optional equipment.
The Expedition derives much of its chassis and mechanical hardware from Ford's F-150 pickup and all Expeditions are available with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
The Expedition's generous outside dimensions provide for a large, commodious interior. Two seating configurations are available. Ordered with optional front bucket seats and a center bench, the Expedition can comfortably haul five passengers. Ordered with the standard front full-width seat and center bench makes room for six passengers. Well-padded chairs provide comfortable seating.
The optional third-row bench provides seating for two more passengers -- three if they are small. Getting in and out of the third seat requires some agility, though, so it helps if they are small and young. Our XLT came with attractive color-keyed door- and dash panels, power windows, mirrors and door locks, air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel and a good audio system. First- and second-row occupants get separate heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls; a third set of controls for the third seat is optional.
A curved dashboard houses instruments and controls where they can easily be reached. An optional large center console offers additional storage space and a place for front-seat occupants to rest their arms. (The Eddie Bauer comes with an overhead console with a digital display that provides compass headings, date and time and average fuel economy; a switch operates power swing-out rear quarter windows.)
Attractive and durable materials are used throughout the Expedition's cabin. Soft-touch coverings are applied to switches and door panels. The window switches are lighted internally at night, a nice touch that not all vehicles carry. One new optional feature this year is an industry first: At the touch of a dashboard-mounted switch, the pedal cluster can be electrically adjusted fore-and-aft. With a range of adjustment of three inches, this feature allows shorter drivers to find a more comfortable driving position with greater ease.
From the driver's seat, you can't help but notice the size of the Expedition. Surprisingly, this bulk doesn't make it especially difficult to drive. Speed-sensitive variable-assist power steering works in the driver's favor by keeping steering effort low. Brake pedal feel is light, yet precise. Lots of large windows, along with big mirrors, make it easy to see in all directions. Extra care and attention is required when maneuvering in close-quarters, however.
The ride quality is good, though it is not as soft as that of a traditional family sedan or wagon. The two-wheel-drive Expedition is slightly smoother on the highway, but both two- and four-wheel-drive versions ride very nicely considering their size and weight. An advantage of the Expedition's long wheelbase is a resistance to pitching over freeway expansion joints and other irregularities. When driven on back roads, the Expedition does not lean unduly in corners, nor does the front end dive excessively under hard braking.
An optional load-leveling system uses compressed air to compensate for varying loads while improving ride quality. Built into the system is a one-inch increase in ride height. When parked, the system can make the Expedition 4x4 kneel down to lower the step-in height, which makes getting in and out of the vehicle easier.
Four-wheel-drive Expeditions are more competent off road than their size and fancy trimmings suggest. While serious rock-climbing is not suggested, occasional forays off the beaten path can be undertaken without fear of being left stranded. By simply turning a rotary knob on the dashboard, the driver can choose between two-wheel drive, part-time four-wheel drive, full-time four-wheel drive and low-range four-wheel drive.
Beyond the choice of two- or four-wheel drive, the buyer also chooses between two V8 engines. The 4.6-liter and 5.4-liter V8s are identical save for displacement. They are smooth and quiet. Both engines are mated to a four-speed automatic transmission.
We recommend the larger unit, which delivers extra pulling power for full passenger loads and heavy trailers. The 5.4-liter V8 produces 345 foot-pounds of torque, enabling it to pull a trailer of up to 8300 pounds -- when ordered as a 4x2 with 16-inch wheels and the 3.73 axle ratio. An Expedition 4x4 with the smaller 4.6-liter engine and big 17-inch wheels can only muster 5500 pounds.
Even though this year's changes are relatively minor, the Expedition enters its third year as the clear leader of its class. Its blend of strength, refinement, comfort, good road manners and exceptional finish quality is not matched by the current Suburban. The shorter length of the Expedition is an admission ticket to a larger number of garages.
The lure of the Expedition is its versatility. The Expedition can carry a large family in limousine-like splendor, pull a trailer, move cargo or explore places beyond pavement's end.
Options As Tested
All-terrain tires ($380) with 17-inch alloy wheels ($185), limited-slip differential ($255), skid plate package ($105), trailer towing package ($390), load-leveling suspension ($815), trailer towing group ($390), skid plate package ($105), power adjustable pedals ($120), 3.73 ratio rear axle, California emissions, and Comfort Convenience Group ($2,560), which includes captain's chairs with center floor console and six-way adjustable power driver's seat, third-row removable bench seat rear seat, rear heating and air conditioning, privacy glass, dual illuminated visor mirrors.
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