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Ford stays big in large SUV market

December 22, 2006|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

Amidst the darkening clouds of uncertain fuel prices and shifting public attitudes, Ford boldly introduces its all-new Expedition for 2007.

The future for vehicles such as the Expedition, while far from bleak, is not exactly a rosy one. According to Ford, the full-size SUV category shrunk to 800,000 units in 2005, from a 2003 high of more than 1,000,000. That's 20 percent less high-profit hardware hitting the highways in just 24 months, including the biggest-of-the-big Ford Excursion, which was pastured a year ago.

However the company that Henry built firmly believes it's holding the winning hand in the diminishing big-ute segment and can still grab more than its fair share of the spoils.

To accomplish this mission, the big "Ex" has been given a major makeover. The linchpin of this change process includes the addition of an extended-length EL model that allows the Expedition to compete on a level playing field with the Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon/Yukon XL duo, as well as remaining a respectable distance in front of its Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada rivals.

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In appearance, the Expedition appears to have retained many of the previous truck's body panels, with the notable exception of the front clip that now features a more prominent hood and a grille with four horizontal bars that, depending on the trim level, are coated in either chrome or paint.

More serious changes have taken place underneath the Expedition's skin with an all-new boxed-frame chassis that's 10 percent more resistant to bending and twisting. Similarly, the front suspension subframe has been beefed up and an improved second-generation independent rear suspension (IRS) installed.

The IRS is Ford's magic bullet that allows the Expedition's third-row seat to fold flat into the load floor (as does the split-folding second-row bench) for maximum cargo room. Of course you can opt for individual chairs instead, but passenger capacity, which maxes out at nine, is reduced by one.

The back-row folding process can be manually controlled or initiated with the power-folding option that for '07 handles the task more quickly and smoothly.

The rest of the Expedition's cabin has received a variety of updates including a lengthened front-seat track so drivers between 4 feet 11 inches and 6 feet 4 inches can find a comfortable position.

As before, the sole powerplant is a 300-horsepower 5.4-liter V-8 that puts its 365 lb.-ft. of torque to the ground through a six-speed automatic transmission; two more cogs than were offered on the '06 Expedition.

This year there are only three Expedition models, down from six in '06. The XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited can be ordered in rear- or four-wheel drive and each can be had in extended-length EL format. This means you'll get nearly 15 inches of added length, a one-foot increase in wheelbase and a giant leap in cargo capacity, especially useful when all three seating rows are in use. Also handy is the EL's range-extending 33.5-gallon gas tank.

Expeditions arrive with all the basic air/cruise/power amenities, as well as stability control to keep the vehicle tracking where the driver intends. You also get front-impact, side-impact and side-curtain air bags, the latter of which automatically deploy in the event of a rollover.

Among the more prominent options are a power rear liftgate, massive 20-inch six-spoke wheels, heated and cooled leather seats, 340-watt audio package and a new voice-activated navigation system with an improved 6.5-inch touch screen.

The full-size sport-utility market might be shrinking like an iceberg that's slowly drifting south, but there are still plenty of customers who need the space, cargo/towing capability and all-terrain performance these big rigs can offer for work or for play. That's where the '07 Expedition, with its newfound style and toughness, seems ready and set to go.

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