Greg Anderson, Contributor
The 1998 Ford Expedition differs from last year's model in that there are now more colors to choose from. Other than that, Ford has left its latest entry into the sport-utility market alone for the time being. We recently had one in our test fleet, and, unlike other Expeditions we've driven, this one was special. Eddie Bauer had signed it.
Eddie Bauer, apparel retailer, is known for outfitting some pretty famous expeditions of the past. The "American K-2 Himalayan Expedition" of 1953, the "first international geophysical year scientific expedition in Antarctica" of 1957, and the "American Antarctic Mountaineering Expedition" of 1966-67 are among the most notable. In the 80s came the company's most profitable outfitting to date: that of Ford trucks. Labeling their option packages with the Eddie Bauer name gave Ford some respect from yuppies, and both companies profited from brand recognition. So it came as no surprise that Ford's newest sport-ute, the Expedition, should be outfitted by that most famous expedition outfitter as well.
Select the Eddie Bauer package if you want to sit on adjustable captains' chairs with leather seating surfaces. Otherwise, the differences are aesthetic, including body-colored door handles, chrome bumpers with colored rub-strips, and the all-important "Eddie Bauer" script nameplates.
Inside, the Expedition is pleasantly comfortable from the first two rows of seats. The optional third row should be avoided by anyone over age eight. And for a whopping $855, the third row should be avoided altogether. Several of us own less expensive living room couches. The third row seat can be removed to increase cargo room, but that leaves seatbelts dangling like lost souls behind the second row bench.
An optional auxiliary heater/air conditioner on our Expedition was malfunctioning, and on one cold winter's day drive to the airport, the second row occupants were nearly frozen in place. On the bright side, the rear heater fan functioned beautifully, keeping our luggage toasty warm.
On the road, the Expedition offers a comfy driving position, good visibility all around, responsive steering, and competent brakes. The steering is speed-sensitive, so less work is required while angling around parking lots. Our test vehicle had a problem that deserved some attention: during those low-speed maneuvers, a strange sound emanated from the steering column, not unlike the mating call of the humpback whale. Eerie. Thankfully, the noise disappeared at speeds over 10 mph.
Acceleration is nothing to brag about, but this thing weighs 5,765 lbs., after all and Sumo wrestlers don't sprint. Midrange torque for the 5.4-liter engine must be outstanding, however, because it was good enough to get this editor pulled over by the Colorado Highway Patrol. Seven in the evening, left lane of I-25, 75 mph zone, and I'm stuck behind an ancient Ford Ranger doing 63 mph. A highway patrol car is in the right lane, and I pass him, wary that I am gaining on the slow-motion pickup. I maintain a truck-length distance, and wait patiently for the pickup to make his pass and pull into the right lane. Then I floor it, and the big Expedition responds by accelerating briskly up to 75mph. Red lights flash. I pull to the shoulder.
After enduring a ten-minute lecture on the evils of "Road Rage," I hand the officer my license and registration. "You work for Ford Motor Company?" he asks. "No. I work for Edmund's." "Then this is a test car?" "Yes."
The patrolman promptly explained that, from his vantage, I was following too closely. He then hopped back in his Camaro and peeled out, leaving me to deal with my newfound Road Rage. It was frustrating to be labeled with a such a buzzword when I had been in a perfectly good mood. I was by no means angry with the vehicle or driver ahead of me, and felt that I was maintaining a safe distance. I was in fact on my very best behavior, secure in the knowledge that a highway patrol car was cruising nearby. Perhaps the lonely patrolman just wanted to let off a little bit of his own Road Rage.
Maybe the sheer size of the Expedition is intimidating enough to be labeled Road Rage. No, my brights were not on, but I could see clearly over the low-lying bed of the slow-moving Ranger. Had that vehicle been a compact sedan, the patrolman may have accused me of attempted murder. Is it possible that a sport-utility could be too big? The Expedition stands an impressive 6' 4 ½" tall (vertically identical to this editor), it's 17 feet long and six and a half feet wide.
A good rule of thumb is that if it's too big to fit in a garage, it's probably an intimidating figure. In any case, large vehicles are sometimes perceived as a threat, however they are driven. Does that make them dangerous? No, but then, if a Chevy Cavalier had been following our Expedition from the same distance, the patrolman might not have perceived the same intimidation.
The next day, a couple of Edmund's editors, equipped with walkie-talkies, decided to go explore some slush-soaked Colorado backroads. Driving the Expedition off-road is more fun than we expected. The vehicle is bulky, but it handles dirt with the same enthusiasm as interstate tarmac. Bumps are absorbed comfortably, and the steering wheel provides direction without punishment. Due to the truck's enormous length and less-than-roadsterlike turning radius, narrow trails should be avoided. But we were able to coax the big Ford up a steep 30-degree grade without incident, thanks to short front and rear overhangs made possible by the long 119.1-inch wheelbase. Turning around at the top of the hill, the Expedition leaned but never felt tippy. Thanks to a respectable ground clearance, it's possible to glide over small rocks and brush. Our running boards came close to the ground, but we never bottomed out.
The thirsty 5.4-liter Triton V-8 engine makes 230 horsepower at 4,250 rpm and 325 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. Bigger than the standard 4.6-liter and obviously more powerful, the 5.4-liter engine still pales in comparison to GM's 5.7-liter 255 horsepower motor. Still, the Expedition can tow up to 7,900 lbs. and is capable of lugging a 2,000 lb. payload. During our evaluation, the truck averaged 14 mpg. Luckily, low gas prices made it possible to fill the 30-gallon tank for under $30. But just wait for the next gas crisis, America. Try a rush hour commute at 30 mph after oil prices jump back to normal. We can think of a whole new reason for Road Rage.
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