Whether we're talking about wine, cheese, dishwasher detergent or cars, getting more for less is something of a rarity these days. But that's exactly what's happening with the 2007 Ford Expedition. Ford's largest SUV is mostly new for 2007. It offers big improvements in comfort, safety and control, yet costs significantly less than the 2006 model it replaces.
The price cut is compelling: Entry-level base model XLT Expeditions list for $29,995 (including destination and delivery fees), which is $5,485 less than last year's base model, the Expedition XLS. Savings are across the entire range. Eddie Bauer Expeditions are down $3,200 and the Expedition Limited will set you back $3,500 less than the '06 model.
Skyrocketing fuel costs have reduced the large SUV market from 1 million units in 2004 to an estimated 650,000 this year. Retaining market share in this climate means offering more and selling it for less. Ford, apparently, has figured this out.
The new Expedition is competitive at nearly every level. The big powertrain change is the addition of Ford's six-speed automatic transmission, which should offer significant gains in both performance and economy over the four-speed it replaces. The 5.4-liter three-valve V8 engine, which is rated at 300 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque, remains the same.
Ford engineers realized a 10-percent increase in torsional and bending rigidity thanks to an all-new chassis that utilizes new front and rear suspension designs and sends the rear driveshafts through the frame rails. A five-link independent rear suspension replaces the old double-wishbone setup. In conjunction with the monotube shocks, the new design allowed engineers more precise ride/handling tuning.
New standard safety features are always welcome on any SUV, and Ford is incorporating several critical additions into its latest Expedition. All three rows are now protected by airbags. The front row incorporates seat-mounted side airbags with side curtain airbags that protect passengers in all three rows from rollover injury. Standard dual-stage front airbags are in place for the driver and passenger.
Ford's traction and stability control system, AdvanceTrac with RSC (Roll Stability Control), is now standard as well -- a significant addition considering the lower price.
Better inside and out
The 2007 Expedition isn't all that proportionally different from the model it replaces. The new body is a little more blocky in the rear, with some detail changes similar to the F-150 pickup in the grille and hood. Twenty-inch wheels are now an option, with 17-inchers starting on the base model. Overall, the look is an appropriately modern reskin that distinguishes itself from last year's model without looking too truck derivative.
The most important changes come inside -- particularly in the third row, which is now a realistic environment for full-sized people. Ford claims it will comfortably seat a 6-foot-2-inch adult. We sat in the Expedition's third row back-to-back with the Chevrolet Tahoe and were impressed by its additional space -- enough to actually keep knees at the seat bottom level rather than forcing a fetal position with knees closer to the chest. Thanks to the independent rear suspension, the Ford has a lower load floor, which allows far more space and comfort. The third-row seat is also available in a split-folding (60/40) design that folds flat into the floor using buttons in the cargo area.
Second-row seating is available in two options: a 40/20/40 split-bench configuration or with two captain's chairs and a walk-though center passage. Either configuration folds flat with the load floor.
Big efforts were made to improve front-seat comfort and we were impressed with the front seat's cushioning and adjustability. XLT models will come standard with six-way power seats and all models with leather will have a 10-way-adjustable power driver seat. Several leather options are available: Eddie Bauer packages offer gray leather with colored accents and Limited models will include either monochromatic gray or black leather. Seat heaters and coolers are available options.
On the road and in the garage
There's also newfound agility and ride comfort. We drove the large SUV on ultra-twisty backcountry roads that would have many cars struggling, and were impressed with its handling. It's still a big vehicle and demands you respect it as such, but its steering response, controllability and general composure were striking. It was easy to place and didn't feel like a 6000-pound SUV.
The six-speed transmission upshifts smoothly, but takes a few ticks to find the right gear in passing situations. The 5.4-liter V8 feels overburdened in these situations anyway, which forces the driver to pick passing zones carefully. Still, the Ford powertrain holds its own on paper versus the Chevrolet Tahoe, which has only 20 more horsepower but 25 lb-ft less torque and still has a four-speed automatic transmission.
With the purging of the monstrous Excursion from the lineup, Ford needed a vehicle to compete with the Chevrolet Suburban. The answer is the Expedition EL (Extended Length), which adds 12 inches to the standard Expedition's wheelbase and 14.8 inches to its overall length, bringing them to 131 inches and 221.4 inches, respectively. The Suburban is only 1.1 inches longer but has a 1-inch-shorter wheelbase. EL Expeditions have an additional 24 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, including a highly functional cargo divider/storage shelf that folds into the floor.
New Expeditions are rated to tow up to 9200 pounds in standard-wheelbase two-wheel-drive trim. Standard Expeditions are available with two axle ratios (3.73:1 and 3.31:1). The Expedition EL is available only with the shorter 3.73 gearing. You'll pay an additional $2,650 over the price of a standard Expedition for the EL version. Four-wheel drive is a $2,900 option on either model.
With $3-per-gallon average fuel prices scaring people away from large SUVs at an alarming rate, Ford still manages to make a compelling case for the Expedition -- at least for anyone who actually needs one of these beasts.
The real decision for most folks will come down to price this fall when 2007 Ford Expeditions hit showrooms. That's where the Expedition shines. It matches or exceeds the Tahoe in usability, drivability and towing capacity. And a base-model-to-base-model price comparison gives Ford the nod by almost $3,300. It's hard to say you're not getting more for less with that kind of a deal.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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