1997 Ford Expedition XLT— The newest 4X4 people-mover

by Mary Iacoponi

Ford

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

She's the torque of the town

Industry insiders and sport-ute affectionadoes waited and wondered when Ford Motor Company would finally give the Chevy Suburban a true run for its money. Yes, folks, it has finally happened. Fordís all-new nine-passenger people-mover has arrived. And with a loud hoot and holler at that.

My first take on this very tall, very wide and very long sport utility vehicle was total intimidation -- the little-girl-big-truck syndrome. I wondered if the Ford engineers had pulled a fast one on us and loaded the Explorer with hundreds of zerk fittings and blasted it with 100 pounds per square inch air pressure. There was definitely nothing understated in the oversized nature of this beast.

Quickly fear transformed into fun as my comfort level increased at a mile-per-minute. My first stop at Fort Funston in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco clued me to the overwhelming positive public reaction this sport ute is enjoying. I pulled into a primo parking space in front of 20 top-notch hang-glider pilots. The first shout was, "Hey Mary! You finally brought us a good one!" They hurried toward me, pulled the doors open, popped the hood, grabbed every latch and knob, monkeyed with the switches, flopped the seats in every direction, snooped and poked in every little nook and cranny, and climbed over it in a fashion not unlike their local counterparts at the primate house in the zoo. There was no doubt -- Ford has a winner.

Ford offers two choices of single overhead cam V-8 Triton power in this handsome rugged sport ute -- a 4.6-liter engine with 215 horsepower or a 5.4-liter with 230 horsepower that adds $565 to your sticker price. Either one will do the job.

The Ford Expedition features a heavy-duty Control Trac system and computer-operated transfer case that continually monitors and adjusts torque delivery. A selector switch on the dash allows the driver four choices: 2H for normal two-wheel drive; A4WD can be selected on-the-fly for intermittent slippery conditions (rain,snow,sand,gravel); 4H locks the four-wheel drive for off-roading and also works on-the-fly; 4L locks the transfer case in low-range for severe off-road conditions.

My Vermont green test vehicle came equipped with the 5.4-liter engine coupled with an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. I got a chance to really test this machine on a ski trip to Lake Tahoe during a nasty winter storm requiring chain controls or 4X4ís over the pass. A foot of Sierra cement (as affectionately dubbed by Tahoe locals) had accumulated on the roadways and the Expedition was exceptionally surefooted. No problems navigating this big boy no matter which 4X4 choice I settled on. And being able to shift on-the-fly makes it so easy and all the more fun. Better still, the Expedition gave a luxury car ride on the chain damaged pavement. Guess that longer 119-inch wheelbase helps smooth the ride and adds more stability to the Expedition. And all that glass gives every passenger the best scenic view.

My tester sported prairie tan leather captainís chairs with a front floor console which are standard on the Eddie Baur version but cost an extra $1300 on this vehicle. This allows great comfort for the driver and shotgun passenger but reduces people-moving to eight. The floor console has audio controls and headphone jacks for rear passengers. The tan and taupe interior and the wraparound instrument dash design is quite good-looking. The removable three-passenger third-row seat allows the whole team to join you on expeditions and it also folds flat for large load hauling.

"Aggressive" best describes the Expeditionís exterior. Whether itís the bumpers, fenders , wheels or windshield, the Ford engineers purposely pronounced and announced itís arrival. And the good news is that it is coveted by both the rugged outdoors types and the momsí in the Nordstrom parking lot. "Hot " doesnít hardly describe it.

And letís not forget the illuminated running boards -- they were a hit with every friend that had the good luck to join me in my test drive. If you can see over this sport ute call your local NBA recruiter immediately. Otherwise, for the mere mortals among us, running boards are in tall order -- a recommended must-have.

Other Expedition pluses include: Ford MACH Audio System with subwoofer and six-disc CD changer; optional air ride suspension system with four-corner load leveling; reclining seat backs for first and second row seats; two power points for computers, cell phones etc.

Fuel economy, however, isnít the Expeditionís strong point -- youíll be glad your equipped with a 30-gallon tank. My combo trip of city, highway and 4X4 gave me 12.7 miles per gallon -- not unexpected from a vehicle with a curb weight of 5,321 pounds and passenger-payload capacity of 1875 pounds.

The Expedition shares the F-150 platform and makes use of nearly half of its components. The millions of miles worth of F-150 testing and this design approach allowed Ford to offer this sport ute at a great price. Base price for my test vehicle -- the Expedition XLT 4X4 -- is $29,870. Loaded with all the extras, the sticker tops of at $36,625. The Expedition is the best thing Fordís got and the best part is -- it still fits in your garage. Check one out at your local Ford dealer - - that is if you can find one. Local dealer personnel tell me the minute they hit the showroom floor they are gone.

GEARHEAD CHECKLIST:
1997 Ford Expedition XLT - 4X4

TYPE: Luxo sports ute
SPECIFICATIONS: front-engine, four-wheel-drive, five-door, eight passenger sport utility vehicle
ENGINE: SOHC 5.4-liter V-8, 230 horsepower at 4,400 rpm, 290 foot pounds of torque at 3,250 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 5,321 pounds
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 12.7 miles per gallon (observed)
PRICE AS TESTED: $ 36,625
FOR: cool looking, great handling and lots of room
AGAINST: nothing much - wish it had a lesser affinity for petroleum products
MARY'S SCORECARD:

We rate this vehicle against similar luxury sport utility vehicles in four categories important to customers - plus a fifth category for relative dollar value. The maximum category score of 20 points has been adjusted for 4X4 vehicles because a sixth category had to be added for off-road capability.

  Test Points Max.Points
1. COASTAL CURVES / HIT THE ESSES:
handles great - no leaning & rolling with this one
19 20
2. VALLEY LOGJAM / THE COMMUTER'S BANE
a true people mover - for the team, family, or commuter
19 20
3. THE FAST LANE / PEDAL-TO-THE-METAL
rides like a luxury car - lots of comfort and stability
19 20
4. THE CITY SLICKER / STYLE & TASTE
oversized look has punch & appeal
19 20
5. THE 1997 BUYER / FACE VALUE
shared F-150 platform kept the price down - super value
9 10
6. OFF-ROAD TREKKING / JUST DO IT
surefooted, easy turning, lots of towing power
9 10
Total Scorecard points 94 points 100 points
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