SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide
Ford was temporarily caught by surprise when large sport- utility sales started taking off a few years ago. The company's midsized Explorer was, and is, the best-selling vehicle in its class, and one of the most modern. But the full-sized Bronco was an anachronism. Available only in a 2-door body style and not in the 4-door style necessary for success today, no amount of Eddie Bauer trim and other attempts at civilization could hide the fact that the Bronco was an old- style truck more suited for the Baja 1000 than the shopping mall parking lot.
That situation has been rectified. The Expedition is everything that the Bronco wasn't. It is a sport-utility for the modern market, with all of the comfort and convenience of a large family car and all of the ruggedness of a truck. "Civilized" doesn't even begin to describe its nature. The Expedition uses a modified F150 pickup frame and front bodywork, and has its own unique rear suspension. The passenger cabin and interior show a relationship to the smaller Explorer. Both the F150 and Explorer have been wildly successful, and the Expedition is following in their footsteps. It is offered in XLT or Eddie Bauer trim levels with a choice of rear or 4-wheel drive. After a week with a 4x4 Eddie Bauer version equipped with the 5.4-liter engine and all of the luxury fittings, I could see why it's so popular. It was as comfortable and capable as any sport-utility I've ever driven, including some that cost substantially more. It had top-notch power, handling and comfort. The old family wagon never was so good.
APPEARANCE: There is no getting around the Expedition's size. "Fits in the standard garage" says the Ford literature. Maybe, but first check the size of the garage. The luggage rack on the roof tops out over six and a half feet on 4x4 models. The size may be imposing, but the style is recognizably contemporary Ford. The Expedition looks like someone brought up the computer-aided design program on a workstation, and then took the passenger cabin to an Explorer, made it bigger, and grafted it to the front part of an F150. It works, and the rounded hood and dropped front fenders contrast well with the squarish cabin. The Eddie Bauer edition has a body-colored fascia around the trapezoidal grille. Wheel arch and lower body cladding continue the motif of the protective plastic strip covering the top of the massive chromed steel bumpers. The windshield is well-raked, and chrome trim is absent from the cabin area. From the rear, the Expedition looks very much like the Explorer, but larger. Much larger.
COMFORT: It's a climb up into the cabin of the 4x4 Expedition unless the optional lighted running boards are installed. Inside, the Expedition is a modern Ford. Sculpted ovals abound, but function is not sacrificed to style. Comfort, convenience, and luxury in the Eddie Bauer model are nearly at Lincoln levels. Leather covers the power-adjustable front bucket seats, rear bench, third-row jump seats, and the tilt-adjustable steering wheel. Windows, mirrors, and door locks are power-operated, of course. The flowingly molded instrument panel places gauges and controls usefully. The rear quarter windows swing open for ventilation; their controls are located in a useful overhead console. The climate control system is typically Ford - fast and efficient for both warm or cool air. The AM/FM/cassette/CD sound system gives high-quality performance, and the CD changer is conveniently mounted in the central console. Head and leg room for the rear seat is first-class, and passengers get their own climate and sound system controls. The third- row seats are best suited for small people, but, with theater-style progressive seat height, everyone gets a view. The rear seat rows can be folded, and the spare tire is mounted under the chassis for increased interior space and visibility.
SAFETY: The 1997 Ford Expedition is a sport-utility that stops as well as it goes. Standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes see to that. It also has dual air bags and meets 1999 side-impact standards.
ROADABILITY: The Expedition has the best ride of any current sport-utility. It has a noticeable lack of bounciness and body motion. It is quite impressive considering the height, which magnifies any pitching or rolling motions. The ride is firm but not harsh, and visibility is excellent. The speed-sensitive power steering makes parking easy. The Expedition is an excellent cruiser on highways, byways, and dirt roads.
PERFORMANCE: My test vehicle had the optional 5.4-liter version of the Ford single overhead cam "modular" V8. With 230 hp and a very healthy 325 lb-ft of torque, acceleration around town, on the highway, or in the hills was absolutely no problem. The 4-speed electronically- controlled automatic transmission is smooth and quick, and the optional Control Trac 4-wheel drive system offers traction for all conditions.
CONCLUSIONS: Ford has raised the bar in the full-sized sport-utility field with the Expedition. It combines luxury car comfort with minivan spaciousness and truck ruggedness and towing ability.
SPECIFICATIONS 1997 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer 4x4 Base Price $ 33,875 Price As Tested $ 38,440 Engine Type single overhead cam V8 Engine Size 5.4 liters / 329 cu. in. Horsepower 230 @ 4250 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 325 @ 3000 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 119.0 in. / 204.6 in. Curb Weight 5320 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 23.1 Fuel Capacity 30 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P265/70 R17 Goodyear Wrangler R/T Brakes, front/rear vented disc / disc Suspension, front/rear independent unequal-length A-arms with torsion bars / solid axle with air springs Ground Clearance 8 inches Drivetrain front engine, automatic on-demand 4-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 13/17/13 0 to 60 mph 9.9 sec. Towing Capacity 8000 lbs.