06/14/05 — Big Ford just right for beach trip

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Big Ford just right for beach trip

Ford Expedition (2005)

Only two of us were headed to the beach. But once there, our troop grew to six people, and then briefly to seven.

To accommodate this crowd and avoid having to drive two vehicles to the seafood restaurant and to the putt-putt golf course, we needed something that had a family-friendly third-row seat.

Choices are limited. It had to be a minivan or a mid-sized to large sport utility vehicle.

Ford Expedition, 2005

The minivan, in our estimation, is the obvious pick for such trips, especially if the vehicle is never going to leave the pavement. But, even in this day of escalating gas prices, for most people it means a big sport utility vehicle.

For this vacation we were given a 2005 Ford Expedition Limited to preview. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

The Expedition arrived on the market for the 1997 model year as a competitor to the full-sized Chevrolet Tahoe. It was completely revised for 2003 to keep it competitive with a growing field of like-sized vehicles including the Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada.

We found it exceptionally user friendly. The split third row seats can be powered flat into the floor, or raised back up from the floor, with the push of a button. That was a $495 option on our test vehicle, but one well worth the extra cash.

For a few days there was only one kid in the crowd, so we kept the 60 percent half of the third seat folded to better accommodate a set of golf clubs. When a second young teen joined the group, we had room to stick the clubs behind the third seat so that it could do passenger duties. On a few excursions down the beach road, an adult assumed the center position way back, and offered no complaints.

After seven days of frolicking, the brood headed out in separate directions and we were again reduced to two people, assorted luggage, a week’s worth of dirty clothes and a set of golf sticks. We simply powered both seatbacks to the floor and threw everything into the back for the return trip to the working world.

Packing was not necessary with the big expanse of room — 61 cubic feet — behind the second-row seats. If you need even more space, 110 cubic feet are available with the second and third rows folded.

Even the tight, aggravating parking lot at the condo gave us no trouble. The Expedition was outfitted with Ford’s reverse sensing system that emits a series of increasingly rapid beeps as you back closer to an object.

When pulling into those tight spaces, the Expedition proved surprisingly easy to maneuver.

You probably won’t lie awake on those cool beach nights in May worrying about the safety aspects of the vehicle setting outside in the parking lot, but for most responsible people safety is at least a subconscious concern.

Rest easy with the Expedition. If you have to worry, worry about something else, like how to pay for the week of sand and surf and food.

The Expedition has earned a double five-star rating in front crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. All Expeditions come with four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Assist and Brakeforce Distribution.

Dual-stage front airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and seat-track sensors match airbag deployment to driver size and the severity of the crash.

Optional is a Safety Canopy system consisting of side air curtains that provide rollover protection for the first and second row passengers, and the Advance Trac stability control system that is designed to keep a skidding vehicle under control.

The biggest complaint coming from 2003 and 2004 Expedition owners, as well as the automotive press, was the big truck’s small V-8 engines — making 232 and 260 horsepower. These engines were required to pull 5,352 pounds in 2-wheel drive mode and 5,607 pounds with 4-wheel drive.

Ford deftly answered those concerns by introducing a 5.4-liter V-8 that makes 300 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque as standard equipment in all 2005 Expeditions. The new engine gives the big sport utility enough juice to safely motivate under all driving conditions. And it gives the Expedition a prodigious tow rating of 8,900 pounds.

A 300-horsepower engine has been found in the Expedition’s platform mate, the upscale Lincoln Navigator, for several years. We thought each time we drove the Navigator how more suited it was to the vehicle than the V-8s offered in the Expedition.

The engine is smooth and quiet, no harsh sounds from the engine bay, and it works well with the standard 4-speed automatic transmission.

A fully independent rear suspension, a stiffer chassis and rack-and-pinion steering give the Expedition an incredibly solid stance in hard cornering, and a confidence-inspiring posture in emergency lane-change maneuvers.

Ford does a good job with its dashboard layout and switchgear. The Expedition layout is not an exception. Buttons and switches are easy to find and the gauges are easy to read.

The interior pieces have a quality look and feel. Particularly noteworthy are the chrome rings encircling the air vents, which can be turned to open or shut.

We found the front seats comfortable, and the standard leather package in our Limited test vehicle was attractive, and had a quality look and feel.

We had a 4-wheel drive model, which never left pavement. But what about the off-road capability of an Expedition? A first-hand test on the Ford proving grounds a couple years ago showed us that the Expedition can slog through the mud with the best of the big sport utes. In other words, if your goal is to haul seven fishermen to a secluded fishing camp on a muddy, rutted path, the Expedition is capable of answering the call.

If you feel a big sport utility is the ticket, be prepared to pay a big price at the showroom and then at the gas pumps.

Our Limited had a gas mileage rating of 14 miles per gallon city and 18 highway. We got about 14 mpg in a combination of driving.

The Expedition comes in several trim levels including an NBX off-road package with prices ranging from $34,275 for the no-frills XLS model to the top-of-the-line loaded 4-wheel drive Limited edition at $45,645.

Our Limited test vehicle with a handful of options, carried a window sticker with a breath-taking bottom line of $53,035.

You won’t pay that price, however. There should be big discounts on the Expedition throughout the 2005 model year.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on June 14, 2005 1:24 PM