PUGET ISLAND, Wash. -- We're following Washington state route 409 as it winds across an island in the Columbia River while steering a new generational design for Expedition, the full-size sport-utility vehicle from Ford.
Designers at Ford reworks this big wagon for 2007 and forged two new versions -- a standard-length Expedition with 119-inch wheelbase and the stretched EL ("extended length") edition with a 131-inch wheelbase and more room in the seven-passenger cabin including 24 cubic feet of extra space added to the cargo bay.
Body styling also changes with the re-do for a bold design patterned after Ford's best-selling F-150 truck.
Expedition looks muscular in the new style posed in tall stance with a squarish prow, curvy ripples on each side around the wheelwells and large dual-beam headlamp clusters on front corners flanking a big three-bar grille in the shape of an inverted trapezoid.
A band of protective cladding rings the SUV at its base, forming a low fascia up front with inserts for air vents and foglamps, and on sides as door shields.
Overall, it's an eye-catching design of crisp angles and complex curves blending together to provide a unique statement for one powerful SUV.
Expedition's name traces to its inception in 1997 as Ford's full-size SUV offered with two trims and two V8 engine options plus modes for two-wheel-drive (2WD) and four-wheel-drive (4WD) traction.
A second design in 2003 resembled the original but brought more room in the passenger compartment and a third-row bench seat which collapsed into a flat cargo floor for a slick disappearing act with optional push-button power.
For 2007, Expedition and the stretched new EL version score a robust new fully-boxed tube-through-tube frame that's stronger and far less flexible than the previous chassis.
And the revamped wagons carry a suspension system rarely found on a truck -- there are independent components suspending the rear wheels as well as the front ones.
There's a new scheme in front with independent short-and-long-arm (SLA) design with coil-over shocks and 36-mm stabilizer bar.
In the rear is a new independent five-link arrangement with coil-over shocks plus stabilizer bar sized from 18 mm to 21 mm.
And monotube shocks mounted at all four corners allow for precise tuning.
These structural changes to chassis and suspension dramatically affect the ride and handling characteristics.
Despite the full-size girth and triple-ton weight, Ford's big wagons act surprisingly nimble so they're easy to maneuver on pavement as well as dirt or snow and seem entirely pleasant to drive.
During our day-long tests of Expedition and the EL, we discover that the wagons feel smooth and settled now like they're part of the road.
When steered into a tight bend, they react with a flat stance to forge a stable track through the curve without tossing the structure off-center or unsettling riders strapped inside.
The mechanism is a rack and pinion device which provides precise control and good feedback to the driver.
Added is a new variable-boost steering pump with aluminum components. It reduces the steering effort at slow speeds for easy-to-turn maneuverability yet maintains a firm feel at fast speeds.
Stopping capability rises, thanks to larger brake calipers plus thicker rotors, while a new dual-bore master cylinder brings a firmer feel to the brake pedal.
And there's big-time muscle aboard the new Expeditions with Ford's 5.4-liter Triton V8 engine linked to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The plant produces 300 hp at 5000 rpm with torque of 365 lb-ft at 3750 rpm.
Trailer towing capacity climbs to 9200 pounds.
For the re-make of Expedition for 2007, Ford packs more insulation aboard to craft a quiet cabin environment, piles on more plush gear to enhance passenger comfort and adds additional safety systems to protect the riders, then overhauls trim tiers and price points to deliver more SUV for less dollars.
There are 2WD and 4WD versions with equipment increasing through tiers of XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited.
The 4WD models employ a two-speed transfer case with optional electronic shift-on-the-fly capability as controlled by a dash-mounted rotary knob.
Gear promoting active safety includes an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and Ford's AdvanceTrac anti-skid equipment with Roll Stability Control (RSC).
Throughout the vast cabin, car-like details for comfort and practicality may be found -- from cup holders and multiple support handles to hooks and handy levers.
Layout of the cabin shows captain's chairs on the front row, a middle row with either two captain's chairs or a bench split 40/20/40 with easy fold-and-flip outboard sections, and the optional third-row 60/40-split bench that tucks flat into the floor with optional electric power controls.
The EL stretch not only brings more rear room but better backseat access with rear doors that swing out wider to open.
Expedition XLT dresses the cabin with a dark gray dashboard, steel trim and embossed cloth seat inserts.
Eddie Bauer brings gray leather-trimmed seats with accents in tones of camel or stone.
The Limited goes monochromatic in dark gray or charcoal with optional caramel-colored leather seat inserts and mahogany wood accents.
Optional equipment extends from a 340-watt audio kit with six-disc CD changer and six speakers plus a jack for MP3 players to a DVD video entertainment system, Sirius satellite radio service and power controls on the liftgate or the Powerfold third-row seat.
Despite new designs with more standard safety gear like curtain-style air bags and AdvanceTrac, Expedition comes to market with price points averaging $4,300 below 2006 models.
Expedition XLT lists at $29,175, and EL XLT is $31,825