Between Explorer, Excursion and Expedition, Ford has just as many “Exes” as Demi Moore. One of them, the subject of this overview, Ford’s Expedition was introduced back in 1997, as a replacement for the Ford Bronco. The O.J. Simpson “slow-speed chase” in Los Angeles — piloted by Simpson’s longtime friend Al Cowlings — made that Ford suv infamous.
And while that bit of trivia undoubtedly had very little to do with Ford’s discontinuation of the Bronco, the subject of this overview, the Ford Expedition, did benefit from the Bronco’s axing. And while it was Ford’s mid-size SUV when it was introduced, today, the Expedition is Ford’s largest SUV offering. Additionally, with the conversion of the Explorer to a unibody configuration, the Expedition is the last body-on-frame, truck-based SUV in Ford’s lineup.
There have been three generations of the Ford Expedition offered since it was introduced.
1997 - 2002
First offered in late 1996, as a 1997 model, the Ford Expedition was based on the Ford F-150 pickup truck of the time. In a crafty bit of strategy, Ford’s engineers positioned the Expedition to be larger than Chevrolet’s Tahoe, but smaller than the company’s Suburban, with seating for up to nine passengers.
This was accomplished with a bench seat up front, as well as a third row bench seat in the rear of the Expedition. In addition to its remarkable people packing skills, acquiring that first Expedition bought considerable kit as well. Offered in two levels of trim, XLT and Eddie Bauer, Ford’s Expedition featured, in addition to the three row seating we referred to above, a choice of captain’s chairs in the first and second rows, premium leather upholstered seating surfaces, running boards with illumination, heated outside mirrors, a power-operated moon roof, dual zone automatic climate control, and the body shakin’ Ford Mach Audio system with a subwoofer stashed in the back of the Expedition.
Powering that first Expedition was a pair of V8 engines; the 4.6-liter V8 made 215 horsepower and 290 ft-lbs of torque. The big engine was a 230-horsepower, 5.4-liter V8, which delivered 325 ft-lbs of torque. Offered in both rear-drive and four-wheel drive configurations, Expeditions ran their power through four-speed automatic transmissions.
With the 5.4 and a heavy-duty tow package, the Expedition would pull up to 8,100 pounds. The 1997 Expedition also carried a payload of 2,000 pounds.
A special offroad kit included skid plates for additional underbody protection, as well as a limited-slip rear differential. The optional pneumatic suspension system enabled the driver to raise and lower the Expedition as needed for either additional ground clearance, or to make ingress and egress easier when employing the system’s “kneel down” mode.
The 1997 Expedition’s four-wheel drive system came with a heavy-duty transfer case and was capable of operating in four different drive modes; 2WD-high, Auto, 4WD-high with the differential locked, and 4WD-low with the differential locked.
With so much already on offer, Ford let the Expedition ride into model year 1998 with no significant changes.
For 1999, the Command Trac four-wheel drive system was revised. Its 2WD-high mode was dropped from the choice of drive configurations, making CommandTrac Expeditions full-time 4WD. Both of Expedition’s engines got power upgrades, with the 4.6 being bumped to 232 horsepower and 291 ft-lbs of torque and the 5.4 increased to 260 horsepower and 345 ft-lbs of torque. On the cosmetic side, a new front grille was installed as well as a new front bumper with integrated foglights.
Detail changes carried the Expedition into the last year of the 20th century. Ford’s engineers added adjustable pedals to make the Expedition adapt to a broader variety of drivers, and the radio antenna was integrated into the right rear quarter panel window. Auto dimming rearview mirrors were incorporated, turn signal repeaters were added to the side view mirror frames, and sonar backup sensors were installed to aid in backing and reversing maneuvers.
For 2001, rear seat passengers in the base-level XLT Expedition could go incognito, thanks to the addition of rear privacy glass to its roster of standard features. Home Link was added to the list of Eddie Bauer features, 4WD Eddie Bauers also got a class IV trailering package. Captain’s chairs were specified as standard equipment for the second row of the upscale Expedition; swathed in leather — of course. Rear seat video entertainment was introduced as an Eddie Bauer option for 2001 as well.
With an impending redesign in the works, 2002 Expeditions ran the same configurations as 2001 models.
2003 – 2006
For 2002, Expedition got an all-independent suspension system, making it the first full-size body-on-frame SUV to run that arrangement. This enabled Ford’s engineers to improve the Expedition’s ground clearance by nearly an inch and a half. Towing capacity was increased to 8,900 pounds when paired with the heavy-duty tow package and the proper axle ratio.
CommandTrac got its 2WD mode back, and the system got computer controlled terrain sensing technology to regulate slip. The steering system was replaced, the brake rotors were enlarged, and the brake calipers were reinforced as well — all in an effort to improve the towing ability of Ford’s (then) mid-size SUV. As remarkable as it seems when you see an Expedition in the flesh, back in 2003, Ford had an even bigger SUV in its lineup, the aircraft carrier-sized Ford Excursion.
With the redesign came three models (XLT, Eddie Bauer and FX4); along with four trim levels; XLT Value, XLT Popular, XLT Premium, and Eddie Bauer. XLT Value was the base model — featuring a CD player, air conditioning, a flip-up rear hatch window and power-adjustable pedals. The next level up, the Popular package, added running boards, rear-seat climate controls and auto-dimming mirrors. Moving farther up the scale to the Premium package brought leather upholstered power seats and a floor console.
The 2003 Eddie Bauer package’s trip computer, automatic climate control, reverse sensing system, and in-dash six-disc CD changer, comprised the components of the ultimate pre-packaged Expedition. However, there were standalone options as well; a CD-based navigation system, DVD entertainment system, a power folding third-row seat, heated and cooled front seats, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The FX4 model, configured specifically for off road, er—expeditions (you had to know that was coming at some point…) included skid plates, off-road shock absorbers, and tubular running boards. That model was available only with 4WD and the 5.4-liter engine.
Engine choices and output remained the same as they had been since the last engine upgrade in 1999 took the 4.6 to 232 horsepower and 291 ft-lbs. The 5.4-liter V8 returned as well for ’03, still producing 260 horsepower. However, its torque output was increased to an even 350 ft-lbs. Ford stuck with the four speed automatic transmissions as well.
Safety gear included four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake assist and electronic brake force distribution. Ford’s Personal Safety System was the catchall phrase applied to its suite of active restraints including; dual stage airbags, seat belt pretensioners and sensors that determined the intensity of airbag deployment based on the size of the driver and the severity of the crash.
Ford’s Safety Canopy System provided side and head impact protection for the both the first and second row passengers. Rollover sensors adjusted airbag deployment for additional protection.
The FX4 nomenclature was dropped in favor of the NBX designation. The XLT Value model was redesignated XLS and the XLT Sport trim level was added.
The year of the most significant number of changes for the GEN2 Expedition, 2005 saw the 4.6-liter V8 discontinued, leaving the 5.4 to power all Expedition models. The good news is, it got even more power. For 2005, the 5.4-liter made 300 horsepower and 365 ft-lbs of torque. The four-speed automatic transmission was reworked to incorporate electronic shift scheduling, improving fuel economy and smoothness.
New roof rails were fitted and the Expedition lineup got a new even more high-end model than the Edie Bauer. Called Expedition Limited, it featured chromed roof rails, chromed aluminum wheels, power seats, powered folding side view mirrors and a chromed exhaust tip. The interior of the King Ranch Expedition Limited was laced with both genuine wood trim and simulated wood trim, in addition to “Castano” leather seating surfaces. Also for 2005, Expedition became Ford’s largest SUV. Excursion was cancelled in 2004.
The last year of production for the second generation of the Expedition saw only minor adjustments. Park assist and the SafetyCanopy airbag kit were added to the standalone options list.
The third generation Expedition debuted with primarily mechanical updates, although there were cosmetic changes as well. The chassis was reinforced for more stiffness, the brakes were enlarged, and the four-speed automatic transmission was replaced by a six-speed (finally). The 5.4-liter V8 carried over, still making 300 horsepower and 365 ft-lbs of torque.
Stability control and seat-mounted airbags were included as standard equipment, as were side curtain airbags for all three rows. Soundproofing was enhanced, the seats were redesigned, the air conditioning system was given more capacity and the tech invasion hit Ford’s now largest SUV. The optional navigation system was upgraded to a DVD-based solution and got a touchscreen. The 2007 Expedition’s newly upgraded audio systems incorporated an MP3 player audio input jack and Sirius satellite radio compatibility.
Three trim levels were offered: XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited. XLT seated five and came with seventeen-inch wheels, automatic headlights, running boards, a Class III trailer hitch, air-conditioning, a six-speaker CD stereo with an MP3 player input jack, front captain's chairs with six-way power adjustments for the driver, cruise control, and full power accessories.
If all of that wasn’t enough for you, you could opt into the Expedition Eddie Bauer. That version seated eight with a power-folding third-row seat. Its dual-zone automatic climate control system offered separate rear controls, and music sounded better in the Bauer thanks to its more powerful sound system—which also included an in-dash six-disc CD changer.
Additional comfort was afforded via leather upholstery, a ten-way power adjustable driver’s seat with memory, and a six-way power front-passenger seat. Rounding out the Expedition Eddie Bauer’s feature set was a trip computer and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
And if that wasn’t enough for you either, the full boat Expedition Limited came with eighteen-inch chromed wheels, heated and cooled perforated leather seats, a ten-way power adjustable front-passenger seat, and a wooden steering wheel trimmed with leather.
The options list featured a manually folding third-row seat for the XLT, which would increase its seating capacity to eight. A set of second-row captain's chairs, a sunroof, a rear-seat DVD video entertainment system, and Sirius satellite radio was available as well. Eddie Bauer and Limited models could be equipped with a DVD-based navigation system and a power liftgate. A Class IV towing package was available, enabling a 9,200-pound towing capacity. And while the NBX off road package wasn’t offered for 2007, XLT buyers could get the skid plates and tubular step bars it was offered with in 2006.
The King Ranch edition was brought back for ’08, with its more plush “Chapparal” leather, a specific set of eighteen-inch wheels and genuine wood trim. Power operated running boards became available, which deployed when the doors were opened to make climbing “Mt. Expedition” much easier. A rear view backup camera system, transmitted its picture to a monitor hidden in the Expedition’s rear-view mirror as an option for all except the XLT trim level. The look of the XLT models went more upscale, thanks to the replacement of the black plastic trim with body colored panels. Ford’s keyless entry keypad became standard, as did an auxiliary air conditioning system for the rear-seat passengers.
Ford’s capless fuel filling system, smart windshield wipers, and the Microsoft Sync telematics system were folded in the Expedition’s mix of features. While the V8’s horsepower rating was upped to 310, the torque rating stayed the same at 365 ft-lbs.
The Sync system developed for Ford by Microsoft, enabled voice control of telephone, navigation and audio entertainment. With the Sirius satellite radio subscription was offered Sirius Travel Link. This feature provided traffic, sports and weather information—in addition to movie listings and local fuel prices.
The rearview camera’s feed was ported to the navigation system’s touch-screen monitor, rather than the rear-view mirror — unless of course, the nav system was not fitted to the model ordered. A 10-gig hard drive permitted the storage of music files, eliminating the need to haul CDs around in the Expedition. And, Bluetooth appeared in the Expedition for the first time in 2009.
Ford’s MyKey system was incorporated, enabling owners to set predetermined operating parameters for the Expedition. Top speed of the Expedition could be limited, the audio system’s maximum volume could be arbitrarily established and a continuous alert could be enabled if seatbelts weren’t fastened. The trailer sway control system added to the Expedition for 2010 would apply braking and throttle adjustments if sway were detected in the trailer.
Current Model (2011)
The Eddie Bauer designation was phased out, and a more modestly equipped version of the Expedition debuted called XL. Headrest monitors were embraced for the video entertainment system and a complimentary three-year subscription was offered for the Sirius Travel Link system.
Seamlessly adopting the mantle of Ford’s largest SUV with the demise of the Excursion in 2004, Ford’s Expedition is a robust solution to any large family’s transportation needs. If you routinely haul a lot of gear, pull a big boat, or tow a large horse trailer, an Expedition could be just the ride you need as well.
Times have changed considerably since the Expedition was launched however, and the advent of the car-based crossover suv has introduced newfound comfort and refinement to the species. For many people, something along those lines is all they really need. As time as worn on, the need for something like the Expedition has become more and more specialized.
Of course, this is America; what people need and what they want doesn’t always inhabit the same plane. That said, if you’ve got your heart set on a traditional full-size SUV, Ford’s Expedition has a lot going for it. Unlike many of the other SUV's in its category, the Expedition boasts genuine offroad capability—particularly when equipped with the FX4 or NBX packages.
As for reliability, the engines and transmissions fitted to the big Ford are highly proven, robust, and durable besides. Yes, there have been recalls of the Expedition over the years, and you’ll do well to research the model year of your interest to learn which apply and ensure they required updates were fitted.
The best way to do this is with a thorough pre-purchase physical inspection by a trusted professional mechanic, one well-versed in the ways of big Ford sport utes. Additionally, you’ll want to order up a vehicle history report to make sure you’re not getting an Expedition that has been victimized by likes of flood damage, or a salvage title.