Graceful giant

Hefty writer Dinzo Tabamo weighs in on the hefty sport-ute and seriously wishes he were athletic and good-looking like the Ford Expedition
by Dinzo Tabamo | Feb 11, 2009


When I see a car with a number ‘8' license plate, I feel a pang of regret that my hard-earned tax pesos went to ferrying another lawmaker's ass. It's sad to see that more often than not, the Ford Expedition is the congressman's ride of choice - and that's a damn good ride we're paying for.

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Now, what if they bought this Expedition based on my review? What kind of irony is that?

Anyway, I got to live the good life of a congressman for about a week. Even the Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer lent to me was plastically brand-new (i.e. everything was still covered in plastic, exactly the way it arrives at your congressman's house after a landslide victory).

The first thing that strikes you is how darn big it is. In our buyer's guide, the only thing that outsizes the Ford Expedition is the Chevrolet Suburban. But despite the Exped's massive size, everything is rendered in proportion. Even the large chrome grille doesn't look out of place, giving character to an overall design that hasn't deviated much from the previous-generation Expedition.

This Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer actually belongs to the third generation of the Exped series and is riding on Ford's all-new T1 platform.

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I can even say that compared to its predecessors, this Expedition has managed to look handsome - a challenging feat for very large vehicles, which tend toward ‘macho' more than anything else. Not that this Expedition doesn't look manly; the enormous bulge on the hood alone takes care of that. The two-tone body cladding prevents the Exped from looking like one huge sheet of metal at first glance, giving it just a hint of sleekness. The integrated bumper foglights also add to this effect, putting a useful design element to the SUV's large face.

It takes a bit of practice to climb and clear the 22.1cm ground clearance and fix yourself on the high seat, but it's more than worth it. Our market gets only the Eddie Bauer variant, which is just as well since the Bauer interiors are superb. From the driving position, the whole cockpit looks swathed in wood and chrome, although there is some disappointing plastic that feels hollow. The slick shift lever is reminiscent of a boat's tiller. This reinforces the idea that you're practically driving a yacht on land.

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Looking around, your eyes rest on a rich landscape of handsome leather. All that hide won't make animal lovers' hearts light up (not with love anyway), but it sure looks and feels good. The seats are two-tone, which again breaks visual monotony and looks stylish. The center console is raised and covered in black leather, making it the perfect resting place for your elbow during long drives. The Exped is roomy, as expected of a car built for Americans, but one of the best features is the third-row seat. Ford is very proud of the fact that this folds down flat onto the floor at the touch of a button. No latches or removal required. This is perfect for airport duty.

The leather steering wheel is replete with buttons: The left side has cruise control (make that controls) and the right has audio controls. The steering-wheel controls of Chrysler vehicles are more intuitive but the Exped's are very helpful nonetheless. You never know how convenient and habit-forming it is to adjust volume and change tracks via the steering wheel until you try it. Then you'll start thinking every car should have steering wheel-mounted buttons.

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Insert the key, and even before turning it, the driver's seat automatically adjusts to the preset position, which you can save into the memory. When you remove the key, the seat slides back to let you step out of the vehicle more easily. It's not revolutionary, but it's a novel feature, and there's no denying it enhances ownership experience - as if the car customizes itself for you.

Turn the key and the 5.4-liter V8 rumbles to life. If the first Expedition handled like a barge, this one will make up for the sins of the past. It doesn't hide its size, but it puts its 495Nm of torque to good use when you step on the gas pedal. Acceleration is swift as expected from an engine like this, but what's more useful is the low-end torque. When maneuvering in slow-moving traffic, little taps on the gas pedal allow you to quickly dart into precious empty gaps between cars. Its heavy body rolls around corners but with surprising agility despite its bulk. And this is where part of the fun comes from: You know you're not in a small sporty sedan, but the fact that you can toss it like one 80 percent of the way puts a grin on your face.

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The brakes require anticipation. The Exped can't stop on a dime like the athletic German SUVs (BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne). Then again, sudden braking in those vehicles is a jerky affair - not acceptable for the Expedition. Its all-disc brakes have electronic brake force distribution that gradually but surely scrubs speed until the Exped's full mass is halted. And it does so in a relaxed manner that won't perturb your passengers. But stopping does require a bit of distance, so better anticipate.

The ride is not tomb-quiet nor isolated. You will feel how bad our roads are, but you won't feel all of it. We were shooting a Cayenne along with the Exped, and driving both SUVs back-to-back drove home the point of how much more comfortable this Ford SUV is. Of course, when it's time to attack the corners, that's another story.

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Complementing the comfortable ride is the splendid sound system. The Expedition has a six-disc in-dash CD changer and seven speakers. There's an auxiliary jack for plugging in those popular white MP3 players people seem to be crazy about these days.

The Expedition is still a gargantuan vehicle by any standard. Maneuvering and parking it takes getting used to. But it has grown into a refined and very good-looking SUV. Politicians with ego issues will like it, but families who prefer to keep a low-profile had better think twice, because the Exped has a physical footprint that's hard to ignore. And rightly so. When you have a vehicle this good, you have every reason to make your presence felt.

Source: Top Gear Philippines, January-February 2008

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