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HOPE, Alaska – When you're introducing your biggest and toughest vehicle, what better place than the biggest and toughest state?
Alaska is somewhat civilized during the summer, but only for three short months of the year. We were warned about bear and moose, which some took lightly – until we encountered a grizzly that towered at least a foot over ourExpedition!
Now Ford doesn't expect Alaska to ever be a major market, but with safety and comfort paramount in the designers' minds, this was a good place to check out the features and performance of the 1999 Expedition. Well over half of all the vehicles we encountered there were trucks, and we couldn't stop without the locals giving the cars a thorough check.
Ford benchmarked their luxury cars for ride and noise level targets in the Expedition, and the Toyota Land Cruiser and Range Rover for off-road performance. They claim to have met both marks, and after three days in the vehicle, I agreed.
While driving, I had to make a quick trip up narrow Alaska roads cluttered with Winnebagos. Even with the 4.6-liter V-8, we passed other cars with impunity. A slight drizzle kept the roads slick, and by keeping it in AWD, there was not the slightest discomfort or lurching often experienced in these tall and heavy vehicles.
Later we drove on a off-road trail used for training Army Hummer drivers, and found that the Expedition handled the road well in all four-wheel modes, but the standard suspension was rougher than most upscale buyers are likely to want. Amazingly, the optional air suspension made the Expedition drive like a different vehicle, even handling ruts and washboard surfaces without inducing seasickness.
This was one of the first vehicles brought to market under Ford 2000, the corporate reorganization aimed at more rapid development through sharing of resources throughout the world. Expedition is aimed at the more affluent consumer, who wants the extra comfort and capability that the extra 15 inches in length offers over the Explorer.