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This year, my number’s up. Yep, it’s finally my turn. First-born off to college. GPA stress. Calculating allowances for meals and books. Two semesters’ worth of student loans percolating through my checkbook. Numbers flying at me from everywhere. They’re all red. I’m blue.
Then, just when The Wife and I had gotten used to one-third less rumble in the hallways and one-third fewer histrionics at the make-up mirrors — after Mary’s two younger sisters, in other words, had cannibalized her room and relegated her picked-over chattles to the guest bedroom — it was time to drive down to Austin, Texas, and fetch Mary home. Mary and her accumulated trove of dormware, that is.
It turned out that I was scheduled for an evaluation of the 2004 Ford Expedition the very week Mary’s dormitory was to be padlocked behind her. Ford kindly granted permission for a road-trip to Texas Hill Country and back, and a whole new series of numbers is one of the by-products.
Dollars and daughters
For starters, how about 1717 miles for the Nashville-Austin round-trip? Or 26-and-a-half hours of driving time out of a total of 55 hours away from home? That’s a pretty darn good 65 mile-an-hour average driving pace, if I do say so myself. Even better, it’s a 31 mile-an-hour “rate of progress” even while sleeping and eating.
Then there’s the average of $1.923 per gallon for the 115 gallons of regular gasoline pumped along the way. Make that five fill-ups at an average of $44 per tank-full. Make that 16.7 miles-per-gallon actually consumed on the road (leaving about twelve gallons on-board and unused at trip’s end). Make that 11.5 cents-per-mile for hauling a kid and her cargo cross-country for a three-month recess, at the end of which the process simply repeats itself.
I’ve two more kids left!
So perhaps you can sense the context within which I’m inclined to evaluate Ford’s full-size sport-utility vehicle, the Expedition. As a troop carrier, it’s a three-row and seven-, eight- or nine-seat wonder. As a cargo-handler, it’s expandable from 20.6 cubic feet to 60.9 cu. ft. to 110.5 cu. ft., up to a payload limit of 1629 pounds. If you’re inclined to pull things behind you, the Expedition XLT 4X4 with 5.4-liter V-8 is tow-rated for 8650 lb. In other words, this is an SUV that’s meant to shuttle lots of people and things around in very large batches.
In the present instance, Mary’s University of Texas loot comprised 26 cu. ft., which fit behind the upright second-row bench seat. Ford's clever (albeit slow) PowerFold third row bench folds absolutely flat, the better to accommodate my own brand of paternally persnickety packing according to timeless geometric principles. Everything, in other words, nested with everything else atop a perfectly square floor measuring 50 inches on a side; and nothing rose higher than the 18-in windowsill in order to preserve a complete rear view.
2004 Ford Expedition XLT 4x4Enlarge Photo
And let's not forget the four giant, 39-gallon trash bags stuffed with laundry that managed to fill an entire Yakima "Space Cadet" cargo pod fastened to the Expedition's roof-mounted rack system. Think about that for a moment: that’s 15 cu. ft. of dirty duds, the equivalent of an entire trunk in a large sedan. If Mary is — as she certainly appears to be — a perfectly normal undergraduate coed, what must that dormitory have looked like over the last two semesters? Smelled like? Oh! the humanity...
Those are my numbers, and I’m sticking to ’em. Just the same, they leave me in a bit of a quandary, a bit of a pickle. Regular visitors to this space will no doubt acknowledge my distinct lack of, shall we say, zeal in cheerleading for humongo-SUVs. After all, when a 5700-lb vehicle confronts fuel costs approaching $2-per-gallon, the implications of a 13-mpg city, 17-mpg highway mileage rating are stark.
Then again, clipping along for 1700 miles over 26 hours behind the wheel at an average 65 mph is movin’. Much as I admire the MINI and its ingenious 24 cu. ft. of cargo space, I am positively not going to make two “T for Texas, T for Tennessee” round trips in a MINI Cooper for the sake of fetching four bags of dirty laundry.
It bears pondering, in other words, what’s at stake when the subject of large SUVs arises. In this Expedition’s case in particular, it’s worth noting that my “cargo cost” (vehicle operating expenses only) for transporting Mary’s college junk from Austin to Nashville came to $5.23 per cu. ft. Of course, she could have flown home, one-way, for roughly half the fuel costs, but hardly with all her tschotchkes and laundry.
I happen, moreover, to like to drive. Despite — indeed, because of — its size, the Expedition is a doughty road warrior. Four-wheel independent suspension is a boon to ride comfort and vehicle control. Threading through dreaded I-35 from Dallas to Waco, threatened simultaneously by Jersey barriers at the shoulders and 18-wheelers in every lane, the Expedition isn’t easily intimidated. Although its 5.4-liter single-overhead-cam V-8 produces only 260 moderate horsepower, its 350 pound-feet of torque is more than ample for passing moves and lane changes at sustained freeway speeds.
For the job I assigned it, I have to concede that Ford’s Expedition redeemed itself and its as-tested price of $45,915. Among full-size SUVs, it boasts an innovative cockpit, a comfortable ride, and a front-to-rear Safety Canopy airbag system. It’s a proper choice for a given lifestyle; and even a rise in fuel prices can’t change the fact that, for some folks, cross-country hauling with people and cargo is a fact of that life. So is a regular laundry schedule, of course; but first things first.
2004 Ford Expedition XLT 4x4
Base price: $37,765; as tested, $45,915
Engine: 5.4-liter V-8, 260 hp/350 lb-ft
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 205.8 x 78.7 x 77.6 in
Wheelbase: 119.0 in
Curb weight: 5671 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 13/17 mpg
Safety equipment: Front airbags, side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes
Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors, PowerFold third-row seat, AM/FM/CD player, cruise control, keyless entry
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles