If big SUVs knot your shorts, please turn to the letters column now and come back to this space next week.
Today we review the 2007 Ford Expedition EL sport-utility. EL stands for extra long, with a 12-inch longer wheelbase and 14.8 inches greater overall length than the regular model, which is pretty substantial to begin with.
The full-size Expedition was redesigned for 2007 and an EL added now that the gargantuan Excursion is gone.
There's lots to like about the EL, even the really potent 5.4-liter, 300-horsepower V-8 with a new 6-speed automatic transmission. Touch the pedal and go, no waiting on- or off-road or up steep inclines where 18-wheelers and those tiny gas sippers gasp for breath.
But prepare for frequent stops. No government mileage rating is required because EL tops 8,500 pounds. The same 5.4-liter in the regular-length Expedition is rated at 14 m.p.g. city/20 m.p.g. highway, wishful thinking on the EL.
Pleasant ride and decent handling for a vehicle that sits high for great visibility as well as ample clearance for heavy snow or off-roading. Despite the size, braking is excellent; four-wheel anti-lock brakes plus stability control with rollover control are standard. Still, consider the length and weight and approach sharp turns with respect--and at fewer m.p.h.
Nice touches include standard running boards--much needed for those shorter than 6 feet; dial-up 4WD with a low setting for off-road; power side rear windows; and a cargo hold parcel divider to keep items from sliding around.
Power third-row seats fold flat to expand the already huge cargo hold, and a power rear tailgate opens by touching a button in the dash or on the key fob.
First- and second-row seating is well cushioned with good lateral support for driver and passenger. But side bolsters in rows two and three are marginal.
Getting into or out of the third row is easy thanks to second-row seats that flip and fold quickly (after lowering the headrests) to create a wide aisle.
Lots of third-row head room, but seats are firm and bottoms short with little thigh support.
One nagging problem, slipping a vehicle 14.8 inches longer than the barge-size Expedition into a parking space--any parking space. You think that's bad? Try to get back inside the vehicle when another vehicle--any size vehicle--parks too close to your doors. And don't forget, you'll still have to back out of the parking space without tattooing any nearby vehicle.
Gas prices aside, Ford sold 16,225 Expeditions in October-November, up from 12,774 a year earlier. EL accounts for 61 percent of those sales, and 40 percent of trade-ins on EL are non-Fords, compared with 20 percent on the regular-length SUV.
But Ford is realistic about the full-size SUV market.
"We aren't getting new buyers as we are getting those trading in an older full-size SUV," said George Pipas, Ford sales analyst. "Sales have been strong since the new Expedition came out, but this segment accounted for industry sales of 1 million units two years ago, 880,000 a year ago and will account for less than 700,000 this year, with further declines expected."
So, Ford's Michigan truck plant that assembles Expedition and Lincoln Navigator will go from two shifts to one in the second quarter to keep inventory in line with sales expectations.
Why keep building them?
"There are customers who need this size, space and towing capability, aren't concerned about gas prices and who use it to haul a large family or pull a boat or trailer," Pipas said.
Base price: $41,125, but prepare to tickle if not top $50,000 after adding $1,995 for navigation system, $1,500 for DVD entertainment system, $495 for power liftgate, $1,095 for 20-inch all-season radials, $950 power moonroof, $625 for heated/cooled front seats. All that's before tax.
Dodge dealers complained that Jeep had a compact SUV, the Liberty, and they didn't.
And Chrysler dealers complained Dodge dealers had a midsize SUV, the Durango, and they didn't.
So Chrysler Group gave Dodge dealers a version of Liberty called Nitro and Chrysler dealers a version of Durango called Aspen for '07.
Now everyone is happy, except Jeep dealers, of course, who don't have a version of the Chrysler 300C sedan or Dodge Viper sports car. But we digress.
We tested the 2007 Aspen in top-of-the-line Limited trim and four-wheel-drive.
Thanks to the design staff, Aspen and Durango look nothing alike.
Aspen, like Durango, seats up to eight in three rows but does so in formal, rather than casual, attire with wood and metal trim.
Aspen offers a choice of a 4.7-liter, 235-h.p. V-8 or a 5.7-liter, 335-h.p. Hemi V-8. Durango the same plus a 3.7-liter, 210-h.p. V-6 mileage leader, if 16 m.p.g. city/21 m.p.g. highway is anything to brag about.
We tested the 4.7-liter Aspen. Plenty of power to move this midsize SUV derived from the Dakota pickup. But at more than 5,000 pounds, it's rated at 14 m.p.g. city/18 highway. The Hemi is better at 14/19 thanks to a system that shuts off four cylinders when not needed.
Chrylser dealers now have a midsize SUV--just as consumers are migrating to compact SUVs, midsize cars and crossovers for better mileage.
J.D. Power & Associates statistics show that midsize SUV sales are down 12 percent through November, to 1.08 million units, and full-size SUVs are off 13 percent, to 458,151. In the premium segment where Aspen plays, midsize sales are down 13.5 percent but full-size models such as the Cadillac Escalade are up 12.5 percent.
Chrysler sold 4,623 Aspens in September-November, the first three months it was out. That's 4,623 sales Chrysler dealers wouldn't have had without it.
However, Dodge dealers sold 18,519 Durangos, 9,300 fewer than a year ago. So Chrysler division's gain comes at the expense of Dodge division and Chrysler Group.
George Murphy, senior vice president of global brand marketing for Chrysler, boasts that Aspen offers customers a "value alternative" to full-size SUVs.
Not value in terms of mileage--or truck-like ride and handling.
Base price: $33,520 full of power and pleasure amenities as well as safety items including side-curtain air bags, stability control and four-wheel ABS.
Add $875 for leather seats, $360 for U-Connect hands-free phone and $455 for the trailer towing group. Costly options were missing from the test SUV. Those include a navigation system at $1,595, which comes with AM/FM radio and six-disc CD changer, and a rear-seat DVD system at $1,200.
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2007 Ford Expedition EL 4x4
Price as tested: $48,290*
$1,500 Rear-seat DVD entertainment system
$1,095 20-inch all-season radials
$950 Power moonroof
$795 Second-row captain's chairs
$675 Convenience package with reverse sensing system, power pedals, power rear quarter windows
$625 Heated/cooled front seats
$495 Power liftgate
$485 Load-leveling suspension
$350 Trailer-towing package
$195 Sirius satellite radio with six-months free service
*Add $820 for freight.
Wheelbase: 131 inches
Length: 220.5 inches
Engine: 5.4-liter, 300-h.p. V-8
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: Not available on vehicles over 8,500 pounds
Redesigned and longer for more gear and goods, along with more space for occupants .
Power, folding, third-row seats and power liftgate.
Big for those who need it.
Paying for gas.
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