NEWS

2022 Ford Expedition Quick Spin: Chasing Millennials, On- and Off-Road

Ford insists millennials are buying expensive full-size SUVs in ever-increasing numbers. The automaker says the percentage of millennial buyers of its own chunky, truck-based Expedition SUV has grown from 18% of overall sales five years ago to 28% today. With nearly a third of sales going to this new crop of owners, Ford looked into what they’re really seeking in such a big ride and found they’re looking to upgrade in size due to growing families — and that they also have a real need for something off-road-capable. And for those that don’t leave the pavement, something sportier and more expressive is on their wish list. That’s why the new model year has brought two new additions to the Expedition lineup: the Stealth Performance Package and the Timberline trim.

Related: Up Close With the 2022 Ford Expedition

Urban Flavor: The Expedition Stealth Performance Package

If you prefer the murdered-out streetfighter look, the Expedition has offered the Stealth Package since 2019, bringing exterior and interior design changes, a few new parts and new suspension tuning to make the SUV a little more ready to dance. It’s available on either the standard-length Expedition Limited trim or on the extended-length Expedition Max. On the outside, blacked-out trim abounds, with standard LED headlights and new taillights. It works best on an already-black model, but it didn’t look bad on the blue SUV I sampled. Wheels are upgraded to black 22-inch alloys, and the whole look is modern, understated and set to give a challenge to the Chevrolet Tahoe RST. There is no direct competitor in the Jeep Wagoneer lineup, however; in order to get the murdered-out Obsidian trim, you have to splurge for the Grand Wagoneer, a considerably more expensive proposition that competes more with the Lincoln Navigator or Cadillac Escalade. A sport-tuned suspension is included for a firmer, better-controlled ride; Ford’s Computer Controlled Damper system (CCD) is optional.

New for 2022 is the Stealth Performance Package, which adds some muscle to the streetfighter looks. The biggest difference between the Stealth and Stealth Performance Packages comes under the hood. The Stealth gets the basic twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine that’s standard in the Limited trim; the Stealth Performance model gets the high-output version seen on higher trim levels of the Expedition, as well as a different final drive ratio for snappier acceleration. The base power for the Stealth is a healthy 400 horsepower and 480 pounds-feet of torque, which climbs to 440 hp and 510 pounds-feet for the Stealth Performance model. Both are mated to a standard 10-speed automatic transmission, and both feature rear- or optional four-wheel drive.

Out on the street, my time in a Stealth Performance model was quite enjoyable. Acceleration is snappy when called upon, but in normal circumstances, the Expedition with the high-output engine and sport suspension felt well composed and big-truck sedate. Any pretense at being actually sporty goes out the window when the first corner hits — the truck stays relatively flat in corners, but the steering ratio hasn’t changed from the base Expedition, and it’s fairly slow, meaning you’ll be making many cranks of the wheel when changing direction. This does not lend itself to spirited driving, but more calm cruising instead. The real standout was how well it rode, especially given the big 22-inch wheels on thinner low-profile tires. It’s an exceptionally smooth-riding truck, even when put into Sport mode, thanks to the adjustable nature of the CCD dampers. Compared to the performance trim of the Chevy Tahoe, the Expedition feels smoother and cushier over the moonscape of Michigan roads.

Inside, opting for the Stealth packages gets you a black leather interior with red stitching in the seats and doors, as well as uniquely patterned plastic dash and console trim that looks pretty slick. You also can opt for the enormous 15.5-inch vertical multimedia system running Ford’s latest Sync 4A, which does require a bit of a learning curve to operate but is also accompanied by a fair number of real buttons, so Ford has not yet gone to a full touch-sensitive glass cockpit idea like many competitors have. Overall, the Stealth Performance Package provides a good amount of style, content, performance enhancements and premium accommodations to satisfy the style-conscious millennial SUV buyer. But what about the ones that are more about the outdoor lifestyle?

Woodland Romper: The Expedition Timberline

A number of automakers have added woodsy, outdoor-themed trims to their lineups. GMC’s got AT4 trims, Hyundai’s trying out XRT, Subaru’s going for the Wilderness and so on. Ford’s doing it, too, with the Timberline trim, but on the Expedition, it’s much more than just window dressing — it actually adds functionality and true off-road ability to the SUV. What Ford has casually glossed over is that the new Timberline trim essentially replaces the FX4 Off-Road Package that used to be available on several Expedition trims. Now, if you want an off-road-capable Expedition with all-terrain tires, underbody skid plate protection, tow hooks and other rugged bits and goodies, you’ll only find them on the Timberline trim. This matches Chevrolet’s approach with the Tahoe: You can get all the off-road goods on only one trim level, called the Tahoe Z71, whereas before you could get that off-road package on several trim levels. For the Wagoneer, you can specify the Advanced All-Terrain Group on either the Wagoneer Series II or Series III trim levels, bringing different levels of equipment to each.

But the parts that the Expedition Timberline does feature do quite a bit to enhance its off-road chops. The basic underlying truck is the same as the Limited trim, but with a few extras such as the same high-output version of the V-6 that the Stealth Performance Package gets, standard 4WD, higher ground clearance thanks to taller Goodyear Wrangler off-road tires, Trail Turn Assist and other enhancements to its drive modes to better handle off-road duty.

And handle it, it does. I took the Expedition Timberline through the Holly Oaks ORV Park in suburban Detroit, a challenging off-road park that makes a good test of the abilities of any off-road vehicle. The Expedition shows that underneath its shapely good looks lies the heart of an F-150-based truck and all the parts and abilities that truck brings to the party. The full- or part-time 4WD system delivers outstanding traction in conjunction with the electronic Terrain Management System. Slip the truck into the Mud/Ruts setting, lock the rear differential and off you go up and down muddy, rocky, or sandy trails with ease. The Trail Turn Assist feature comes in especially handy given the Expedition’s sheer size on the trails — when activated through an easy-to-use menu on the optional massive 15.5-inch vertical touchscreen my truck was equipped with, it individually brakes the inside wheel of the truck when it senses a tight turn, allowing the truck’s 4WD system to pivot around that temporarily “fixed point,” dramatically reducing the turning circle on an off-road trail.

It can’t hide the Expedition’s sheer bulk, however, which does work against it in tighter spots. But few obstacles placed in the Expedition Timberline’s path can’t be overcome. From rock crawling to higher-speed wash running, the capability of the Timberline is greater than most owners are likely to explore, but they should rest assured that their off-road-badged SUV is more than just a family SUV in a flannel jacket. It does feature a unique interior that’s truly good looking, however, in Deep Cypress with orange stitching and accents. The quality of the optional leather-trimmed cabin is excellent, and the dark plastic dash trim of the Stealth packages is replaced by bright aluminum-looking trim that helps lighten up the interior considerably. Ironically, it feels more upscale than the more expensive Stealth packages.

Millennials Must Be Making Bank These Days

I guess the old trope of millennials not being able to afford homes, have decent paying jobs or afford families has finally been put to bed, as neither the Timberline nor the Stealth Performance Package models of the Expedition come cheap. The price as-tested for my loaded Expedition with the Stealth Performance Package came to $85,140 (all prices include a rather egregious $1,795 destination charge). The truck starts as a Limited model, and you can add either the Stealth Package ($4,670) or the Stealth Performance Package ($9,880).

The Timberline is only a bit more affordable. It comes in two flavors, Timberland Standard and Timberline High, with a hefty price difference between them. Opt for the standard model to get all the off-road goodies, a vinyl-and-cloth interior that still looks quite fetching, a standard moonroof, 4WD and the high-output V-6 for just a tick under $73,000. Go for the High model like I drove, and it adds in a leather interior, the 15.5-inch touchscreen running Sync 4A, a 12.4-inch digital gauge cluster and a Bang & Olufsen sound system for an extra $9,220, bringing the as-tested price to $80,710.

These are premium prices for premium vehicles but are not at all out of line with competitors from General Motors or Jeep. So congratulations are in order to all the millennials out there whom Ford is targeting with these two specialty trims. Looks like y’all have made it to the big time, and as a reward, there are two truly enjoyable big SUVs waiting for you at your local Ford dealer.

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