Ford's redesigned Expedition may have F-series roots, but it is far from trucklike in terms of civility, ride and handling.

Full-size SUVs may face tough sledding because of increasing gas prices, but folks who need the ability to haul up to eight people or tow up to 9,100 pounds won't be satisfied with anything less.

"Full-size SUV buyers are, perhaps, the most demanding customers of all," said Cisco Codina, Ford group vice president for marketing, sales and service. "They want uncompromised capability and unquestioned toughness, along with interior flexibility and refinement. The new Expedition has been designed with unique customer appeal that makes it stand out in a competitive market."

The Expedition is available in rear-wheel or four-wheel drive and in regular or long-wheelbase models. The regular model has a 119-inch wheelbase, while the long-wheelbase model fills the void left by the discontinued Excursion.

Expedition base prices start at $29,995 for a two-wheel-drive XLT and top out at $40,745 for a four-wheel-drive Limited like the one I drove from Ford's press fleet.

The Expedition bears a strong resemblance to the F-series pickup, but a body-colored grille and front fascia give it a softer look. The long-wheelbase EL has new second-row doors that are designed to ease access to the second and third seats.

The new frame is 10 percent stiffer, in part because of tube-through-tube construction, which contributes to the overall solid feeling. The independent rear suspension gives a smooth ride and carlike road holding. The optional air suspension adds one more layer of comfort. The brakes, with standard anti-lock, are larger than those of the previous Expedition.

I drove the test vehicle on a 250-mile road trip with four people aboard and took five people to dinner. The back seat is wide enough to sit three across comfortably, and the third seat is surprisingly spacious.

On the road, the Expedition was extremely comfortable. The lack of wind and road noise was impressive. The cabin of the Limited has leather seats and woodgrain trim. The front bucket seats are different from those in the F-series pickups, and they have large bolsters and soft cushions. The driver's seat has more travel to accommodate tall drivers. The test vehicle was equipped with the convenience package that included power adjustable pedals, reverse parking sensors and power rear quarter windows. Heated and cooled seats are standard on the Limited.

The test car had a three-zone climate control system that enabled each front-seat passenger and the rear-seat passengers to set and control their own temperature.

The console-mounted shift lever has a wood finish that matches the steering wheel, door panels and console.

Entertainment options include a rear-seat DVD system, satellite radio, in-dash six-CD changer and a jack for iPods. The revised navigation system has a 6.5-inch touch screen and voice activation.

The second-row seat is split 40/20/40, and the center section slides forward up to 11 inches to make it easier for front-seat passengers to reach a youngster in a child safety seat. Captain's chairs are also offered as a second-row option. Creating a flat load floor is easy because the second seats fold into the floor. The power-folding third-row seat and the power tailgate were handy.

Both the Expedition and Expedition EL are powered by Ford's 5.4-liter, 300-horsepower V-8 with a six-speed automatic transmission. This single-overhead-cam engine has three valves per cylinder and 365 pound-feet of torque. Maximum towing capacity is 9,100 pounds. Noise and vibration from the engine have been isolated, and the powerplant feels as smooth as an electric motor.

I averaged 18 miles per gallon on mostly highway driving.

Eighteen-inch wheels are standard on the Limited, but the test vehicle was equipped with the optional 20-inchers.

In addition to anti-lock brakes, safety equipment includes vehicle stability control with rollover sensors and side-curtain airbags that cover all three rows of seats.

Price

The test vehicle's base price was $40,745. Options included a sunroof, power adjustable pedals, trailer towing package, navigation system, satellite radio, power liftgate, 20-inch wheels and air suspension. The sticker price was $46,995.

Warranty

Three years or 36,000 miles.