The Ford Expedition might not be the most-timely vehicle on the market, but it's certainly one that Texans might find appealing - even with the high gasoline prices.

And added just last year is the EL version, is an extended-length model giving Ford a direct competitor to the longtime Texas favorite, the Chevrolet Suburban.

It's even slightly bigger, with an overall length 1.2 inches more than that of the current Suburban and its clone, the GMC Yukon XL.

Introduced for 2007 along with the second-generation Expedition, the EL returned for 2008 with some new standard equipment and a new King Ranch version, another variation designed to lure Texas buyers.

The EL model replaced the much-larger Excursion, which was discontinued after 2006.

The Excursion originally was intended by Ford to compete directly against the Suburban, but its behemoth dimensions and poor fuel economy made it unsuitable for most people who might have considered it an alternative to the Suburban.

It also became a symbol of excess for Ford and the SUV genre as a whole. It brought Ford Motor Co. notoriety and ridicule, particularly in liberal hot spots such as California - even while the Suburban continued to be one of the most popular sport utilities on the market.

The Excursion eventually became a target for radical environmental activists, and some owners reported vandalism to their vehicles after leaving them parked at malls or on city streets in California.

Its best year was its first - 2000 - when 50,786 were sold; total sales for 2005 were just 16,283 overall.

Although sales of large truck-based SUVs have slipped further this year as gasoline prices have spiked above $3 a gallon, Ford believes that the Expedition EL is still a viable product that gives Ford fans an alternative to the Suburban.

But taking on the Suburban is no easy task. About one-fourth of all Suburban/Yukon XLs produced by General Motors are sold in Texas.

Total GM large utility vehicle sales in Texas last year were about triple those for Ford. Those sales include the luxury Hummer, Cadillac and Lincoln models. Lincoln has a similar, new long version of the Navigator that competes against the Suburban-length Cadillac Escalade ESV.

Even though GM is dominant in the large SUV market here, Texas is Ford's leading market for the Expedition. Two of every 10 Expeditions are sold to Texas consumers.

Both automakers introduced completely redesigned large SUVs for 2007, and this year GM is rolling out gasoline-electric hybrid versions of the shorter-length Tahoe and Yukon.

Ford and GM are struggling over weak sales and declining profits from their cash cows - trucks and SUVs - both of whose sales have fallen in response to the higher gasoline prices.

Both automakers are working to shore up their car offerings so that they can depend less on truck and SUV sales for the bulk of their per-vehicle profits.

The newest generation of the Expedition has an exterior design that was inspired by the company's F-series trucks. But there were other major changes to the vehicle last year besides styling. It rides on an entirely new chassis and has suspension, safety and interior improvements as well.

Under the hood is Ford's 5.4-liter Triton V-8 engine, rated at 300 horsepower and 365 foot-pounds of torque. It's powerful enough to tow up to 9,100 pounds.

The engine is connected to a new six-speed automatic transmission, which Ford says will help improve fuel economy over the previous Expedition's four-speed automatic.

Ford's high-tech roll stability control system is standard on both models.

An optional three-row Safety Canopy rollover-detection system adds side-curtain air bags. The system automatically deploys the air bag canopy to protect the passengers.

Beyond these changes, Ford cited "big improvements in capability, functionality and toughness" for the Expedition, as well as "new levels of interior refinement, flexibility and quietness."

Adding the EL model probably was the most important change, though, especially for Texas consumers.

To create the EL, Ford lengthened the regular Expedition by 14.8 inches, most of which went into additional cargo space behind the third row of seats.

That gives the EL 130.8 cubic feet of cargo space, which includes 24 more cubic feet behind the third seat than is found in the standard-length model.

The EL is built on a 131-inch wheelbase, a foot longer than that of the regular Expedition.

Ford says the EL model is unique from just behind the front seat all the way to the rear, with its own floor pan, exterior side panels, running boards, rear fascia, roof rack, rear quarter windows, headliner and quarter-panel trim.

The second-row doors also are different from the standard Expedition; they are larger to help improve ease of entry and exit to the second and third rows of seats.

Up front on both models are a new, prominent grille, a raised hood, dual-beam headlights and integrated side-marker lights wrapped into the front fenders.

A number of wheel and tire combinations are offered, including 20-inch, five-spoke chrome wheels.

Ford said the inside was made more carlike because these vehicles are most often bought for family use and many are regularly driven by women.

Besides the King Ranch model, trim levels include XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited models. Leather seats are available in up-level models, along with amenities such as mahogany wood interior accents, a 10-way power driver's seat, and both heated and cooled front seats.

The middle seat can be folded into the floor to increase cargo space as well as to allow easier access to the third seat. That seat, of course, can be folded flat into the floor when not needed.

Ford says the third seat is designed to accommodate passengers up to 6 feet 2 inches tall. The optional Powerfold third seat folds flat into the floor with the push of a button.

A power tailgate also is offered.

Other options include a DVD-based navigation system, a 340-watt AM/FM audio system with MP3-capable six-disc in-dash CD changer and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.

There is a jack on this stereo to which an external device such as an MP3 player or iPod can be hooked up.

Both models are available with four-wheel drive. This is a serious four-by-four system with shift-on-the-fly capability and a two-speed transfer case for low-range operation in extreme off-road conditions.

Expedition prices for 2008 range from $30,620-$45,515 (plus freight), with EL models beginning at $34,145 and topping out at the $45,515 mark for the King Ranch edition.

EPA ratings are 12 mpg city/18 highway for the two-wheel-drive models.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995.. Contact him at