Mountain Wheels: Off-road-optimized Ford Expedition Timberline can also pound pavement

One of nine trim levels and two wheelbase sizes for the 2023 Ford Expedition, the Timberline edition gets upgraded suspension and gigantic tires.
Courtesy photo

While I am not expressly an advocate for jacked-up, gas-engined, three-row monster SUVs, I got another one, between electric vehicles, and it served its purpose.

The Timberline edition of the 2023 Ford Expedition is indeed a big vehicle, a moderately more off-road-equipped and tech-updated rendition of the slightly aged full-size SUV, which dates back to 2018, for its last major redesign.

Like many other brands, including last week’s Honda Pilot TrailSport, the Timberline trim is Ford’s effort to add some upgraded suspension and stylistic tweaks to craft a more outdoorsy and rugged-looking machine.

In this case, it creates an eight-passenger machine that’s base priced at $71,400 but came to me with more than $10,000 in options, including a full-cabin panoramic sunroof, the enormous 15.5-inch vertically-oriented touchscreen seen in F-150 and the Mustang Mach-e, 18-inch aluminum wheels, and a Bang and Olufsen premium sound system.

The net result is a vehicle that I found to have some real practicality for the year-round nightmare that is Interstate 70, not to mention any dusty trails you might be able to fit a 210-inch-long SUV into (without yourself becoming a rescue story in Colorado media, as you may have recently seen).

Timberline is gifted with very chunky 32-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory tires and, combined with the enhanced suspension, it’s one of few larger vehicles I’ve driven that was able to anticipate and handle every rutted, grooved, pockmarked and generally bombed-out piece of highway, bridge expansion joint or five-year-long highway improvement project, and allow completely smooth sailing.

Perhaps its 5,500-pound(ish) body mass counter-compresses the shocks and creates an idealized on-road ride, even without a fancy air suspension system, but the net effect was tremendous smoothness, even with 10.6 inches of ground clearance.

Then, combine that with the fearsome 440-horsepower thrum of the high-output version of Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine and you have a certified post-apocalypse family cruiser, which will still get around 18.4 mpg. The 510 pound-feet of torque made an eastbound trip to the tunnels quite an entertaining affair, considering the vehicle’s size and tires. You get a live display of the vehicle’s 10-gear range, though downshifting on slopes is a little tricky as the controls are flat, just underneath the rotating gear knob.

I began the week tooling around Denver and noticed a fair number of the now nine trim levels of Expedition serving as oversized car service vehicles downtown. With absolutely full-sized second- and third-row seating (and both two-row-only and 222-inch extended wheelbase versions also available), passenger comfort is certainly there, though more modern niceties such as rear-seat entertainment or a lot of USB-C ports have not quite arrived, even at nearly $84,000.

The added brawn — hard plastic running boards that may not survive family rock-crawling adventures — makes the Timberline seem as silly in civilization as everyone else’s urban off-roader, but at least those of you near the actual timberline can take the Timberline to the trails.

When you do go out and get it dirty, the vehicle features high and low 4×4 ranges, seven driving modes, plus a locking rear differential, steel skid plates and a one-pedal trail speed control system. I had to mess around on the screen to find the wheel-locking trail turn assist feature, though I think that could be extra helpful given Expedition’s size. There are also high-powered LED spotter lamps built into the bottoms of the side mirrors.

Towing is part of the Expedition DNA, with a 9,200-pound max on its 4×4 models, and mine came with the heavy-duty trailer towing package, including easily accessible trailer attachment and braking controls.

This edition also boasts a multi-zone interior lighting system (it’s so big, your passengers each have their own ecosystem inside), though I have a feeling everyone will still be blinded by the overly whitish glow of that widescreen TV that now sits in the middle of the very chunky dash. The kids can play sudoku, do jigsaw puzzles or use the video Etch-A-Sketch features on the large screen; you can desperately try to figure out where the air recirculation button might be while driving, or just wonder how they inserted a giant volume knob in the middle of that screen.

The Timberline package inserts orange highlights and tow hooks into the already terrifying wall of grille and headlights, adding even more presence to its chest-height face; the roof-rack side rails are so tall you may need a ladder to get to your rooftop goods. Access to the cabin is greatly aided by those optional platform running boards and the outboard second-row seats pop up and forward to allow third-row egress, with 36 inches of adult-sized legroom back there, and pedestal-styled seating. The oversized hand-holds on the front window frame are also useful but similar ones on the B-pillar can cause a bit of shoulder-checking vision loss.

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