Off-Road Review: 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline
Ford had enough confidence in its new 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline Edition to serve it up to journalists for a first drive at the Holly Oaks Off-Road Vehicle Park in Holly, Michigan. The Blue Oval boasts that the Timberline (a new trim level that also recently joined the Explorer) is the most off-road capable version of the Expedition ever.
Ordinarily, we wouldn’t give much credence to the dirt-slinging capability of a 5700-pound behemoth with enough space for a kids soccer club or a handful of Detroit Lions’ special teamers. We were willing to give it a shot, nonetheless.
Ford has been building the Expedition since 1996. The Timberline edition takes the Expedition to new heights—literally. It has the most ground clearance of any Expedition, ever. And it would appear Ford’s R&D team (along with many others in the industry) may be onto something here. Outdoor recreation is a $900 billion industry, and no demographic is buying into this more than millennials. The net-net findings by the team are that millennials are prioritizing experiences over things.
Any journey off the beaten path, away from a cellular signal, is sure to be a unique experience. But what fun is it if you can’t take your friends or family with you? The Expedition Timberline is designed to do exactly that, with room for eight ample-sized humans to travel in comfort, albeit row one is in first class, row two is comfort plus, and row three is nonrefundable economy. Packing for eight in the cargo area may be a stretch, but there’s a roof rack and an optional cargo carrier.
Of course, a full-size, body-on-frame vehicle like this comes at a considerable premium—$81,465 as tested. Sure, you can purchase a base Expedition XL STX for about $26,000 less, but it won’t be able to handle what the Timberline can do off-road.
On the outside, to the scrupulous eye, the Timberline has a flair of ruggedness. From the ground up, 33-inch-tall knobby Goodyear Wrangler rubber wraps around 18-inch wheels. A platinum-colored sheath below the bumpers calls attention to the similarly finished protective skid plates, for those dicy moments where 10.6 inches of ground clearance is insufficient. The proven, powder-coated 3/16-inch thick aluminum material is carried over from the oft-abused Raptor. It’s from elements like these that Timberline buyers will feel they’re getting their money’s worth. The Forged Green Metallic is almost a DNR or park ranger green, and it pairs well with the oriole-like accents. Timberline badges flank both C-pillars and are also embedded into the front and rear bumpers.
Tech-wise, Ford’s SYNC system is as polished as ever and is accessed via the standard 12-inch center-stack screen, with a tablet-like 15-inch screen an option. The panoramic sunroof was also a nice feature.
Many of the terrain features at Holly Oaks are extreme and intimidating, so it was good that we were guided through the park by an F-150 Raptor. To my surprise, the Expedition Timberline kept up just fine amid the park’s slippery surfaces, steep approach and departure angles, tight squeezes, and ruts galore.
Some of those squeezes really were tight, and the physics are stacked against a vehicle with this much mass. Luckily, it is powered by a capable twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6—Ford’s workhorse used in the F-150 and Navigator—producing 440 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque, mated to a smooth 10-speed automatic transmission. A combination of the Intelligent 4WD system with the Terrain Management System (seven drive modes, three specific to off-road), stability control with Roll Stability Control, and an electronic limited-slip differential work in concert to keep the wheels under you with maximum grip.
With the Expedition’s robust powertrain and suite of technology, making it up slippery, rutted or loamy hills is effortless. Add bumps into the mix and it requires a bit more attention, but you easily find sense of rhythm and cadence to this type of driving that is best executed at a modest speed. Otherwise, you’ll quickly discover that an out-of-rhythm climb makes the big truck feel like a Kong dog toy bouncing down the hall. Even then, though, the suspension doesn’t bottom out. The Timberline’s handling is impressive and is a credit to the multilink independent rear, coupled with the trim’s Rough Ride Suspension (premium off-road shocks, tuning and 10.6 inches of ground clearance). The front and rear skid plates come in handy traversing deep rutted trails and features with steep angles. Still, odds are I was not the only person that at least once felt the teeth-gritting noise of the skid plates at work.
Once atop the summit, we felt a bit like a cat in a tree. What now? The Timberline’s metaphorical firefighter is Crawl Control, a low-speed cruise control that will work the gas and brake for you so that you can focus on steering. (Land Rover and several other OEMs offer similar technology.) It is easily activated by using the button below the selective drive modes knob and adjusting your speed by using the same up/down buttons as the cruise control.
The Trail Turn Assist feature is another one sure to win adventure fans. Just like on the Bronco, with the touch of a button you can do a nearly 180-degree pivot to get you pointed in your desired direction on a tight trail. At about 18 feet in length, the Expedition can use all the help it can get navigating narrow paths.
What about on-road? The brief street drive I had with the Timberline displayed what one would expect from a large SUV. Visibility was great and there was surprisingly little noise intrusion from the big tires. This is among the Expedition’s greatest strengths; it can hang at one of the toughest ORV parks in the Midwest and transport eight people home without subjecting them to Bronco-like noise and bounces. And should you want to tow some toys, an optional Heavy-Duty Trailer Tow Package is available and pegs your maximum towing capability at a healthy 9200 pounds (4×2) or 9300 pounds (4×4).
We also tested the Expedition Stealth Edition Performance Package, which is loaded to a similar sticker price sans the Timberline’s off-road capabilities but with sport suspension, the 3.5, and a 22-speaker B&O audio system from the range-topping Platinum. The Stealth’s BlueCruise hands-free driving feature (similar to GM’s Super Cruise) is most appealing, along with the Stealth’s more premium fit and finish. Sadly, BlueCruise is not available in the Timberline. In my humble opinion, if you’re willing to go panning for gold to pay for your ride and want the best on the market, all options should be available. After a long day of off-roading you may want the give your brain a little rest on the Interstate ride home.
Naysayers may doubt the capabilities of the Timberline. Surely nobody expects an Expedition to face-off on even terms with a Bronco or Jeep Wrangler. But for a full-size SUV, it climbs to the top. If nothing else, the off-road features will get you (and some extended family) out of a slippery situation, without seriously risking vital components underneath. Naturally, plunking down 80 grand for an orange-trimmed limousine that can conquer a logging trail isn’t a prospect that makes sense to most people. But for those who do, they can be confident the Timberline is no pretender.
2022 Ford Expedition Timberline
Price: $72,890 / $81,465 (base / as-tested)
Highs: Confidence-inspiring capability, respectable on-road manners, trendy styling.
Lows: Way too large for tight trails. Eye-watering sticker price that still doesn’t include some niceties from upper trims.
Takeaway: An extremely versatile big Ford, ready to go climbing by day, clubbing by night.