It might come as a surprise to you, but Ford reckons more than 20 per cent of those who own its Expedition full-size SUV use it for serious off-roading. It’s encouraged by this not insubstantial slice of loyal clientele that the Blue Oval is offering its all-new 2018 Expedition with an FX4 Off-Road Package right from the start. Although it’s being positioned as a more suave and refined family SUV, Ford says this special package will add enough technology and 4x4 hardware to make it even more capable on trails and unpaved surfaces. The problem is, it’s going to be months before you could get your hands on one.
However, if you’re a Ford fan who has always been allergic to the overload of technology that has pervaded the new crop of SUVs, you’re in luck. Local dealer Al Tayer Motors is offering a special Safari Package with the current version of the Expedition. Based on the XLT trim, the Safari adds a 3.0in lift kit, levelling kit, off-road jack with roof carrier mount, a roof rack including elevated adapters, axe and shovel carrier, on-board compressor, black bullbar with built-in LED lights and special set of wheels wrapped in 305/65R 18in Nitto off-road tyres. These changes add quite a bit to the Expedition’s already imposing presence. And if for some reason, these additions aren’t enough for your off-road posturing, then there’s the unmissably large graphics on either side that proclaim its ‘Off-Road’ credentials. I didn’t take it dune bashing or rock climbing as, oddly, my tester did not come with an off-road insurance. However it stood up impressively to the challenges thrown at it by our usual sand and gravel testing patch off Al Ain Road. An old-fashioned rotary knob lets you select from among four different modes — 2H, 4A, 4H, and 4L. However, despite Ford’s claims, it is a fact that most Expedition buyers, at least in our region, use it mainly to haul a large family or tow heavy things. The Safari Package will indeed give them the reassurance that if they ever need to venture off the beaten track, it will be up to the task. But in its primary role of hauling people in comfort, this particular model makes a few compromises.
While the Expedition in its stock form offers one of the most comfortable rides in this segment, the off-road biased tweaks made to the Safari edition makes it jumpy and nervous on the highways. So if your main intention in buying a large SUV is transporting family in comfort, then the Safari isn’t a good option.
There’s no V8 under the bonnet, but the 3.5-litre turbocharged V6 serves up an impressive 390bhp and 629Nm of torque. The six-speed auto ‘box is smooth and quick in its shifts, and despite its large dimensions and bulk, the Expedition is quite nippy. There’s plenty of low-end torque, although it runs out of steam as the revs climb higher.
The cabin is still pretty much the same as when this model came out nearly a decade ago. Everything from the layout to the plastics used look dated. And they are. But then again, if you’re planning to buy a model which has just been replaced, it’s only safe to assume that you have a thing for outmoded stuff. Although unfashionable, the cabin is spacious and the fabric seats are comfortable and supportive. The second row seating is a 40:20:40 split bench that will recline or fold flat, while the third row also splits 60:40 and folds flat. Don’t expect fancy touchscreen interfaces or convenience features like automatic climate control. Be warned, it’s as basic as they come.
But if you find charm in things rudimentary, then the Expedition Safari will be right up your alley. Buy the Safari Pack only if you find yourself in the 20 per cent that take the Expedition off-road. If you know for a fact it’s not going to leave the Tarmac, and you still want a 2017 Expedition, then get the King Ranch or Platinum.