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Henry Payne: Ford Expedition Timberline, off-road ocean-liner

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

HOLLY OAKS, Michigan — The skies dark overhead, I splashed through a muddy gulch in Michigan’s most challenging, Holly Oaks Off-Road-Vehicle park. ROARRRR! I charged up a muddy 20-degree incline, the 440-horsepower twin-turbo V-6 engine spinning all four wheels. GRONCH! The front bash plate cushioned the front bumper’s blow over the scarred turf. RRWAAAWWR! At the incline’s summit, I nail the throttle, spinning the 122.5-inch long wheelbase on a dime with Trail-Turn Assist.

I’m at the wheel of the 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline. You know, a family vehicle.

With underbody armor, 33-inch off-road tires and ladder frame similar to the Ford F-150 Tremor, Expedition is not your average family three-row hauler. This beast is as happy off-road as it is on-road. So when you head north on I-75 for the weekend, be sure to detour through Holly Oaks. The kiddies in the third-row will love it.

I’m not making this up. Bringing its Timberline trim — first seen on the Explorer SUV in 2021 (more on that later) — to the Expedition, Ford has created a three-row Frankenstein’s monster not unlike the 710-horsepower Dodge Durango Hellcat SUV. But where the Hellcat will drag race sports cars out of Woodward stoplights, Expedition Timberline can chew on trees with Broncos in Holly.

Where the Sedan Epoch brought us on-road performance cyborgs like Charger Hellcats and BMW Ms, the Era of Ute is bringing on and off-road muscle. No one is exploiting this more than Ford.

As SUVs exploded in population in the past decade, Ford transferred the ST performance badge from hot hatch hellions like the Focus and Fiesta to utes like the Ford Edge and Explorer SUV. That’s a stretch given SUVs' inherent, top-heavy limitations. Though the badges have proven popular, no one is taking their Explorer ST to Waterford Raceway for a track day as Focus ST owners have done for years.

 

But take your SUV off-road? Now we’re talkin’.

Go to Holly Oaks or Flint ORV park or Silver Lake — and you’ll see plenty of Subaru Outbacks mixing it up with Broncos and Jeep Wranglers and Toyota TRDs. Ford’s Explorer Timberline — introduced late last year with upgrades like skid plates and all-terrain tires and a throaty 2.3-liter engine — fits this mode. I took it out on Holly Oaks muddy landscape and it knew its way around, the Mud and Ruts drive mode helping all four wheels churn through mud ‘n’ ruts ‘n’ water ‘n’ slop.

But slapping the Timberline badge on Expedition is a whole new level. You’ll pay for the privilege. Walking from the $47,530 three-row Explorer Timberline to my $80,255, three-row Expedition tester is more than a step — it’s a leap.

Timberline is now part of a forest of Expedition trim offerings beginning with the $54,315 XL STX followed by the XLT, XLT Max, Limited, Limited Max, King Ranch (pant, stop for breath) King Ranch Max, Platinum and Platinum Max. A new, more on-road oriented Stealth performance model joins Timberline for the 2022 model year.

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