2022 Ford Expedition First Drive Review: Crossing the Timberline

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Ford’s big, burly flagship SUV is no bigger but somewhat burlier for 2022. Two new trim levels were added for the 2022 Ford Expedition as part of a mid-cycle update that included some interior and exterior styling tweaks, revised engine tuning that delivers more power in higher trims, a new infotainment setup and an expanded rear-seat entertainment package that integrates Amazon Alexa functionality into the Expedition’s existing suite.

The cabin sees the biggest transformation, as this is the first time in Expedition history that the full-size does not share its dash design with the F-150 (although to be persnickety, it is shared with the Lightning). The Expedition’s new dash sits lower and wider, housing a standard 12-inch Sync4 infotainment screen or the optional 15-inch Sync4A unit found in the Mustang Mach-E. There’s also an available 22-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system and BlueCruise hands-free highway driving assist, although that's only available on the Platinum trim for now. A new “Stealth” package available on multiple trims conveys a street performance vibe, and when paired with the available 440-horsepower EcoBoost V6 it does a convincing impression of an Expedition ST, even if not in name.

There’s also the 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline, which shares that punchier V6 and pairs it to a variety of off-road embellishments, and that’s what Ford invited us to Holly Oaks ORV Park in southeastern Michigan to drive. Following in the footsteps of the Explorer Timberline, the Expedition of the same variety borrows a few tricks from some of Ford’s existing off-roaders, including underbody skid protection from the F-150 Raptor and the Trail Turn Assist feature that first made headlines when Ford demonstrated it on an early Bronco prototype. It’s a handy feature on tight trails, even on Ford’s smallest 4x4.

But the Expedition is not small. In fact, even some of the pleasantly forgiving trails at Holly Oaks offer up tight switchbacks that can’t be negotiated in anything longer than a two-door Bronco or Jeep Wrangler without resorting to a three-point turn. In these instances, Trail Turn Assist has a shot at being upgraded from gimmick to “gotta have it,” provided of course that it works, which it fundamentally does. And I don’t just mean on paper; I’ve used it before. But as my progress at Holly quickly confirmed, just because something functions doesn’t necessarily mean it functions well — or every single time.

Before I explain its shortcomings, it’s important that you understand how Trail Turn Assist works. It’s a brake-based trick that drags the inside rear wheel in tight turns to make the car pivot around it, rather than rolling through the turn in its natural — and of course much larger — turning radius. The braking part is handled entirely by the computer; the part where you perform a perfect pirouette around that stationary tire is on you. Naturally, your results may vary.

But before you get to that part, you need to turn it on. To do so, you click the little Expedition portrait in the upper left corner of that new infotainment screen. This menu displays your less-often-used features — you know, the ones that used to be found on buttons, probably down where the dash met the console. You know, the ones with icons likely obscured by moldy Rice Chex and lint that might not actually be lint. Is that purple?

Anyway, back to the Expedition. Now that the feature is enabled, it lies dormant until you approach a corner and apply full steering lock. Once you’ve got the wheel up against the stop, you’ll hear the ABS system grab the inside rear wheel for dear life. This is your signal to get on the throttle and trust the computer to do the rest. And in a Bronco, hey, no big deal. It’s a compact 4x4 that is relatively easy to reign in if things get weird. But this isn't a Bronco, is it?

No indeed. The Expedition Timberline is 17.5 feet long and weighs north of 5,500 pounds. That’s a lot of SUV, and I’m working with a lot of power (440 horses) and a lot of torque (510 pound-feet). That’s 950 ways for me to screw this up, and Trail Turn Assist is just that — assistance. It can’t stop me from over-, under- or otherwise mis-driving this corner. Being me, I immediately checked off all three boxes.

Foolishly believing Ford would never ask us to try a feature unless it was guaranteed to work, I eased up to the first switchback, hauled the wheel over to the left and squeezed gently and progressively onto the throttle. The right rear wheel dutifully responded, digging hard into the soft dirt — a bit too soft, as it turned out. Soft enough, in fact, that braking the inside rear wheel didn’t actually keep it stationary; it was simply along for the ride.

Aggressive throttle helped the Expedition find dirt it could grab onto, but by that point I was hopelessly off-line for the hard left-hander. Defeated, I unwound the wheel to send Trail Turn Assist back to sleep and finished the maneuver with a quick three-pointer. Lesson learned: a tool is only as effective as the craftsman who wields it. When the next opportunity arose, I knew what I was getting into and managed to Goldilocks the power delivery and execute the maneuver in one shot. See? It does work. You’re welcome, Ford.

The rest of my jaunt through Holly’s poison-ivy-lined gravel pit proved relatively uneventful. Take that as praise if you will — it’s certainly not meant to be criticism — but it gave me plenty of time to contemplate the package in front of me.

While it’s hard to fault Ford for chasing the same nominally outdoorsy customers as other manufacturers, I have a hard time envisioning the buyer who looks at the Expedition Timberline’s spec sheet and says, “That’s exactly what I need.” If you’re one of the seven people on Earth who really, really love their Expeditions and are just sick and tired of having to repair underbody damage from an unmaintained, boulder-ridden driveway or path to an off-asphalt destination, man, has Ford got the truck for you.

Can it go off-road? Sure. Does it do so as well as (or better than) any other equivalently priced 18-foot monstrosity? Yeah, probably. Is it exciting? Good God, no. It’s an Expedition — an 18-foot daycare bus with enough latte capacity to serve an entire PTA. Just admit you like the burly tires and the little orange stripe on the front. You don’t need to pretend it’s necessary to spend $85,000 on an SUV with off-road tires to get around that one kink in your lake house’s dirt driveway. Plus, nobody will be impressed by your shiny new truck if you plow it sideways into a Sycamore trying to look like Ken Block. Leave those shenanigans to the Bronco crowd.

After the off-road excursion (little “e”), I hopped into the only non-Timberline model I could get my hands on — a Limited, as it turned out — for an hour-long loop around the rural and far-suburban enclaves surrounding the little town of Holly, allowing me to get a feel for the updated interior in the real world. The 15-inch version of Ford’s updated infotainment runs Sync 4A (in contrast to the standard Sync 4 that powers the smaller screen) — the same interface whose depths I had to plumb to locate the hidden off-road features in the Timberline.

Simply put, I liked it better off road, where I had more time to peruse each page in search of what I needed. It’s one thing to sit for a minute or two on a dirt trail pondering various optional gimmicks and gadgets; it’s another to be in 50-mph traffic with the smell of skunk seeping into your clothes as you try to remember which sub-menu is hiding the “recirculate” button. Apart from the learning curve, however, I had no other complaints.

Timberline is a lifestyle appearance package with just enough underlying function to legitimize it. It doesn’t need to be competitive with anything else off-road, strictly speaking. It just needs to look the way it looks and come equipped with the same big, bad engine offered in the Expedition’s other top-dog trims. By those measures, it’s a home run.

I wasn’t able to sample the Expedition Platinum with its standard BlueCruise, nor the new B&O audio system, so stay tuned as these enter wider circulation and we have the opportunity to spend more time with them. In the meantime, rest assured that the 2022 updates do nothing to diminish the Expedition’s competence as a mega family-hauler. Opting for the (better, in our opinion) long-wheelbase Max model will lock you out of Timberline, but hey, were you really going to use it anyway?

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