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

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 3, 2022

Holly Oaks — 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 4WD and similar off-road tools to the F-150 Tremor pickup, the 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline is no slouch when it leaves the pavement.

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.

Timberline is a beast with 440 horsepower and 510-pound feet of torque from its twin-turbo V-6 mill.

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.

The 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline is remarkably nimble off-road thanks to Trail Turn Assist shared with the Ford Bronco.

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.

Timberline is hardly the most expensive of the lot, with the Platinum edition earning its name with a price tag of nearly 88 grand when decked out with next-tech like hands-free BlueCruise highway drive assist. This is an SUV that plays with the big boys in the mega-ute, pickup-based segment that Detroit dominates. The Expedition Timberline has all the tools.

Armed with 33-inch tires, the 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline is formidable off-road.

Like a Tremor pickup with a hatchback, Timberline sits on a rugged truck frame that shrugs off moguls like Hulk Hogan throwing Richard Simmons off his back. The 3.5-liter V-6, the most powerful engine in class with 510 pound-feet of torque, is also familiar to pickup buyers and rewards a heavy left foot with a throaty rebel yell. The aptly-named Goodyear Wrangler tires offer serious grip, ground clearance is a class-best 10.6 inches, and Trail Turn Assist (yes, the same feature pioneered by Bronco, for goodness sake) is magic in turning this ocean-liner on a dime.

But what is especially impressive about Expedition Timberline is how it loses none of its on-road charm.

The Ford F-150 Lightning complements its smooth, electric drivetrain with an independent rear suspension — eliminating “crow hop” for an easy turning radius in, say, a tight parking lot. Expedition went to IRS years ago.

Big footing around the charming town of Fenton, the big Timberline was silky smooth, negotiating tight turns, parking lots and U-turns with no hint of crow hop. That smoothness translated to the highway driving as well, where the suspension and quiet cabin absorbed the aggressive Wrangler tires with aplomb.

At 6'5", Detroit News auto critic Payne could easily sit behind himself in the second and third rows of the 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline.

The IRS also pays dividends in the third row, where even giants like me are comfortable. The suspension allows for a proper seat well in back so my knees aren’t in my mouth. Nicer still is the second row, where I could easily sit behind myself.

In the front, I was a comfortable captain of my ship. Digital displays are everywhere (like an F-150), so you can choose the information you want to see. Ford was an infotainment pioneer years ago with its SYNC system — though not without serious teething pains. Those frustrations are in the rear-view mirror, and the system quickly paired my phone, then synced wirelessly to my Android’s Google maps for navigation.

The spacious interior of the 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline is shared with the F-150 pickup and features similar, digital displays and 15.5-inch center screen.

Expedition Platinum’s semi-autonomous BlueCruise is a cool glimpse at the future, but Timberline’s good ol’ adaptive cruise did just fine, thanks very much — allowing me to relax at the wheel on I-75 while steering the freighter on my own.

And then there is towing. If you’re buying a Timberline to take the family on the road, my guess is you’ve got some toys you’d like to take with you. Motorbikes, side-by-sides, RZRs.

Ooooh, Polaris RZRs. The long-suffering Mrs. Payne and I recently did a RZR off-road adventure. Faces covered in dirt, we went places we could never find in a normal AWD vehicle. Waterfalls, rocky landscapes, deep forest wonders.

The Expedition will tow 9,300 pounds of toys, so when the road gets too gnarly for Timberline, just drop a RZR out the back and explore further.

Come to think of it — between the Timberline’s off-road prowess and the toys it can tow — that detour to Holly Oaks on the way up I-75 might take a while.

2022 Ford Expedition Timberline

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear- and four-wheel-drive, 6-passenger SUV

Price: $71,490, including $1,695 destination charge ($80,255 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter liter twin-turbo V-6

Power: 440 horsepower, 510 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.3 seconds (Car and Driver); towing, 9,200 pounds

Weight: 5,532 pounds (AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 16 mpg city/22 highway/18 combined (AWD), 418 miles of range

Report card

Highs: Serious off-road capability; smooth on-road ride

Lows: Unremarkable looks; gets pricey

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

Comments are closed.