Hello and welcome to a series called “Too Big Even For America”, where we explore cars that went out of their way to demonstrate that bigger is not always better and is not always wanted, despite what the stereotypes say.
If the GMT-800 Suburban was the first hit of General Motors during the new millennium, the Ford Excursion represented Ford’s first misstep. Their intentions were in the right place and the logic that brought them to building the Excursion was sound (to a point); unfortunately, they overshot the mark by just a teensy little bit.
When I say that the logic that caused them to make the Excursion was sound, it really was. The Ford Expedition was doing a fine job holding its own against the GMT400 Chevrolet Tahoe since it was released in 1997. The Expedition itself was a considerable leap over its bucking Bronco predecessor, what with it being available with four doors and therefore being competitive with more than one model of Tahoe for starters. As big a leap as it was, however, there was still a hole in the lineup. A gigantic hole. The Suburban was selling in very good numbers in a segment where there weren’t any competitors. Now Chrysler may have been content with letting that market slide and only offering the Durango, but Ford wanted a piece of that pie and they knew that to get it they’d have to out-Suburban the Suburban.
So they set out to make the biggest SUV available on the market. It would have to be longer, wider, taller, more powerful than the competition. If they even considered using the Expedition/F-150 chassis they quickly abandoned that idea, instead deciding to go on maximum attack and use the one used in their bigger Super Duty pickup trucks.
They were also going to out-engine the Suburban. Eight measly cylinders? Pah. Pedestrian, the Excursion was going to benefit from the 6.8-liter Triton V10. Sure the Vortec 8100 may have been bigger, but if you wanted to have ten cylinders in your SUV this was your only option. You want diesel? They had the 6.0 and 7.3-liter Powerstroke V8 to take care of you as well. Although joking aside, they were really going to need that torque and then some.
You see, of all the big numbers with which the Excursion was built the biggest and most disturbing of them all was the weight. Equipped with a gas engine the Excursion tipped (crushed?) the scales at 7,230lbs, and if you decided that you actually wanted to achieve some miles to the gallon rather than the other way around by buying a diesel, it increased to 7,725 pounds. That’s 3,531 more than what a suburban weighted.
For a visual representation, take the Suburban and then on top of it place a similar vintage Chevrolet Malibu. This is still lighter than a Diesel Excursion, to equalize it take a 50kg bag of cement and pop it in the trunk of the Malibu. Now it’s as heavy as an Excursion. For another visual representation, it’s heavier than three 2001 Honda Fits. It simply boggles my mind that it’s as heavy as it is. I even had to double check the weights in different sites to make sure that I wasn’t getting my measuring units wrong or something.
Trying to tip it towards the Ford, I went and compared it to the heaviest Chevrolet Suburban I could find (a 2500-series with the 6.0-liter V8). That lessened the difference but the ‘burb was still 1,556lbs. lighter (7225 vs. 6169). That’s good, we’ve gone from a Chevrolet Malibu to an original Mini in weight difference.
I know some of you may think it’s unfair that I compare it to the 1500-series, but that’s the car it was aiming for. The volume seller wasn’t the 2500-series, GM doesn’t even offer heavy-duty Suburbans anymore due to the low take rates. If the Excursion was targeting the whole Suburban lineup, Ford failed because it tried the overkill approach; if they were only aiming for the Heavy Duty models, they failed because they completely misread the market. In either case, sales reflect the fact that they failed.
In 2002 Chevrolet moved 151,056 Suburbans off the dealer lots; that same year Ford managed to sell 29,042 Excursions. That can only be described as a beatdown in sales, which kept decreasing until its last year where it sold 16,283 units. It should be pointed out that, despite all my beating on it, it seems that the Excursion actually had some loyal devotees. The chancellor of my university had one and used it to haul all his 9 kids around. From what I can recall he seemed to like it even if it didn’t actually fit in the parking spaces of his university. And if you lament they don’t build it anymore, do I have some news!
Since 2011, Custom Autos by Tim, a professional auto conversion business in Oklahoma, has been making new Excursions. All you have to do is provide a new Ford Super Duty pickup truck and $41,000 ($49,000 if you somehow still think it isn’t big enough and you want a six-door model) and they’ll do the rest.
As for Ford themselves, they called it quits on the whole Excursion (pun survived the editor) in 2005 and did what they should’ve done in the first place, they stretched an Expedition and created the Expedition EL. It wasn’t as large as an Excursion and the buyers didn’t need much more than that to warm up to it. But if you think that the Excursion was used as a cautionary tale by other manufacturers; stick around for the next installment in the series. Turns out someone found a way to make the Excursion seem perfectly reasonable.