In the Give Them What They Want series, we’ve been looking at flagship SUVs from early in the era of SUV dominance. When talking big SUVs, the elephant in the room, so to speak, is the Ford Excursion.
I’ve been ambivalent about our subject vehicles so far, appreciating some of their qualities but having a hard time getting over my general disdain for the SUV’s kudzu-like takeover of the automotive landscape. However, I’m not really ambivalent at all about the Excursion. I’m a big fan.
This will be part curbside classic, part COAL, as the main reason I like these is because I’ve had some personal experience with them. More on that later.
First a little model history. As I mentioned in the Navigator article, Ford spent much of the 1990’s at a disadvantage to GM in large SUVs. Ford had long been content not to compete with the Suburban, which was fine when that not-terribly-large market was limited to some people with big trailers, extra large families or Texans (who may or may not have been part of the other two groups). When the SUV market started expanding in the 90s, the 1991 Explorer was a big part of that trend. That SUV was a megaseller, but Ford lacked a timely follow up in the larger class. Meanwhile, GM struggled to compete with the Explorer, but in the large class they were able to shorten the Suburban to make the popular 4-door Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon for 1995. The just-right Tahoe porridge was perfect for many folks who needed a larger vehicle to tow, to carry lots of stuff, or just to sit up high and be large and in charge, while it wasn’t Suburban-big to scare off the masses. Ford had nothing bigger to offer customers wanting to move up from an Explorer.
Ford finally came out with the 1997 Expedition based on the F150, which was also a big hit. By this point, Ford was feeling confident enough to want to cover the entire spectrum of SUVs from compact (2001 Escape, first U.S. maker in the category) to extra large. Ford would extend the end of the spectrum with a unique product. For the first time with any manufacturer, Ford’s redesigned full size trucks had different platforms for the light duty and heavy duty lines. The release of the new Super Duty truck two years after the F150 opened up the opportunity to base an SUV on it, which would be larger and have more payload capacity than even the 2500 (3/4 ton) Suburban. The sky was the limit!
Ford wasn’t shy about making the Excursion bigger than the Suburban. It was 7 in. longer in wheelbase and length, 1.2 in. wider, and 3 in. higher. What’s a few inches between friends? Well, between the added inches and the heavy duty chassis, the base Excursion buckled the scales at 6,650lb, or 1,200lb more than a 2500 Suburban. Add about 500lb for four wheel drive.
The funny thing is that the extra size didn’t give it much of a tow rating advantage over the Suburban, at least in terms of official ratings. Maximum tow capacity was actually rated 500lb less than the 2500 Suburban, while it was only 1000lb more than the 1500 Suburban.
Most big SUVs have one or two engines available, while Excursion had three distinct choices. Base engine was the 255hp/350lbft SOHC 5.4L Modular V8 shared across the entire Ford truck line. The gasoline upgrade was the 310hp/425lbft 6.8L V10, a plus-cylinder engine to match the plus-size SUV. I believe this is the least common engine in the Excursion, though I have no exact numbers.
For the ultimate SUV grunt, buyers could opt for the Powerstroke, a 250hp/525lbft 7.3L Navistar turbodiesel V8. Midway through 2003, Ford replaced the 7.3 with a new 6.0L Navistar turbodiesel V8. Though smaller, power and torque were significantly raised to 325hp and 560lbft. This engine is an infamous lemon, though. 7.3L models are considered to be the most desirable Excursions today.
I mentioned I had some experience with Excursions, which is not because I ever owned one. My work has long had a fleet of Excursions, which I’ve spent a lot of seat time in, both front and back. Our department bought at least 25 Excursions in 2004 and 2005 and used them in a number of capacities. I first spent time in one during my paramedic internship, which was six months in 2007 riding in the back seat of the busiest unit in the city.
I absolutely loved that back seat! It was like a freaking limo, at least by the very low standards of emergency vehicles. Unlike a fire engine, the ride was smooth and the seat comfortable. Unlike the pickup cab in some other units, it had gobs of leg room, rear A/C vents, a center armrest, and cupholders.
Later I graduated to the front seat, but not for long because our Excursion was replaced by a new Chevrolet utility box vehicle on a pickup chassis. The Excursions stuck around, though, and approximately 15 are still being used as reserve units, tow vehicles, and in other non-front-line tasks. I’ve spent a lot of time driving them when regular units were being serviced and I’ve also spent a lot of time driving some of our department’s Suburbans (mostly GMT900), so I can compare the two.
I can only speak to our particular vehicles, equipped in their specific ways and being quite well used. The Excursions are all two wheel drive and have the base 5.4L V8, no fancy V10s or Diesels here! Even so, the power is surprisingly adequate. Pickup is brisk, even driving in emergency mode. Counterintuitively, they never feel really heavy to me (of course, I often come to them after driving larger trucks, so my perspective may be skewed). We spend most of our time on surface streets, so low end acceleration is more at play than passing power. I do think they run out of breath more on the highway.
In our city, those streets can get teeth-jarring and I believe the Excursion’s ride is better than the Suburban’s. It really swallows bumps without perturbing the ride greatly. It still feels like a truck, but I find the ride really comfortable. Bumps, lumps, humps, Excursion don’t care! It just rolls right over them. The Suburbans get very jouncy on rough roads, feeling like they get thrown all over, or at least the passengers and equipment do! The only area the Suburbans come out ahead on is steering feel. The Excursions’ steering feels a bit isolated and over-assisted.
The Excursions also have fantastic front seats, really comfy without being too soft or too hard. The Chevy seats aren’t bad, but Ford wins the butt test all day long. The cloth upholstery in our vehicles contributed, because it’s both soft and durable. The Chevy cloth felt like denim in comparison and doesn’t age as well. The Excursions feel roomier inside, too, which should not be shocking. I think the Chevys have better A/C, at least I have had more Fords with weak A/C than Chevys, but our vehicles are so heavily used it may not be fair to come to conclusions based on that.
The Excursion has been written up once before here at CC, by Gerardo Solis, under the title Too Big Even For America. I definitely think he was onto something there, though I would personally write the title to be less catchy but more accurate: Too Big Even For Casual, Status-Seeking American Buyers Who Didn’t Really Need Something So Big.
Big SUVs generally sold well to people who needed a high capacity, off-road-capable vehicle or at least wanted to project the image of being someone who needed a high capacity, off-road-capable vehicle. However, folks of either type didn’t necessarily want something that big. The Excursion was always a niche player and tended to sell to those who had a legitimate requirement for its particular set of skills, whether it was for doing a lot of long distance driving and/or towing for which the available Diesel was well suited or for extra big families like the Brady Bunch we can imagine trading in their Plymouth wagon for the new millennium. The extra jumbo size and low gas mileage tended to weed out the poseurs. Unfortunately, that made for low enough production that Ford chose not to make a second generation and instead just offer a stretched version of the Expedition a la GM.
|2000 Excursion||2000 Suburban 2500||2000 Suburban 1500||2000 Expedition|
|Curb Weight 2×4||6,650lb||5,447lb||4,914lb||4,808lb|
|City;Hwy MPG||8;12 (est, 4×4)||not available||12;17||12;17|
|2021 KBB value||$7,957||$5,570||$5,116||$3,208|
|Total production 2000-2005||178,055||1,161,249 total Suburban 1500 and 2500 and Yukon XL||1,010,512|
2000 was the Excursion’s best sales year at 50k. It dropped to 34k the next year and slowly declined to 16k its final season in 2005. As you can see in the chart, its total sales over 6 years were dwarfed over the same period by both the Suburban and the Expedition, not to mention other popular models like the Tahoe/Yukon and the Explorer which sold even more.
Recently, one of my favorite current automotive writers, Jonny Leiberman of Motor Trend, was reviewing the new Suburban and had a good defense of monster SUVs. Among other things, he said, “Americans need [large SUV’s]. We’re big people with large families, husky friends, and an endless supply of outdoor toys, living in an expansive land filled with majestic redwood forests and shimmering Gulf stream waters. This SUV was made for you and me” (apologies to Woody Guthrie). Giant SUVs are a distinctly American art form, with pros and cons somewhat mirroring the strengths and faults of the country itself. Big and brash, maybe a bit wasteful but stunningly capable at times. The pursuit of happiness is literally written into our founding document and pursuing that happiness with the vehicle of our choice is seen as practically a birthright.
So the Excursion is absurdly big, that’s a given. That means it’s really inefficient, right? [This is the math portion of our lesson, so skip down past the next picture if you are just auditing the class.] The EPA didn’t test the Excursion, since it’s a heavy duty truck, so I don’t have exact figures for it. Motor Trend estimated the 4X4 V10 they tested at 8/12 city/hwy. Let’s say a 2WD model would get 13 on the highway and perhaps 14 if you had the 5.4L V8 (even more with Diesel, of course). The Excursion could fit 5 or 6 six adults very comfortably for however long of a trip you’d want to take. For comparison, a 2000 Honda Civic was EPA rated at 32mpg highway and I would say could fit only 2 adults in comparable comfort.
A little bit of math tells us that for a 300 mile trip in an Excursion carrying 6 passengers, you would use 3.9 gallons per passenger at 13mpg, or 3.6 at 14mpg. The 2000 Civic carrying 2 passengers would use 4.7 gallons per passenger. What if you put a third person in the Civic? That drops its consumption to 3.1 gallons per person, only marginally better than the Excursion. How about a 2021 Civic rated at 42mpg? With 2 passengers, it would be 3.6 gallons, exactly the same as the 14mpg Excursion.
An environmentally minded person might grant that while the Excursion may be a comfortable long distance cruiser that isn’t too bad on fuel per person if you load it full of passengers, he would rather keep his carbon footprint low by flying commercial. According to Grist.org (environmental website), the average passenger car driving 300 miles generates 104 kg of C02, so lets triple that for the sake of argument for the Excursion. A commercial passenger jet traveling 300 miles generates 737kg CO2 per passenger. Our Excursion carrying 6 passengers would produce 52kg per passenger. The Excursion is starting to look like a environmental poster child! Yes, making the Excursion out to be a Green Eco Warrior may be a stretch, I simply do this math to point out that there are different ways of looking at things.
The genuine value of the Excursion is reflected in the prices it still commands, almost 16 years after the last one was made. For a gasoline example, expect to pay 50% more than a Suburban with similar mileage and equipment and over 100% more than an Expedition. And get this: the same 2000 Excursion that’s valued at $7,900 with a 5.4L gas engine jumps to $12,900 with the 7.3L Diesel! Add another $1,300 for 4×4. A similar Diesel Suburban 2500 only comes in at $6,000. Values were taken from KBB.com for private party sales with 147k miles.
Judging by how many nice looking Excursions I see on the road around truck-loving Texas, I believe most owners today value them highly and try to maintain them. They have become something of a cult classic.
The non-COAL subject vehicle was one of four nice ones that I photographed, three were Diesels and one had the gas 5.4L. When I spotted the last one, I knew that would be the one I’d use because it was in fantastic condition, recently washed, set up perfectly for photos outside a repair shop, and I was allowed to shoot the interior. As a bonus, it was white like all the subject vehicles in this series and it was a first year example. With 147k miles, this 21 year old Diesel clearly has a loving home.
God bless America and God bless Excursions. They represent the extreme end of the SUV world, which somehow has allowed them to not be lumped together with their more common,
smaller not-quite-so-big, SUV brethren. Those that survive now occupy a special place in the vehicular world and in their owners’ driveways. Or garages, if they’re big enough.
2000 Excursion photographed in Houston, TX April 7, 2021.
Previous articles in the series: