If you’ve ever been to a ski resort in the U.S., there's a good chance you passed, parked next to, or got cut off by a Chevy Suburban or something similar. These snow-filled gravel lots are littered with three-row SUVs transporting families up mountain roads. The massive people haulers all follow the same tried and true formula: Take a big SUV, and then make it a bit bigger—just in case. This rings true for the 2023 Ford Expedition Timberline, but in my time with it, I found it to be more than just a status symbol. It’s a wheeler.
Like many other automakers are doing, Ford developed the Expedition Timberline to be the adventure-ready option for people with more money and more seats at their dinner table. Some of these examples are just the same car with a slight lift and some cladding, but the Timberline takes it a bit more seriously. For my recent bro-trip to Breckenridge, Colorado, I enlisted the help of one to see if it can perform as well on the trail as it does in the ski resort parking lot.
2023 Ford Expedition Timberline Specs
- Base price (Timberline as tested): $71,400 ($83,805)
- Powertrain: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 | 10-speed automatic | 4-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 440 @ 5,000 rpm
- Torque: 510 lb-ft @ 2,250 rpm
- Seating capacity: 8
- Curb weight: 5,368 pounds
- Towing capacity: 9,200 pounds
- Cargo volume: 104.6 cubic feet with seats down
- Ground clearance: 10.6 inches
- Off-road angles: 28.5° approach | 21.9° breakover | 23.7° departure
- EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city | 19 highway | 17 combined
- Quick take: It’s not just an appearance package, the Timberline actually performs.
- Score: 7/10
The Expedition is Ford’s biggest SUV—well, technically the Expedition Max is, but they’re in the same family. It slides neatly above the Ford Explorer in terms of space and size, while offering towing capacity closer to its pickup truck brother: the Ford F-150. The “normal” Expedition and Expedition Max come in many different trims but the Timberline—our focus in this review—is far more outdoorsy than any XLT you would find at a rental desk.
On the outside, Ford has taken a number of steps to separate the Timberline from the rest of the Expedition lineup. Available in a range of earthy tones, it sits noticeably higher than a standard Expedition thanks to off-road shocks and 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler all terrain tires. The bumper is also beefed up with orange tow hooks and orange trim. Paired with a sizable skid plate and blacked-out trim pieces, Ford has done a solid job at setting the Timberline apart from the rest of the pack.
Moving inside, the rugged theme continues. Orange stitching lines the seats, while aluminum and orange accenting run across the dash. Some may be turned off by such a bright accent color, but it works well and isn’t overbearing to the overall wilderness theme. Beyond that, there aren’t many things on the inside that separate the Timberline from another upper-trim Expedition. This particular vehicle is optioned with a $9,000 equipment package, the only major option on the Timberline. It features a number of items worth spending your money on including an astonishingly large panoramic sunroof, heated second-row seats, and Ford’s signature iPad—er, 15-inch infotainment screen.
The Timberline trim only comes with one engine option: Ford’s high output 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 making a healthy 440 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. Shifting gears is incredibly smooth thanks to the 10-speed transmission that’s mated to a two-speed transfer case with a button-operated locking rear differential. This same engine and transmission combination is used in the EcoBoost F-150 and provides more than enough power to get the Timberline up to speed, even while weighted down with eight dudes inside—ask me how I know.
Driving the Ford Expedition Timberline
On the road, the Timberline is noticeably gigantic. From someone who owns a lowered Mazda Miata, this was quite an adjustment. As I was still wrapping my head around the sheer size of this lifted beast, I began to navigate the city streets of Denver. At first I was nervous about blind spots in a vehicle this size, but surprisingly I only found one: a minor spot down the driver side that was easily solved via blind-spot monitoring. As I ran errands my first morning with the Timberline, the behemoth became more manageable. Its turning circle was impressively tight for such a big thing, and radar cruise control kept me comfortable in Denver rush hour traffic. It made sure I kept a safe distance—and more importantly—centered in the lane.
As my group began the drive up to Breckenridge, I set my sights on the notorious Loveland Pass via I-70. Going up in elevation, it became clear that while the 10-speed transmission is better for fuel economy, there is a significant delay between putting your foot down and the transmission actually kicking down to a usable gear. While I wouldn’t mind on a flat road, I found myself having to constantly give it the beans in order for the transmission to find the right gear on a climb. Once the transmission responded, the EcoBoost V6 had an impressive amount of power to get me, a bunch of guys, and all our snowboards up and over the 11,000-foot mountain pass.
The off-road suspension of the Timberline handled the twists and turns of the mountain highway equitably. Even loaded down, it didn’t lean too much or feel as though it was too soft for its own good. As I passed a couple lifted Jeeps with their off-road tires whining away against the asphalt, I was impressed at how quiet and refined the Timberline is inside, despite its ruggedness and Goodyear all-terrains.
Once in the mountains, we navigated to our Airbnb that sat atop a dirt road at 10,500 feet—almost 1,500 feet above Breckenridge. On one of the mornings there, I woke up to a surprise 8 inches of fresh snow. I departed the driveway in snow mode, and the Expedition handled the conditions so well that I barely noticed the powder. The tires seem to have really made the difference here. Even though the Timberline has the technology and clearance to bust through the snow, other AWD vehicles struggled to drive up the dirt road that day with all-seasons or standard snow tires.
In addition to snow driving, I was able to take the Expedition Timberline on the Switzerland Trail—a modestly technical route located in the hills outside of Boulder, Colorado. While the Timberline took up most of the rock-covered single track, it handled the bumps, steep climbs, and rocky trail with ease. At this point my testing had gone quite far past anything a typical family would endure, so I quickly returned to the glory of the ski resort parking lot.
Highs and Lows
If you’re looking for an SUV with a seemingly endless amount of space, then the Ford Expedition Timberline is a strong contender. I have never driven a rig that can fit so many people or bags so comfortably while also traversing most anything in its path. Almost all of the seats independently adjust and fold, making storage in the Timberline endlessly configurable. Every time I got in the car I was putting seats up and down to accommodate humans, suitcases, snowboards, or a little of everything. It works great.
Drawbacks specific to the Expedition were few and far between. After multiple generations making the rig, they’ve got the recipe down. Most of my gripes came in the form of industry trends, such as its gear selector. Like other companies, Ford fitted the new Expedition with a circular knob paired with a button-actuated manual gear selector next to it. When I tried to engage a lower gear to descend down steep roads, I found myself having to continuously take my eyes off the road in order to first find the shifter, select “M”, and then move my hand back to a less-than-ergonomic position in order to finally select a lower gear. For an SUV that is supposed to ease the gap between off road, on road, and towing, this does not work well. It'd be safer and easier to operate if it had a traditional gear lever like the F-150, or at least provide steering wheel paddles.
Ford Expedition Timberline Features, Options, and Competition
The base Timberline falls right in the middle of the Expedition trim offerings you’ll find from Ford, though with options, it costs nearly the same as a Platinum. While some of the core features are the same, Ford has done an excellent job leveling up this trim package. The Timberline comes fitted with a heavy duty skid plate, off road shocks and suspension, a 0.8-inch suspension lift, all terrain tires, and an all terrain management system. Additionally, my particular vehicle was outfitted with the pricey but worth it equipment package mentioned previously. This includes the massive 15.5-inch touchscreen infotainment, Ford’s impressive adaptive cruise control, a rockin’ 12 speaker sound system by Bang & Olufsen, and a digital gauge cluster with fancy graphics and useful displays.
While there’s a whole host of competitors in the three-row SUV space, when it comes to off-road ready versions, there are two major rivals for the Timberline: the Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro and the Chevy Tahoe Z71. The Sequoia takes the hardcore approach with Fox shocks, a coil-sprung rear axle, and tech features like Crawl Control and Multi-Terrain Select. It’s essentially a stand-in for the legendary Land Cruiser since we no longer get that in the States. The Tahoe Z71 takes a more conservative approach with alterations to the front bumper, all terrain tires, and a more mild set of off road shocks. In my view, the changes on the Expedition Timberline go farther to give you something that looks and feels more special than the Chevy Tahoe Z71, but it falls just short of the Sequoia TRD Pro in terms of off-road attitude.
There aren’t a ton of optional extras on the Timberline trim apart from complete option groups. If I were to spec it myself, I would go with my tester’s 501A Equipment Package and Ford Co-Pilot360 options, but swap out colors for the gorgeous Forged Green Metallic.
Let’s face it, the Expedition Timberline is not meant to be economical. I’m a big believer in the EcoBoost V6 because they perform well—even when towing. But when it comes to moving a 5,600-pound vehicle, there's only so much you can do. Nevertheless, the Expedition sits right in the middle of the pack in terms of EPA estimated fuel economy.
In my time with this tank I averaged 15.6 mpg, which I found pretty impressive given that I was constantly driving up and down mountain roads. Given normal city driving conditions, I expect this number will go up.
Value and Verdict
For $83,805 fully loaded and delivered, there are plenty of options out there and the Expedition Timberline is an honorable choice. In all reality, buyers care more about driver assistance and interior features, as opposed to one-pedal trail driving and wheel articulation. However, like many vehicles, it's nice to know that it could do it… if it needed to. The Timberline completes these tasks with ease.
The Ford Expedition Timberline is cool, even if it doesn’t offer anything drastically better than the off-road ready competition. Buying the Expedition Timberline is a choice you won’t regret. It's sharp, capable, and dependable. But it’s worth cross-shopping the competition. If I were in the market, it'd be a tough choice between this and that Sequoia TRD Pro.
Aaron Segal works as a Product Manager for Recurrent, The Drive's parent company. While he spends most of his time behind the scenes keeping the lights on, he has always been a diehard automotive enthusiast and moonlights as a contributor on The Drive. He is based in Boston and drives a highly modified Volvo V70 R as well as a supercharged Mazda Miata.