Fourth Place: Ford Expedition NBX
Our fourth-place finisher, the Expedition has a nicely crafted interior, some inventive seat-configuration solutions, and four-wheel independent suspension. The exterior design of the Expedition is tasteful and understated with a strong family resemblance to the midsize Explorer. The Expedition was overhauled from stem to stern for the 2003 model year.

Ford markets this SUV as a step-up vehicle for buyers moving from Explorers and other midsize 'utes. Climbing aboard (literally, courtesy of the runningboards standard on most trim levels), passengers are treated to a roomy, well-kitted cabin. As one staffer puts it, "The Expedition's interior is fluid and attractive, not overly stylish, and everything's well-placed and useable." Editors generally gave the Ford high marks for seating comfort and material choices. "Seems screwed together well," says one. Classy flourishes such as the round metallic-look dash-panel vents and thoughtful touches like the large bins in the console garnered praise, while the seemingly out-of-sync manual recline lever on the power front seats come in for some criticism.

The Expedition is the only full-size in our test group with six-foot-adult accommodations in every row of seats. A three-passenger third-row seat is standard. Simply depress a single lever at the rear of the second-row seat cushion, and the seatback tilts down and the cushion flips forward in a single fluid movement. Access to the third row is ample. The big Ford will carry up to nine passengers when equipped with the base XLS trim 60/40-split front bench seat.

That largess does have a penalty: the Expedition is the heaviest among our group by some 400 pounds. Combine that mass with the second-lowest horsepower of the five, and performance will suffer. Around town, the Ford's ample low-speed torque is more than enough to deal with the ebb and flow of traffic. But when challenged to merge onto a fast-moving freeway or pass a large vehicle on a winding two-lane highway, the 5.4-liter makes more noise than thrust.