It was like something from George Lucas' supercharged imagination. Bounding over landscape as arid and magnificently desolate as Luke Skywalker's twin-sunned home planet of Tatooine was a toweringly tall, massively long, incredibly wide vehicle. Nothing like it had been seen on this side of the galaxy. Slogging through Death Valley was a 2000 Ford Excursion, the largest sport/utility vehicle on this, or any other, planet.

While Ford's now-smaller Expedition's family tree sprouts from the F-150 pickup, the Excursion is based on the larger Super Duty F-250. It's 6 feet 9 inches tall and, at its big-screen mirrors, is 8 feet 9 inches wide, 5 inches more than the big-backed Hummer! In traffic, you pick one lane and stay there, lest you overlook something small-like a stretched limo-in the next lane. Suitably sized parking spaces are as rare as desert rainstorms. Not only will it not fit in my garage, at 19 feet long (at the trailer hitch), it comes within 2 feet of filling my entire driveway. During our off-road venture, its 6-foot-8-inch-wide flanks were quickly streaked with scratches, as if keyed by delinquent wildlife. Filling its gargantuan 44-gallon tank nearly equals a monthly car payment and is too frequent, considering its less-than-10-mpg real-world mileage. Even with power going to all four wheels, the Excursion is too wide, long, and, at 7688 pounds, heavy to venture far from graded roads, especially since its 50-foot turning circle approximates the Arctic Circle. Rather, the 4WD option is for pulling yachts up slippery boat ramps and dragging 10,000-pound horse trailers out of muddy pastures.

The optional 6.8-liter/310-horsepower SOHC V-10 is smooth and potent, producing a fairly impressive (for its weight) 10.1-second 0-60-mph performance. However, its 167-foot 60-0-mph stopping distance is different story. After a long 140 feet of pedal-bending braking, the Excursion is still going 20 mph, while virtually every other vehicle would be at rest. Combined with its soft 0.69g cornering power and weak 52.4-mph slalom speed, the Excursion will be hard pressed to dodge trouble.

Its extra size doesn't translate directly into useable interior space. With a giant 3-foot liftover height and a short 37-inch vertical rear opening, even the 48.6 cubic feet-twice that of most minivans-behind the third-row seat is difficult to use and awkwardly shaped.

On anything but smooth pavement

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