Houston? Yes, that's certainly real truck country, but not typically the place where major auto manufacturers host a world premiere, especially one as big as this. Regardless, Ford chose the Lone Star State to unveil its 2007 Expedition and Expedition EL, two weeks before Toyota dominated the Chicago auto show with its new, Texas-size/Texas-built Tundra pickup truck (for more Tundra details, see the full story in this issue).

Although the 2007 Expedition may look like it received a moderate restyle, don't be fooled. There are more than a few significant changes. To begin with, the all-new Expedition EL is Ford's replacement for the F-250-based Ford Excursion. Now it is to the Expedition what the Suburban is to the Chevy Tahoe: built on the same chassis, with many of the same parts. In fact, the EL has the new Expedition's completely redesigned independent rear suspension, a revised five-link design, and shares sheetmetal from the B-pillar to the front bumper, which sits below Ford's now-signature three-horizontal-bar grille.

This new rear suspension is a heavier-duty version of the five-link setup on the current Explorer and Explorer Sport Trac, specifically designed to deal with heavy vertical and side loads. Both short- and long-wheelbase Expeditions have an all-new, fully boxed frame and 10-percent-better torsional rigidity than the short-wheelbase version it replaces. Unique to the Suburban-fighter, the EL has a stretched wheelbase, 12 inches longer than its shorter sibling, at 131 inches (one inch longer than the Suburban), and overall length is up 14.8 inches, to 221.3. The stretch improves cargo capacity behind the third-row seat as well as behind each of the other rows. Choose the EL over the standard model, and you get an extra 22 cubic feet for a generous 130.8 cubic feet overall. Both Expeditions will continue to offer the Ford exclusive PowerFold electric third-row seat option, not available on the new Tahoe or Suburban.

Towing capacity is 9100 pounds for either Expedition. The standard engine on the Expedition and EL is a 300-horsepower, 5.4-liter Triton V-8, rated 365 pound-feet of torque and mated to a new six-speed automatic, a modified version of the transmission now offered in the Explorer and Sport Trac V-8. The optional 4x4 system has a two-speed transfer case and optional electronic shift-on-the-fly capability, giving the driver a choice between 2WD, AWD, 4WD High, and 4WD Low. All Expeditions come standard with AdvanceTrac and Roll Stability Control. They have 17-inch wheels standard, and 20-inch chrome wheels are available.