MOTOR MOUTH: Stately as a galleon

MOTOR MOUTH: Stately as a galleon - The great thing about cars is that in a world of intelligent moderation and mature circumspection, they allow unusual access to boastful, yet uncontestable, superlatives: most expensive, fastest, smallest, most economic

by STEPHEN BAYLEY, an author and design consultant
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The great thing about cars is that in a world of intelligent moderation and mature circumspection, they allow unusual access to boastful, yet uncontestable, superlatives: most expensive, fastest, smallest, most economical.

And, of course, biggest. This is the Ford Excursion. No contest. It makes a Chevy Suburban, hitherto provincial America's favoured Colossus of the Road, look petite and diminishes a Range Rover to Tonkadom. It blocks out the sun and people gasp as it passes.

If you owned an oil well and it was your routine to shuttle a team of rumbustious redneck Okie wildcatters around the fields from Tulsa to Okmulgee, or if you had been given the shuttle bus contract for the Bulgarian weightlifting team, an Excursion would be for you. Curiously, it's the type of vehicle favoured by spruce middle-class dieting American women in the 35-45 age bracket for their journeys between Starbucks and the gym.

Although not (yet) in any of the above categories, I spent part of the summer using an Excursion in New York as an element of my continuing quest to confront the absolute wherever it presents itself. In this case, it presented itself at Manhattan Ford on New York's remote and scary 11th Avenue between 54th and 55th. Ford's PR staff have been-there-done-it-all to a woman, but the look I got as I picked up the keys said: 'Are you really sure?'

I was certainly having my doubts as I eased out into a fuming scum of gridlocked, angry, parping traffic. Believe me, the Excursion is HUGE. The top of the cheesily chrome radiator grille is near enough to head height and you need to be standing on a building to see the roof. The halt and lame need not apply for internal access unless they bring a winch. You could suspend a small car, say a Volvo wagon, from davits at the back. Kamikaze Yellow Cabs instantly give ground.

That said, and controlled breathing exercises executed, the Excursion is a complete pussy to drive. Based on the Super-Duty F-series truck, my Excursion had a 6.8 litre V-10 engine, although real men will go for the 7.3 litre Navistar International diesel. Application of power resembles the spooling-up of turbines at a hydro-electric station: this is an industrial plant, not a sports car. As if to emphasise, the gear-change is a column-mounted device that feels as though you are opening sluices.

Of course, the ride resembles a truck: there's lots of wallow and - despite the steel chassis with boxed cross-members - when you hit a bump the whole thing shimmies and vibrates like a cross-Channel ferry, but on smooth roads it's sensationally authoritative. However, again, you have to reach for maritime metaphors to describe the tasks of changing direction or parking.

The interior of the vessel is another search for imagery: three rows of seats and separate air-conditioning for both front and rear. The people in the third row are so remote from the driver, they might as well be in a different time zone. In any case, they are numbed by an eccentric sort of luxury: the Excursion is extremely comfortable. Those on the bridge sit in capacious captains' chairs and everyone else wallows on acres of plush leather, enjoying a sense of total isolation from whatever nasty urban battle is taking place outside. Eight of us with all our holiday junk had so much room to spare that it was necessary to huddle up together to achieve any form of intimacy.

I loved the Explorer, but it has its critics, especially those unfortunates who submarine it in mere cars. The remedy for this, and I'm not making it up, is BlockerBeam, 50lbs of hollow steel. This comprises Ford's 'unique frontal crash enhanced under-ride protection system', a device that takes the part of the railroad cowcatcher. Or 'managing crash energy' in the technobabble. Other unworldly Excursion data include: 44-gallon fuel tank, five internal power points, 10 cup holders, five ventilation registers, 80W stereo, 20% made of recycled materials, 100% absolute blast.

Ford will make 800,000 Excursions this year. Caveman motoring journalists hooked on vroom-vroom German dynamics may scoff and environmentalists wag fingers: they are both wrong. The Excursion is a complete hoot to drive and when the hooting dies down, 85% of its vast bulk is recyclable. Unless you own a Gulfstream, there's no better way to travel. Alas, it will never sell here. It won't fit.

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