FORT RICHARDSON, AK -- It was a great idea: Invite the press troops to Alaska and let 'em have a go at the all-new 4-door Ford full-size SUV in the world's most rugged terrain.

What Ford didn't count on is the dearth of rugged roads, on or off, in the Anchorage and Seward areas where Expedition was supposed to show its prowess. Nothing but decent as far as the eye could see.

SUV purists need mud and blood, man.

So what to do? Well, if you're a clever Fordite, you phone up the base commander at the Fort Richardson military reservation not far from Anchorage and make a simple request to, uh, trot out to their test "track."

Permission granted. "All we did was ask," says Jacques Nasser, Ford's No. 1 product-development honcho.

So here we go, on a test track designed for HUMVEEs, tanks and other military vehicles. It was enough to make one want to grab some camouflage dungarees and reenlist.

Although 4WD-low was useful in some spots -- steep grades, for example -- most of the course could be traversed in 4WD-high or even 2WD. No one expected the Expeditions to do anything other than take in full stride whatever the Army could dish out, and nobody was disappointed.

If a couple of dwarfs are available, the new SUV can handle up to nine -- yes, nine -- passengers with the optional third seat and two benches up front and midship. We tried the third seat: A brushcut and an aerobic workout in advance are advised.

Expedition borrows about half of its components from the recently introduced F-series pickups. In fact, from the A-pillar forward they're identical, except for a slightly tweaked grille on the Exped.

Just like Expedition's independent SLA front/coil spring rear suspension, its powertrains mirror the Fs, too: a 4.6L, 215-hp SOHC V-8 is standard and an optional bump to 230 hp comes with a 5.4L V-8. Both engines get their own 4-speed electronically controlled automatic. The F trucks already have proven to be winners -- and the Expedition just may enjoy a little ruboff from their success.