Ford’s all-new aluminum 2018 Expedition features more power, more space, a higher tow rating and better fuel economy. What’s not to like?
What’s old is new again.
For decades, Americans have regarded the full-size SUV as the go-to vehicle for transporting people and things in comfort and confidence. A commanding view combined with plenty of elbow room, cargo capacity and the ability to tow the family boat or trailer made the full-size SUV a practical alternative to a passenger car or minivan.
But the market is changing. While the large SUV segment is still dominated by American manufacturers, the proliferation of svelte midsize SUVs — many with three rows — continues to take a bite out of sales. Companies like Ford and GM aren’t the only ones that have recognized the profit potential for family trucksters; today, nearly every manufacturer offers its own product line. Indeed, companies like BMW, Porsche and Mercedes credit SUV sales for keeping them solvent, enabling them to continue to sell the models they became famous for but weren’t necessarily getting rich from. Couple these factors with fluctuating fuel prices and a tenuous economy, and the future of the full-size SUV seems precarious. Who, or what, is going to save it?
According to Ford, the surprising answer is America’s largest demographic — millennials. The kids who grew up in the second or third row of the family SUV are now shopping for one themselves, but they don’t want the same hulking beast their parents shuttled them around in. They expect more comfort, higher content levels and, as children of the internet, connectivity. They’re keenly aware of social issues and won’t accept a gas-guzzling, environmentally unfriendly icon of excess.
Enter the 2018 Ford Expedition, a sleeker, lighter more fuel-efficient version of its old self. To reinvent its largest SUV, Ford pulled a page out of its F-150 and Super Duty playbook, crafting the new body out of aluminum alloy while retaining a high-strength steel backbone. In fact, the Expedition rides on the same platform as the F-Series pickup but is designed to accommodate SUV proportions and styling, according to Ford. As with its truck cousins, the weight saved (Ford claims 300 pounds) was reinvested in other areas to make the Expedition better equipped and more capable, adding new features like a second-row seat with tip-and-slide functionality and an available Panoramic Vista Roof. Towing limits increased as well, to a class-leading 9,300 pounds maximum tow rating (Expedition 2WD) when equipped with the available Heavy-Duty Trailer Tow Package.
Starting with a clean sheet of aluminum also gave designers the freedom to open up the cabin area, which netted exceptional second- and third-row legroom, and increased hip and shoulder room over the outgoing model. This is the first SUV we’ve tested where the third-row seat is more than just an afterthought or a place to stow the littlest members of the family. These seats are actually comfortable and supportive, have a recline feature and offer enough legroom for daylong drives.
At Ford’s press introduction in Malibu, California, we placed 6-footers in all three rows and asked to make themselves comfortable. When all was said and done, the second- and third-row passengers had at least 4 inches of knee room from the seatback in front of them. The Expedition Max is approximately 1 foot longer and has a greater wheelbase (131.6 inches versus 122.5 inches), but passenger space is virtually identical between the two models. A PowerFold third row is standard on all grades.
Moreover, Ford made an effort to make sure that everyone riding in the new Expedition is comfortable and happy. Standard USB ports, one on either side of the vehicle, are available in every row, and an available Wi-Fi hotspot supports as many as 10 devices at once from up to 50 feet away. Also available is a dual-headrest rear-seat entertainment system that allows passengers to watch live TV via SlingPlayer on either or both of the two video screens. It’s the first time SlingPlayer — which connects to a user’s Slingbox account — has been offered in an automobile, according to Ford.
Having made its debut in 2016 as the only engine choice available, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine returns to power all versions of the Expedition but this year incorporates port and direct fuel injection for greater performance and fuel economy. XLT and Limited models get a 375-horsepower version of the engine that produces 470 lb-ft of torque, while the top-dog Platinum model, both standard and Max versions, get 400 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque. The engine is matched with a new 10-speed automatic transmission, which Ford credits with the higher tow rating and best-in-class fuel-economy ratings of 17 mpg/city, 24 mpg/highway and 20 mpg/combined (Expedition 4×2).
According to Ford’s market research, towing is important to 50 percent of its customers, while 15 percent tow weekly or monthly. So, in addition to the higher tow rating and standard Class IV hitch receiver, Ford added a feature called Pro Trailer Backup Assist (PTBA), which made its debut on the 2015 Ford F-150.
Realizing that most of its customers can’t get accustomed to steering a trailer the correct direction while looking through a rearview mirror, PTBA makes the whole process much more intuitive. Turn the system on by pushing a button in the center of the dash-mounted knob, then simply take your hands off the steering wheel and turn the knob the direction you want the trailer to go. The vehicle’s rearview camera reads the position of a target sticker that the owner places on the trailer’s A-frame, giving the system a reference point. As the knob is turned, the steering wheel spookily turns on its own in relation to driver inputs, and voila! You’re backing like a pro. We tried maneuvering a short travel trailer through a series of cones, and we can tell you, it really does work.
As for towing in general, Ford supplied an Expedition Max attached to an Airstream travel trailer weighing a claimed 6,500 pounds. Driving a loop through the Santa Monica
Mountains, the new EcoBoost engine and 10-speed automatic towed the trailer effortlessly. In fact, it was easy to see how someone could actually forget the trailer was back there.
The engine sound was muted, and the ride smooth — one of the more relaxing towing experiences in recent memory.
For those who see themselves traveling to faraway places, Ford once again offers the FX4 Off Road package on the Expedition, making it the most off-road-capable Expedition ever, according to Ford. The package includes a patented electronic limited-slip rear differential, off-road-tuned shocks, all-terrain tires, seven skid plates in strategic locations, unique 18-inch Magnetic Metallic-painted cast-aluminum wheels, chrome running boards and other unique features. An all-new Terrain Management System lets FX4 customers select from seven special drive modes including Normal, Sport, Tow/Haul, Eco, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Sand and Mud/Rut.
We sampled an FX4 on a surprisingly aggressive off-road trail in the Santa Monica foothills and were impressed at how competent the vehicle was at handling uneven terrain as well as steep climbs and descents. We simply switched the selector to 4WD low and the Terrain Management System to Mud/Rut and drove easily over the loose, rocky and rutted terrain.
At a very steep downhill section, we turned on Hill Descent Control. Once the system is activated, you remove your foot from the brake pedal entirely and nudge the vehicle to the precipice with a tap of the accelerator. As the vehicle breaks over, Hill Descent Control takes over immediately, safely guiding the vehicle to the bottom of the hill. And like other, similar hill-descent systems, this one is totally silent — no pulsing of ABS sensors or clicking of solenoids. We drove over trails that would give a mountain goat pause for thought, all while running the air conditioning and listening to the stereo.
A full-size SUV certainly isn’t the right choice for all families, but if yours is large and adventurous, we can’t think of a better choice than the 2018 Ford Expedition.
Ford Motor Company | www.ford.com/suvs/expedition