MALIBU, California—I have to say: when I first was informed about the roads Ford had picked for us to test the 2018 Expedition and Expedition Max, I was skeptical. These were a great selection of sinewy, bendy, undulating roads in and around Malibu, the kind of roads performance car and bike people love, assuming they’re driving a Honda CBR600RR as opposed to a Gold Wing; or a Ford Focus RS as opposed to, well, an Expedition.
We also had the chance to drive the refreshed Mustang on the event, and I really thought that my drive partner and I were looking at the wrong route book.
That is, until we set off, at which point it became abundantly clear these roads were exactly 100-percent the right ones because this all-new Expedition, believe it or not, can actually handle them.
Like the F-150 pickup with which it shares a platform, the Expedition now gets an all-aluminum body that shaves up to 300 lbs off the old truck, depending on which spec you choose. Even examples of the new truck that have more kit than an older example are seeing improvements in the weight department.
Unlike the F-150 which still has a V8 option, the Expedition is available only with 3.5-litre EcoBoost turbo V6 power, although there are two states of tune for the engine: at base, we get 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque, while some extra engine calibration provides top-spec Platinum models (which, at $83,999 for the Platinum Max, slot above the XLT, the Limited, and the $59,999 base) with 400 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque.
Styling-wise, Ford has squared-off the rounded corners seen on the old truck, providing a tougher, more rugged profile overall. It’s clear they wanted to mimic the profile of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban siblings, which’ve kind of been the industry standard the last decade in the domestic full-size SUV segment. Ford’s also added a few details like three grille styles, a prominent side crease, and wheels ranging from 17 to 22 inches in diameter, though the smallest are reserved for the bare-bones work truck trim; and the largest for Platinum models only.
Inside, there’s almost 5,000 litres of interior passenger volume, while the long-wheelbase Max version gets an astounding 3,340 litres of cargo volume if you fold both rear rows flat, either via buttons on the trunk wall or manually.
Access to the third row – which is actually surprisingly livable for adults, in both long-wheelbase (LWB) and short-wheelbase (SWB) models –is done by tilting and sliding the second-row seats forward, so you can leave the baby seats installed.
When it comes to SWB versus LWB, you may be disappointed the seats in LWB models don’t add much more space for occupants. The LWB truck does, however, provide an additional 378 litres of cargo room. That’s great, but when you see how positively cavernous the cargo area is even in the SWB models (the ones pictured here) I have a feeling many will balk at spending an additional $16,000 to get a LWB.
Besides that massive rear storage area, the Expedition gets 15 cupholders, a deep center storage bin, dual-tier glovebox, and a rear parcel shelf that can double as an internal tailgate to keep goods secure.
That kind of power, combined with the lightweight body means the Expedition – in either base or long-wheelbase “Max” form – springs forward on throttle with surprising gumption. Equally impressive is the braking performance; I distinctly recall a panic braking instance where I thought the truck would start shimmying fore and aft, ABS hollering expletives at me, but no, just pristine body control and braking response.
The next advantage of the lighter truck, of course, is less body movement. I talked about the lack of dive after that panic-braking move, but while body roll remains present, it’s much more reduced over previous models – thanks in no small part to available magnetic dampers – making for less driver and passenger fatigue on longer drives. This is a supremely comfortable truck above all else.
While you can add the FX4 off-road package (upgraded off-road shocks, 3.73-ratio electronic limited-slip differential, upgraded radiator, underbody protection, tubular running boards, all-terrain tires, two-speed transfer case) to both SWB and LWB models, Ford had us test it on the SWB truck, which makes sense, as the longer wheelbase would make navigating back-country trails that much more difficult.
It’s here the terrain management system makes its presence felt: we were tackling 25-degree grades with gumption in Mud/Rut mode, the Expedition never complaining and the off-road tires grabbing, grabbing, and grabbing as the AWD system shuffled power instantaneously to whichever wheel needed it, indicated by a handy graphic on the gauge cluster. A big truck like this shouldn’t perform this well in this kind of environment, but it does. Of course, when we had to make a few three-point turns navigating some hairpins, I started to question why this FX4 package was available on the Max models.
The heavy-duty tow package (upgraded radiator, 3.73-ratio axle with electronic limited-slip differential, trailer brake controller, two-speed transfer case) provides 9,000 lbs of towing for LWB models; and 9,200 lbs if you choose the SWB, both impressive figures. The only way to get more towing from this platform is to go with a 4×2 truck, but alas, those aren’t coming to Canada.
To demonstrate, Ford hooked up a LWB Expedition Max to a 6,500-lb 27-foot Airstream trailer and had us give it the beans through ups, downs, and ’round pretty much the same bends we were tackling in the other vehicles. To further push the point of how capable the Expedition was at this task, we were testing one of the lower-powered trucks.
No way, right? With all this light-weighting and V6 power, I half-expected the truck to rear up on its wheels as it tried desperately to get the big anchor of an Airstream rolling. Turns out, I was about as wrong as could be. The whole unit got moving with ease, confidently rolling out of the start gate and down the road. The opposite of what I pictured was true, as the lighter weight of the truck itself means it can tow more and still fall under the government-mandated GVWR.
It hauled up hills, on long straights, and back down again, although it did labour a little under slightly heavier braking—you can’t defeat physics, and a 6,500-lb trailer will make itself felt one way or another.
Of course, this being 2017, a truck needs tech, and enough of it to make even a newbie tow-er feel like a long-haul trucker at the wheel. To do so, Ford equipped the Expedition with a host of driving aids: during highway driving, trailer sway assist uses the stability control system to keep both truck and trailer in check, and it works like a charm, even under heavy braking when approaching the bottom of a hill. The blind spot system, meanwhile, takes the trailer into account, another piece of tech shared with the F-150 and Super Duty pickups.
Also shared with those trucks is the mightily impressive Pro-Trailer Back Up Assist system, which comes with the heavy-duty tow package. Essentially, instead of having to do the steering yourself while backing up a trailer, you twist a knob on the dash for slight adjustments, regulate the brake and throttle, and the system does the rest. It’s a fabulous system and while diehard tow-ers may scoff, I’m confident as soon as they discover how easy it makes towing for the rest of the family, they’ll come around on it.
The tech conversation, of course, has to extend beyond driver aids at this level; if pickups are now almost family vehicles, SUVs like this may well be like minivans when it comes to people-moving ability, especially for manufacturers, who’re killing minivans like Agent J did cockroaches in Men in Black.
We’ve discussed the Expedition’s comfort qualities, but its tech qualities shouldn’t be snubbed. All but the base model truck gets SYNC3, Ford’s much-improved infotainment interface that provides a responsive touchscreen; big, bright graphics that you can pinch and swipe; and compatibility for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. If the main infotainment screen and digital gauge cluster aren’t enough, a rear-seat entertainment system can be added for $2,100.
Also optional is a Bang & Olufsen Play 12-speaker sound system (up from nine as standard) on Platinum and Limited models, so occupants that don’t get their own screens still get a taste of the new tech. Nine speakers at standard is a little on the low side, however; I’ll bet the B&O Play box will get ticked quite often on Expedition order sheets.
Tough call. At just under $60,000 at base, it’s not inexpensive, that’s for sure. The Tahoe, hitherto the domestic champion in the big SUV segment, starts at $5,000 less. But it’s old, comes not quite as well-equipped, and is not quite as comfortable inside. The Nissan Armada starts at $5,000 more than the Expedition, so there’s that.
It’s just so darn capable, this new Expedition. The all-aluminum body, efficient turbo power, and sheer size of the thing means, above all else, you’re getting what you pay for. Full-sized SUVs like this aren’t ever going to be “affordable,” so all we can do is hunt for the vehicle with the biggest bang for our buck.
As I said previously, we had the chance to put the new Mustang through its paces on this event as well, and being a huge Mustang fan, I assumed the Expedition would almost feel like an afterthought to me.
Boy, was I wrong—the Expedition was the centerpiece. Not because of its sheer size. Not because of its leather seating or tech. It’s because I have a hard time remembering when I last drove an SUV that’s so big inside, yet drives so small when you want it to, and that shows such heart and barrel-chested bravado when you need it to.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.