It’s hard to believe that the Ford Expedition has been a part of the marketplace since 1996, I still recall seeing my first one back then as we happened to be visiting my in-laws and parked their then-new Ford Explorer next to one. My mother-in-law looked that Expedition over and remarked that it looked very similar, just larger, and perhaps they should have waited for it instead.
While that first generation was notable for its good looks and popularity, subsequent generations were a bit more ho-hum until this fourth-generation version arrived a couple of years ago. Available since 2007 in a longer wheelbase format as well (to more or less replace the enormous Excursion), the Expedition has always competed mainly with GM’s offerings in the category and in the standard wheelbase configuration such as the one I had an opportunity to drive here, firmly has the popular Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon in its sights.
Those two are in the process of having a new generation rolled out as we speak, however the Expedition has become a more familiar sight on our roads. And a welcome sight it is too, boasting what I consider restrained but very handsome styling, looking strong, sleek (if something this large can qualify as sleek), and thoroughly modern in sort of a rectilinear European fashion, albeit with some very American flourishes, especially as mine was equipped.
Last year Ford moved over 86,000 of them in the U.S. which seems like a lot until you realize it’s a fraction of its competition but there is no longer any really good reason for that. The market seems to have caught on though, as that total (Expedition sales) is up significantly from the year prior and in fact every year dating back to 2007. The relative sales to the competition’s will bear watching.
The Expedition is and always has been based on the F-150 with numerous commonalities, and as with pickups there are a plethora of trim levels available. Seeing as I had the Limited, I initially figured that was close to the top of the line, however that was not the case as it starts with the XLT, then Limited, then King Ranch and finally the Platinum.
After living with the Limited for a week, I can’t say that it was missing anything I would consider essential and in fact seemed to have much more than the usual complement of standard fripperies for a lower-half model. You’d be forgiven for assuming that this was the typical loaded tester, however not so, this Expedition arrived with a grand total of two (!) options (ok, option packages), which we will get into later and accounted for much less than ten percent of the total price. However, a lot of things usually considered optional are standard already so that helps a lot.
Presented in Iconic Silver Metallic (Yes, “Iconic” is part of the color’s name) with Ebony Leather-trimmed interior, this Kentucky-built SUV certainly looks imposing but without the over the top macho-ness evident in some pickup trucks these days, the swept-back grille makes a big difference here.
Compared to the current Tahoe/Yukon, the standard Expedition is about half a foot longer for a total of 210 inches (the Max version is yet another foot or so longer making that about 2″ shorter than the Suburban). That extra length pays dividends as it allows for more cargo room behind both the second as well as third rows with what I perceived as more space in both, albeit a much more comfortable position in the second row than the third.
The Expedition also has an independent rear suspension as one of its major differences relative to its F150 roots, something the GM competition is finally getting this year as well, this has long been one of the major advantages for the Ford, allowing the rear floor to be lower and the third row seats to disappear into the floor at the touch of a button.
In fact, both the second as well as third rows are powered. In the case of the second row, they flop down but need to be pulled back up manually, however the third row gracefully folds into the floor and then magically reappears at the press of yet another button.
Cargo space is ample with the second row down, and cavernous with both rear rows down (And this is the short version).
With both rows up, there is room behind the third row, but it is likely not enough for eight passengers worth of luggage unless it’s a “sun’n’surf” trip. But Ford sells the longer one if that’s a common scenario. For purely people carrying, four or less will be extremely comfortable, five will be very comfortable, seven will mostly be sufficiently comfortable, and if eight, they’d better be very small or not at all concerned with social distancing and hopefully it’s a short trip.
Note that in the second row I had tons of room when sitting “behind myself” but the third row was tighter.
In the third row my knees were into the second row seatback and my head was up against the headliner until I realized that there is a handy recline function back there, which solved the head issue but not the knee one.
Clambering back to the third row is simple, the second row seat basically tries to hug the first row and more or less gets itself out of the way (manually, but simple to do), it’s not just a further origami move beyond folding down, it’s a whole different Twister scenario.
But nobody will buy this to seat themselves in the third row, they buy this to be captain of the ship! So what’s the helm like? In a word, excellent. Frankly, this was significantly nicer than I was expecting. Two years ago I was given a loaner 2017 (previous generation) Expedition when my even older Mercedes GL was having hail damage repaired.
I was so displeased with it that I went back and traded it out for a Tahoe at the end of the first day with it. At that point in its run it was simply uncompetitive, slathered in hard, poorly grained plastics, evoking a very budget vibe, and displaying every bit of its pickup truck roots.
Well, that’s no more, the driver’s seat itself for example would not be out of place in a Volvo, with thick leather, carefully stitched seams, three levels of built-in cooling as well as heating, and plenty of thigh support. It proved all-day comfortable on several long-ish drives and allowed for a multitude of driving positions. The lumbar support had a wide range of adjustment, let down only by the fact that it does not allow a height adjustment, just more or less support in one fixed area. But I set the seat up once on the first day and then didn’t touch any of the adjusters all week, that’s a sign of a good seat for me.
The dash, while still having some harder plastics, mostly has them in areas where they aren’t much of an issue or where they are to be expected such as the vent surrounds etc. The majority of the top of the dash and doors were covered in either leather or a good facsimile of it with an attractive stitching pattern around the edges. The wood was obviously fake, while visually looking excellent with a pattern and color that I liked a lot, once touched or tapped it was immediately obvious that it was plastic through and through, and not a particularly solid plastic either.
I suppose the tradeoff is that it seemed durable, as in scratch-resistant, and if it did get damaged, would likely not be expensive to replace, the matte finish on it would likely hide scratches and fingerprints far better than highly glossy coated wood veneers found in some other vehicles. It is used on the door panels and in the center console – around the shifter knob area and as movable covers to the right and ahead of that (both pictured open above and below)
Gear selection is done via a rotary knob, however I can’t figure out why the parking brake (also electric) is not placed next to it, but rather in front of one’s left knee. This proved a little irksome over time, as the procedure to start and get moving needed to be to push the starter button, then rotate the shifter knob, then use the other hand to depress the brake button.
However that could not be done by touch alone as it is located immediately next to the electric foot pedal adjuster mechanism and more than once I adjusted that instead. Hence a longer process than in other vehicles and it was difficult to get used to the fact that to turn the engine on or off, one pushes the starter button, but has to pull the brake button to engage it (push to disengage), and then twist the gear selector. I’m able to chew gum and walk at the same time and can multi-task quite well, but this was getting to be a little too reminiscent of the “Hokey-Pokey” dance. My guess is that the project engineer at Ford does not use the parking brake and thus wasn’t concerned about it. It’s annoying for those of us that do and easily corrected.
The other interior gripe I had was with the wireless charging (Am I really that spoiled that I can complain about this marvelous feature?). I have wireless charging in my own car and more and more vehicles are starting to feature it. Usually there is a pad or place to put the phone and it just charges, no cables. This is even nicer than it sounds, yes, it’s not difficult to plug in a cord, but now that you don’t have to, it’s becoming expected.
The problem with it here is that the phone needs to be placed in a cubby at the bottom of the center stack. This cubby has a cover (that always stayed open) which is nice for security but the opening is so small my hand did not fit and it became a pain to put the phone in place. The pad barely holds my iPhone8+ and while I was grateful for the wireless charging it was such a pain to position that often I would not even bother with it. An unintended consequence (or perhaps this is precisely the point?) is that it made the phone harder to get to when it was desired.
My state for example does allow me to talk on the handset while driving (no texting), I don’t want to debate if that’s good or bad, but it makes it more dangerous to get at the phone when it’s tucked away as it is. Yes, there is Bluetooth and AppleCarPlay and AndroidAuto but sometimes you don’t want everything broadcast through the cabin and still can’t ignore the call. If this were actually my car I’d probably have a cord handy to plug in and leave the wireless for a passenger which is a bit of a shame and something that could be improved on.
Still, if those are my major complaints, that’s not bad. Once moving, the vehicle was delightful. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to sample GM’s 6.2l V8 recently as the twin turbo 3.5l V6 as featured here did initially have some controversy attached to it in the marketplace as to whether or not it could replace a good V8. Let me tell you that yes it can. No doubt about that.
Tuned as it is in this application, it provides 375hp and 400lb-ft of torque (and slightly/somewhat higher in some higher trimmed Expeditions as well as other vehicles). On regular gasoline that provides for much better than expected acceleration and pulling power. It simply gets up and goes, whether from a full stop or when already at the limit on the freeway and doesn’t seem to run out of breath. I’d have zero compunctions about choosing this over any V8, and I believe history has shown it to be a very good engine as far as longevity is concerned.
The transmission is a 10-speed unit codenamed internally at Ford as “The Schwinn” (no, not really), shifts imperceptibly, can regularly be found all the way up in 10th gear, but is willing to immediately downshift multiple gears as needed before anyone can grumble about what’s taking so long. The dashboard features a graphic showing which gear it is in at all times which is not always the case in other vehicles and appreciated.
You can also choose to shift gears “manually” but it seems pointless to do so, really. Overall it is very well suited to the engine and a great complement to the vehicle itself. A V8 is not missed here. Even the sound is not unattractive, more of a muted roar at times than a V8 burble but distinctive enough to know there is some serious power down underneath.
One may wonder if the V6 pays dividends at the pump, after all it IS labeled “EcoBoost”. Well, the boost part taketh what the eco part giveth. In my week and close to 400 miles it averaged 18.6mpg, this is more or less comparable to the 19 I got with GM’s 6.2l V8. Ford rates it at 17 hwy, 22 city with 19 combined. I drove to Laramie and back (there on Hwy 287, back via I-80/25) as well as to the eastern metro area of Denver via Hwy 85 and returning via I-70/25.
That accounted for about 325 miles, the balance was in town, lowest altitude was 4982 feet above sea level, highest 8235, A/C was on continuously and I spent some time scouting and positioning for photo opportunities throughout. Freeway speeds were high, generally around 75-80mph and highway speeds steady at 60-70 with minimal traffic.
When there was traffic such as for lights, the Expedition has a stop/start system that’s slightly annoying, it is noticeable when it wakes up and for whatever reason decides to shut down only to wake up again within seconds if the A/C is running as it was for most of my time. What’s the point of that, if it can’t run with the A/C on for the duration of a traffic light, then it should just stay on. Altitude didn’t bother it at all, the turbos compensated very well (as they do) and it was able to run and hang with anything else on the highway.
Steering feel is pretty much non-existent, it turns well enough but one has zero idea of what’s going on below the tires but does track very well at higher speeds, making for a relaxing cruiser. Back at city speeds, the turning circle was excellent, far tighter than I would have thought. The ride itself was alright, a little busier than expected but I should chalk that up to one of the option packages in particular rather than damning the whole line here, I don’t think this particular version may be representative of all of the other ones in that regard.
I don’t mind a firm ride at all (prefer it, actually) but I had envisioned it somewhat more pillow smooth than what it turned out to be. I’ll hasten to say that I surprised myself by musing to myself that as long as someone else was carrying the fuel budget, I’d very happily drive this across the country, either by myself or with a full load of passengers.
I know I’m on record as liking virtually all vehicles (I really do, and everything is good at something), but this one stood out in that regard, it was just effortless, even the size wasn’t a hindrance as it seems to drive smaller than it actually is.
Visibility is generally decent all around, however the blind spot system is handy to have as looking over one’s left shoulder makes apparent that the B-pillar and interior grab handle take a up a large amount of the field of vision, and sitting high up can of course make smaller and especially much lower vehicles harder to spot.
I tend to run the radio at a generally low level, hence usually the sound system isn’t a huge thing for me, but when I get a good one in a tester, then I go all MARRS and “Pump Up The Volume”. This Ford features a Bang&Olufsen system as standard that quite frankly can hang with the best of them, at least as far as my old ears are concerned.
Highs are audible, lows go belly-deep, and my eardrums were distorting before the speakers were (they actually didn’t). It’s good, really good. Sometimes I like me some old-school rap music and I don’t bother seeking it out unless I know the speakers are good, I certainly did in this one and was bobbing my head heavily to the beat. It was a wholly unexpected feature, something I may have expected in the Lincoln Navigator version of this, but not here. Good job there, Ford!
So let’s talk about that most contentious of topics, price, just in case one day soon you find yourself in the Showcase Showdown portion of The Price Is Right and one of these pops up as the grand prize. According to my sticker, this 4×4 “Limited” trim level starts at an MSRP of $66,470, your dealer may be amenable to adjusting that. That includes everything I’ve discussed so far, as well as automatic headlights and wipers, heated and power folding mirrors, roof rack, powered fold-out running boards (replaced by an option below), heated seats front and rear (not third though) and steering wheel, ventilated front seats, power seats with memory, tri-zone automatic climate control, the B&O sound system, WiFi, Satellite radio, a garage door button, and plenty of airbags and other safety systems/nannies and more.
Options as I said were limited to two items. First was the Equipment Group 301A, priced at $2,555 which gets you Ford CoPilot360 Assist (this simply appears to add Adaptive Cruise Control to the existing safety electronics suite in the standard CoPilot360 package), Voice-activated touch-screen Navigation capability to the standard Sync3 system, and the Panoramic Vista Roof.
The panoramic roofs seem to be quite popular, I’ve owned a couple of vehicles with them and while we never had issues with either, didn’t use it often either. People who love them rave about them. I opened the screen (full length) and the roof (front panel only opens), and it was nice. Then I closed it and left it that way. It did tend to heat up the interior a lot if the shade wasn’t closed. Adaptive Cruise is a great feature, I’m a believer, but I could leave the Nav alone, the phone works well if not even better for that assuming there’s a signal of course.
The second option (and far more contentious in my view) is the FX4 Off-Road Package With 360Camera, which is new for 2020 for the Limited trim level and probably why this particular vehicle was in the local press fleet. Priced at $2,035 it seems to add a lot of kit (or at least replaces other stuff) – The 360 degree camera is great when reversing due to the overhead view and it did come in handy when I tried to avoid boulders for my photos as well as having a split screen option.
The 18″ “Magnetic”-colored wheels, you either like darkish wheels or you don’t, it allows for a bigger-sidewall tire, so that’s good, they replace 20’s on the Limited. Skid plates are handy to have (there are seven including one to protect the intercooler from sand), and it also comes equipped with a 3.73 Electronic LSD rear axle. And floor liners for the first two rows although mine had regular carpeted mats.
Shocks are specially tuned for off-road, this is why I gave it a bit of a pass regarding the ride above. I think it’s fine, i.e. I would not be unhappy with it as is, but suspect the standard suspension likely makes for a smoother ride. This vehicle, if it were equipped (it was not) with the heavy duty towing package could also tow an impressive 9200 pound load.
I think it kind of loses the plot at this point though, the tires are outline white letter 275/65R18 A/T tires. OK, but they are Michelin Primacy XC tires and not really all-terrain by any stretch. The tread is a very quiet (that’s good) highway-looking tread, but the tread is not aggressive, this will get you to the Moab motel parking lot but not onto any rocks or through any mudholes.
The outline white letter look is a bit passe as well, certainly on something that costs well into the $60k range and definitely on anything outlining the name Michelin – they might be made in the US (they are, I checked) but it’s a French tire company. Even some of the most aggressive off-road tires aren’t sold (or at least bought) in OWL form anymore.
Then there are the chrome running boards. Sure, better than the electric foldaway units they replace in terms of not causing huge damage repair bills, but nobody uses running boards offroad, they just get in the way and hang up on stuff. A true offroader should not have these things. And the chrome is a bit garish, not in keeping with the overall theme going on with this vehicle. Every other mega-buck SUV uses mostly stainless steel here but anything really off-road oriented either does without or has actual protective devices/bars, some with a built-in step.
I do like the electronic drive mode-selector in the center console though, beyond Normal, Eco, Sport, etc there’s also a mode for grass/gravel/snow, mud, as well as sand, I suppose that would be handy to adjust the engine, transmission and other parameters for various scenarios (picture duplicated from above for your convenience).
And atop the console there is a button for Hill descent control, allowing the vehicle to drive itself downhill and modulating the speed and brakes better than a human could. You can also select from 2WD, 4WD, 4LO as well as “4A”, i.e. automatic AWD, my preferred choice for changeable winter weather but this week I left it in 2WD virtually the entire time.
I don’t mind the idea of an off-road package, I mean, it IS a 4×4 but this doesn’t seem that serious. There’re plenty of somewhat more aggressive tires that would be less cynical here and the chrome running boards are really a bit much, way more show than go. Let an owner pick those from the accessory catalog, just offer it without. I know it’s unlikely that any of these will ever really be off-road but what does the F150 come with in its FX4 package, for example? Follow that example here.
Additionally, there is a line item on the sticker that credits $590 back as “Equipment Group Savings” but then there’s also a $1,395 destination charge. In any case, the grand total asking price is $71,865.
Lest it be thought I was a bit harsh there, that’s mainly in regard to the FX4 option package. That package may or may not be of use to everyone. Other than that, I found the Expedition to be a magnificent beast and Ford should be proud to offer it.
I believe the only reason there aren’t more of them on the roads are that the prior generation was left to wither on the vine a bit too long, driving and learning about this was was a genuine pleasant surprise, kind of like the feeling you get when you take the time to get to know an American person. They’re usually proud, often a little brash, sometimes a little rough around the edges but almost always fundamentally friendly as well as willing to buckle down and get the job done, whatever it is.
Thank you very much to Ford for providing this vehicle and a full tank of gasoline for us to sample it this week. We appreciate it.