A decade ago, drivers were flocking to big, traditional SUVs such as the Ford Expedition. Gasoline prices hovered around $2 per gallon, making comfortable and capable V8-powered vehicles reasonably affordable to drive. Even those who didn't regularly tow or carry heavy loads chose large SUVs over smaller, more efficient vehicles. For better or worse, the trend was to go big or go home.

The arrival of the 2015 Ford Expedition reminds us how much has changed over 10 years. Gas prices have nearly doubled, and an economic downturn has reminded Americans that, at home and on the road, bigger isn't always better. Automakers are working hard to deliver better efficiency as they strive to meet federal fuel economy standards.

Ford's EcoBoost engine lineup is a key part of its fuel-efficiency strategy, and for the first time, a turbocharged EcoBoost V6 powers the Expedition. It delivers more horsepower and torque while, according to Ford, using less fuel. That's not the only improvement to the latest version of Ford's largest SUV. Updated styling, new trim choices, and advanced safety and infotainment technology make the Expedition more capable than ever.

Fresh Styling

Ford says that the people who buy its big SUV prefer more conservative styling, so the 2015 Expedition is not radically different from its predecessor. However, the look is certainly fresher inside and out. Up front, the Expedition receives a new grille, headlights, and a restyled lower fascia with LED fog lights. Newly designed wheels -- in large sizes, per today's fashion -- also set the 2015 model apart. At the rear, a wide accent strip lends a more upscale look.

Inside, updates include a new instrument cluster with a pair of color displays flanking the speedometer. Carry-over trim choices include the base XLT, mid-range Limited and western-style King Ranch. A new Platinum trim is at the top of the lineup, contributing to a more luxurious interior with features such as premium leather seats.

The overall package suggests quality and durability, if not outright luxury. The faux wood in our Expedition Platinum test vehicle is more realistic than some competitors', but Ford still uses plenty of hard plastic on the Expedition's door panels, dash and console.

Updated Technology

You won't find luxury-car features such as adaptive cruise control on the new Expedition, but buyers can opt for safety and comfort technologies not offered on earlier models. An available blind spot monitoring system includes a rear cross-traffic alert system. A backup camera is now standard.

Buyers can also choose Ford's SYNC technology with the MyFord Touch infotainment system, including an 8-inch touchscreen. Audiophiles will like the available 12-speaker, 390-watt Sony sound system.

Is a V6 Enough?

Rated at 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, the 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V6 is more powerful than the outgoing V8 that it replaces. It also produces peak torque at lower engine speeds, ideal for those pulling a heavy boat or trailer.

The 6-cylinder engine certainly feels more than capable of moving the nearly 3-ton SUV in a hurry. Our drive included both highways and steep mountain roads; the EcoBoost performed impressively, with strong acceleration off the line and quiet cruising at higher speeds.

A new electrically powered steering system also aims to improve efficiency. Steering feel is commendable, delivering the right amount of feedback, nice weight at high and low speeds, and good on-center feel.

Fuel economy claims remain untested; Ford has yet to release official fuel economy ratings for the 2015 Expedition. The automaker expects a 15 percent increase over the 2014 model. That should yield ratings of around 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway for the most efficient version.

Big and Bigger

Ford continues to offer two wheelbases for the model: the 119-in Expedition and the 131-in Expedition EL. Of course, both rear- and 4-wheel-drive options remain, too. Both Expedition versions provide space for up to eight passengers, and the third-row seat will accommodate adults (getting back there isn't easy, though). The second-row seat does not slide fore and aft, so moving it takes several steps.

Keeping Up

The competition, namely the Chevrolet Tahoe, Suburban and GMC Yukon, are totally redesigned for 2015. With a standard V8, these models already achieve the fuel economy that Ford aims for with the EcoBoost-powered Expedition. The Expedition is arguably the utility leader, however. The EL offers more cargo space than the Suburban, and every 2015 Expedition can tow more weight than comparable Chevy and GMC models.

Unlike a decade ago, new-car shoppers who want 3-row passenger space have many more efficient options than big and heavy SUVs such as the Expedition. But for those who require trucklike utility, the 2015 Ford Expedition is a stronger player than ever before.

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Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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