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2018 Ford Expedition: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Ron Sessions November 2017

Photography by Ron Sessions

We've all been there. Getting stuck behind a bulky full-size SUV in traffic, especially one with the dark "privacy" glass blocking your view of what's ahead, can be frustrating. But poke your head inside the cabin or get behind the wheel of one, riding high in the driver's seat, master of a whole lot of capability at your fingertips, and you can begin to appreciate the allure. It's not just an SUV, it's a command center. SUVs may be everywhere, but the vast majority of them today are compact and midsize crossovers that are little more than slightly oversized hatchback cars. A full-size SUV like the 2018 Ford Expedition, on the other hand, can easily transport up to eight fully grown adults and their gear with dignity and tug along a horse trailer, good-size boat or load weighing nearly twice as much as the towing vehicle.

Ford has completely redone its full-size SUV, the Expedition, for 2018. It still offers a smoother-riding independent rear suspension, power-fold flat third-row seats and a 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V6, but like the F-150 pickup, debuts an all-new weight-saving aluminum body. The freshly chiseled sheet metal of the 2018 Ford Expedition breaks no new ground, but looks contemporary enough to fit right in at Ford showrooms. Call it the front-end look Explorer meets the F-150.

Recently, we had a chance to drive the 2018 Expedition on the back roads and busy freeways near Malibu, California.

The 2018 Expedition continues to be available in standard and long-wheelbase guises, but the previous year's larger EL version has been renamed the Max. Available trims include a base XLT (2-wheel drive $51,695, 4-wheel drive $54,705), midlevel Limited (2WD $62,585, 4WD $65,705) and top-of-the-line Platinum (2WD $72,710, 4WD $75,855). The extended-wheelbase Max is about $2,500 extra.

How Big?

The Base Expedition is 4 inches longer this year than last, spanning 210 inches or 17.5 feet. The Max adds another foot, stretching 18.5 feet bumper to bumper -- about the size of a Chevrolet Suburban. That may seem gargantuan, but either one should fit in most modern home garages. Even the Max is about 10 inches shorter bumper to bumper than an extended-cab F-150 with the (smaller) 6.5-foot bed.

Relative to the sales-leading Chevrolet Tahoe, the standard-wheelbase Expedition is half a foot longer and offers almost 10 cu ft. of added cargo space with second- and third-row seats folded, plus 16 inches of additional third-row legroom. Chalk up Expedition's third-row legroom advantage to a longer wheelbase and a new second-row seat that slides and tips forward, enabling third-row occupants easier ingress and egress, even with a child safety seat safely belted in place.

Cabin Cruising

Standard fare on the new Expedition includes power adjustable foot pedals and push-button start. Although the cabin has some hard plastic trim showing here and there, it's handsome enough. The front seats are as comfortable as you'd expect and reasonably supportive.

The decent-sized 8-in center touchscreen display on Limited and Platinum trims is bolstered by the latest SYNC 3 voice command and by analog knobs for volume and tuning, plus a bank of easy shortcut buttons. Bluetooth connectivity and SiriusXM satellite radio is standard on all models, and every row gets two USB charging ports. Tech advances on Limited and Platinum models include onboard 4G LTE Wi-Fi for up to 10 devices and wireless device charging. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are also part of the program.

Cargo Considerations

With all three rows folded flat, the 2018 Expedition can tote 104.6 cu ft. of cargo; the Max version up to 121.4 cu ft.. New for 2018 is an available cargo manager with a removable cargo floor panel that can be reconfigured as a shelf or divider to keep items from moving around.

All Expeditions have separate-opening liftgate glass, handy for dropping items in the back without opening the whole liftgate in tight spaces. Platinum models offer a hands-free liftgate that opens with a foot wave under the bumper.

Under the Hood

For 2018, Ford ups the output of the 3.5 EcoBoost V6 from last year's 365 to 375 horsepower for XL, XLT and Limited models, and squeezes out 400 hp for the range-topping Platinum with tuning and calibration changes. Peak torque also gets a proportional bump from 2017's 420 lb-ft to 470 in most 2018 Expeditions, and 480 in the Platinum.

New is a 10-speed automatic transmission which adds a super low first gear for quick launches and a few extra tall overdrive ratios for extra-relaxed highway cruising. A rotary shift dial on the center console takes the place of the traditional PRNDL shift lever.

With the lighter-weight aluminum body and new 10-speed automatic, the 2018 Expedition's 2WD base model's EPA fuel-economy estimates see a two to three mile per gallon improvement over the 2017 model to 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway for the 2WD base Expedition. A standard stop/start system shuts off the engine at stoplights, then restarts it when the driver lifts a foot off the brake.

On the Road

You don't so much drive the Expedition as you pilot it. The twin-turbo V6 is velvety at idle, with a turbine-smooth launch feel. Boost builds quickly and seamlessly, allowing you to merge into fast-moving traffic without breaking a sweat. The 10-speed transmission's shifts are barely detectable, the extra-wide range of ratios working with the turbo V6's generous low- and mid-range torque to deliver satisfying thrust under all conditions.

On the highway, the new Expedition's ride motions are well damped, both with the standard steel springs or optional load-leveling air suspension. Body roll is minimal when rounding corners, and steering effort is neither too light nor too heavy, offering good precision. The Expedition's tire selections run from 18 inches on the XLT all the way to grippier 22-in rubber on Platinum. The SUV's large, flat sides can be affected by strong crosswinds, but overall the Expedition's handling feels stable, secure and planted on the highway. If there is room for improvement, the massive 4-wheel disc brakes could offer quicker initial response at the top of the pedal, but once engaged deliver reassuring stopping power from speed.

Terrain Management System

The 2018 model is the first Expedition with Ford's Terrain Management System controlled via a convenient rotary dial on the console. It's similar to the system already available in the Explorer, and the 2WD versions offer Normal mode for everyday driving, Sport for improved response, Eco for fuel-saving and light cruising, Tow/Haul for trailering duty and Snow/Wet for reduced traction and slippery roads. Four-wheel-drive models keep the Normal, Sport, Tow/Haul and Eco settings, but replace the Snow/Wet mode with specific applications dubbed Mud/Rut, Sand and Grass/Gravel/Snow modes.

Off-Road

New this year is an FX4 off-road version for XLT trim, which adds suspension upgrades, a heavy-duty radiator and extra underbody skid plates. But even the standard Expedition 4WD has plenty of capability too. We drove up and down dirt tracks on steep hillsides. The same independent rear suspension that delivers such well-controlled body motions on the highway also does a surprisingly good job of perambulating over gullies, humps and other uneven terrain.

Towing

Of course, the major reason some buyers flock to full-size SUVs is their inherently good trailer-towing ability. That figure is 9,300 pounds for a regular-wheelbase 2WD Expedition with the available heavy-duty trailer towing package, a few hundred pounds less for the extended-wheelbase Max and 4-wheel drives. New this year is Pro Trailer Backup Assist. It's a great tool, especially for drivers who only tow occasionally and can't remember the backup trick of holding the steering wheel at the bottom instead of the top to make the trailer go in the direction desired. The backup assist is a silver dollar-sized knob on the dash that, once activated, you use to "steer" the Expedition and trailer back to wherever you want it to go instead of using the steering wheel.

Safety

With something this big, you want the latest safety gear onboard. Every 2018 Expedition comes standard with a backup camera, trailer-sway control and rear parking sensors. Limited models bring blind spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring -- great for when you have a full crew aboard -- and Platinum gains a lane-keeping system, a 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, rain-sensing wipers and automatic high beams. In NHTSA testing, the 2018 Expedition garnered a perfect 5-star overall crash rating.

An enhanced active park assist that can help make parallel parking the Expedition much easier is also available. All you have to do initiate the system, then drive by the spot to gauge if the SUV will fit, then stop, put it in Reverse, add a touch of throttle and apply the brakes when the parking assist chime tells you it's parked.

Summary

The first new Expedition in a decade breaks cover with more room, more power, the latest safety systems and better EPA fuel-economy ratings. If you like the idea of a vehicle that can haul lots of people, their stuff and tow a good-size trailer, the 2018 Expedition is worth checking out.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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2018 Ford Expedition: First Drive Review - Autotrader