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2018 Ford Expedition Test Drive Review
Now that the completely redesigned 2018 Ford Expedition is on sale, it officially ranks as the best full-size, mainstream-brand SUV money can buy.
With more interior room, greater comfort, superior cargo space, and significantly more towing capacity than either the Chevy Tahoe or GMC Yukon, the Ford Expedition has, for several years, been the best full-size SUV for doing full-size SUV stuff. Nevertheless, people buy the Tahoe and Yukon in far greater numbers. Frankly, I don’t get it. And if that trend continues now that the completely redesigned 2018 Ford Expedition is on sale, well, I don’t know how to help y’all.
Look and Feel
When you shop for a 2018 Ford Expedition, choosing one is relatively easy. First, you need to decide between the standard-length version and the Expedition MAX.
In exchange for $2,690, the MAX version provides an extra foot of length and an additional 16.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seat. I recommend it only if you plan to regularly carry more than five people and a decent amount of cargo at the same time. Otherwise, save your money, because the standard Expedition will serve you best.
Both the standard and MAX versions of the Expedition SUV are offered to everyday consumers like you and me in XLT, Limited, and Platinum trim levels. There is a basic XL trim level, but that’s intended for fleet sales to government and business entities.
Pricing starts at $51,695 for the XLT and rises to $78,770 for the MAX Platinum with 4-wheel drive (4WD). That sounds downright ridiculous until you remember that a Lincoln Navigator—without 4WD, without the extra length, and without any optional upgrades—opens at $72,055. And the Expedition is basically the same thing under its aluminum skin.
For this review, I evaluated a 2018 Ford Expedition MAX. Over at the Chevy dealership, the equivalent would be the Suburban, while GMC would sell you the Yukon XL.
A rear-driver, my Expedition MAX had mid-grade Limited trim and came dipped in one of two extra-cost paint colors, White Platinum. Options included towing equipment, a huge sunroof, second-row bucket seats, a navigation system, a cargo management system and a long list of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies. The price was $72,095, including a destination charge of $1,195. Coincidentally, that’s just $40 more than the entry-level Lincoln Navigator.
White is not the redesigned 2018 Ford Expedition’s best color. It hides the slab-sided SUV’s few character lines, making it look like a refrigerator tipped onto its side and rolling on a furniture dolly.
Viewed in profile, the headlights and taillights have awkwardly kinked perimeters, and the rear lights bleed excessively into the bodywork as though Ford is trying to optically hide just how huge this vehicle is. The body-color C-pillar is strange, too, lending the profile an unfinished appearance, though I recognize the cue as a visual support for the Expedition’s “floating” roof design. Nevertheless, I think it would benefit from black paint for a cleaner look.
Front and rear, the Expedition displays some style, especially in Platinum trim with its ornate grille design. This version also gets larger wheels that lend the SUV greater presence.
Inside, Ford uses a lightly modified version of the F-150’s dashboard in the Expedition. It’s a busy, industrial design, spruced up with soft-touch surfaces and simulated wood trim. Choosing a color other than black adds much-needed contrast to the cabin, and selecting Platinum trim supplies upscale details that can help you forget that, at its heart, the Expedition is a truck.
Despite such civilities, however, you’re going to recognize the interior more for its utility than anything else.
One reason I’m such a big fan of the Ford Expedition, at least in comparison to other full-size SUVs, is that the only engine choice is a killer twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine making 375 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 470 lb-ft of torque starting at just 2,250 rpm. If you upgrade to Platinum trim, you'll get an extra 25 horsepower and 10 lb-ft of twist. Maximum towing capacity tops out at 9,300 pounds.
Despite the Expedition’s prodigious 5,443-pound weight, this twin-turbo V6 provides robust power and response in all circumstances, whether you’re accelerating away from a traffic light or punching it to pass those people who forget that they need to push harder on the accelerator to drive up a hill or mountain grade. Plus, it has an unusual rumbling, almost chuffing note to it, similar to a Subaru or Porsche flat-six. I like it, but I could understand why fans of a V8 engine’s mellow burble might not.
The other reason I’m a big fan of the Expedition is for its independent rear suspension, as opposed to a solid rear axle setup. This improves the ride and handling, of course, but it provides two other important benefits.
You see, this more compact suspension design allows for a lower vehicle floor, and that translates directly to greater cargo capacity and a far more comfortable third-row seat. So if you’re seeking justification for your full-size SUV purchase, well, the Expedition actually does provide greater people- and cargo-hauling capability than any crossover SUV can. The primary competition can’t make an equivalent claim.
Getting back to the drivetrain, the Expedition has a 10-speed automatic transmission with multiple driving modes. Overall, the 10-speed automatic is quite agreeable, though it occasionally clunked into Drive when shifting out of Park.
You shift by twisting a rotary knob on the center console and access the driving modes using a button next to the transmission knob. Choices include Eco, Normal, Sport, Snow/Wet and Tow/Haul. The differences between Eco, Normal and Sport are predictable, and I spent most of my time in Normal driving mode.
Switching gears, so to speak, I’ve got nothing but praise for the Expedition’s ride and handling qualities. On the highway, the Expedition tracks straight and true, requiring very little in the way of course correction. The ride is almost sublime on smooth Southern California freeways, even without the Platinum trim’s standard adaptive damping suspension. And the Expedition is surprisingly quiet inside, even at higher speeds.
Around town, the SUV’s size is plainly evident, but my rear-drive test vehicle with 20-inch wheels and tires demonstrated a remarkably tight turning circle, making U-turns more manageable and helping significantly when it came to negotiating tight parking lots. Ford also calibrates throttle response for a gentle off-the-line launch, followed by quickly gathering speed as the twin-turbo V6 spools up. Braking is smooth, too, making it easy to bring the SUV to a calm and collected stop.
Yes, I did take the Expedition on the twisty mountain road portion of my test loop, but I didn’t hustle it. You can’t, because when you’re driving something this big, you have a responsibility to your fellow motorists, cyclists and pedestrians with whom you share the road. Nevertheless, even when traveling at more than the posted speed limit, the Expedition proved responsive, connected and assured, even when taking corners faster than any owners are likely to.
Oh, and by the way, this huge box on wheels averaged 18.3 mpg on my test loop. And I didn’t even use the Eco driving mode except to see how it affected powertrain response, though I did leave the exceptionally smooth automatic engine stop/start system engaged.
Form and Function
You’re not going to have any trouble getting comfortable in a Ford Expedition, especially the MAX model. No matter which row you choose, you’ll be satisfied. And power-deploying running boards make it easy to get in and get out.
My test vehicle’s front seats offered 10-way power adjustment, heating and ventilation. They proved wide, supportive and soothing, in part due to 4-way power lumbar support adjustment.
In the second row, my test vehicle swapped the 3-position bench seat for individual captain’s chairs. They were comfortable, and they sit on tracks allowing them to slide forward and back. However, they lacked inboard armrests, an omission more obvious because the seats appear to be designed for them, with unfinished carve-outs on the inner seatback sides.
Access to the third row is easy, either by moving between the captain’s chairs or tipping and sliding them forward, which can be done even if a child safety seat is latched down in the second row. Once you’re aboard, you’ll find that the third-row seat sits high enough off the floor to provide genuine thigh support, greatly improving comfort levels. And with the second-row seats moved up a skosh, leg- and footroom are decent.
Around back, a hands-free power liftgate opens to reveal 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space. My test vehicle had a trick optional cargo management system that provided 2-tiered storage and helped prevent items that tend to roll from falling out when opening the liftgate. From baseballs and bats to cantaloupes and watermelons, everything is secure unless you’ve parked on an especially steep slope. The liftgate also included a separately opening rear window, a feature many people like that provided easy access to the top shelf of the cargo management system.
Power-folding rear seats are also standard for the Expedition, and with the third row flattened, the Expedition MAX holds 73.3 cubic feet of cargo. Fold both rows down and the Expedition MAX can carry up to 121.5 cubic feet of whatever you care to stuff in there.
As far as the controls and displays are concerned, the Expedition uses a mix of large knobs and small buttons, and the Sync 3 infotainment system’s 8-inch display screen looks undersized in a vehicle this large. If you live where cold winter weather is a common occurrence, know that many of the secondary controls will likely require you to remove your gloves in order to use them.
Between the Expedition’s gauges, Ford provides a comprehensive driver-information display with multiple menus and myriad settings. The level of personalization and the thoughtfully considered functions are truly impressive.
Finally, this SUV provides tons and tons of storage space, especially for front-seat occupants. All my test vehicle was missing was a center console between the second-row captain’s chairs.
Ford gives the new 2018 Expedition a boost in terms of technological sophistication.
Starting with the Sync 3 infotainment system, which carries over from last year, the Expedition is equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection as well as Sync Connect services. Every row of seats features USB charging ports, and a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot supporting up to 10 devices operating within 50 feet of the vehicle is available. A FordPass smartphone app provides data and remote access to specific vehicle functions.
Wireless device charging, a navigation system, a 360-degree surround-view camera system, and a B&O Play premium sound system are options. Buyers can also upgrade the Expedition with a rear-seat entertainment system, including dual headrest-mounted screens and Sling Media integration for streaming cable and satellite TV. The navigation system includes real-time traffic data and Travel Link services.
Generally, Sync 3 works well and is a huge improvement over Ford infotainment systems from a few years ago. However, its recessed 8-inch display is increasingly undersized and antiquated as other automakers move to larger, flush-mounted glass displays. Also, one night while driving in West Los Angeles, the GPS couldn’t accurately place me, making the navigation system useless as I worked my way to a destination. Good old Siri came to the rescue, though, no problem.
Get 4WD, and the Expedition offers a Terrain Management System with different drivetrain settings for different surface conditions. Hill start assist and hill descent control are also on the menu, helping the Expedition make maximum use of its minimum 9.8 inches of ground clearance.
Because my test vehicle had the Heavy Duty Trailer Tow Package, it came with a slick piece of technology called Pro Trailer Backup Assist. If you’ve ever reversed a vehicle with a trailer attached, you know it’s not easy. This technology helps simplify that task. The driver twists a knob on the dashboard, turning it in the direction he or she wants the trailer to go. In response to that input, the steering autonomously takes appropriate action to guide the trailer in the right direction.
That same technology contributes to the Expedition’s available enhanced active parking-assist system, which helps the driver to identify an acceptable parking space and then steer the SUV into it while the driver operates the pedals and transmission. It can also help a driver get out of a tight spot. Normally, I don’t recommend this kind of technology, but with something this big, it might make sense.
Equipped with Package 301, my Expedition Limited included a long list of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems, many of which are new to the SUV for 2018.
For example, the 2018 Expedition now offers adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, and a lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist system.
Continuing from before, the Expedition is equipped with a reversing camera and MyKey programmable technology that helps encourage safer driving in teenagers. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is available, too, along with front and rear parking sensors. And Sync 3 offers access to automatic collision notification and SOS emergency calling, among other services.
As far as the driving aids are concerned, during my week with the vehicle and several runs through the settings menus, the blind-spot monitoring system never emitted an audible warning when signaling a lane change with a vehicle in the Expedition’s blind spot. Certainly, I must have missed a setting of some kind.
The rear cross-traffic alert worked, but needed to emit warnings sooner. By the time the system identified approaching vehicles, they were nearly behind the Expedition by the time it registered with the driver.
Finally, prepare yourself for a fairly aggressive lane-keeping assist system. When it successfully identifies that the Expedition is drifting from its lane, which it doesn’t do with 100-percent accuracy, it is assertive about putting the SUV back into the center of its lane. That’s fine, except when you’re trying to give cyclists some extra room, and then you need to muscle the technology in order to override the lane-centering action.
As this review was written, the 2018 Expedition had not been subjected to crash tests. But hey, Ford uses a ton of high-strength steel in the frame, and the SUV weighs 2.75 tons before you put any people or cargo into it. Chances are that it’s going to do a good job protecting its occupants in most types of crashes.
When I was a kid, lots of blue-collar families in my Detroit suburb bought Chevy Suburbans. They were used for kid hauling, trailer towing, summer trips “up north,” and winter drives to Florida beaches. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, you could buy an SUV like this on a relatively modest income.
Today, that’s no longer true. A 2018 Ford Expedition MAX in XLT trim with 4WD, towing equipment and modern driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies will cost you a minimum of $66,475. With nothing down, a 3-year lease allowing 12,000 miles annually will run $825 per month, according to Ford’s calculations. Or, you can put 10 percent down and finance for 84 months, paying Ford $914 every 30 days.
Still, Ford’s not having any trouble selling the new Expedition and recently announced a multi-million-dollar investment to ramp up production in order to meet demand. Given that, don’t expect big deals anytime soon.
Why is the Expedition selling so well? With this redesign, Ford not only sets the standard against which all other full-size SUVs will be judged, but also raises the bar significantly. Comfortable, capacious and quick, it tows more, hauls more and drives better than the competition.
And for that, you’ll pay a premium.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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