Hype regularly substitutes for fact, and that’s the case when it comes to the class of vehicles known as the full-size SUV. Resurging interest in big sport utility vehicles, fed by low gas prices and an improving economy, have consumers flocking to Chevrolet and GMC dealerships to buy what they think are the latest and greatest examples of the breed.
Based on the facts instead of the hype, though, more large SUV shoppers should instead seriously consider buying a Ford Expedition, especially now that it has received a number of important updates for the 2015 model year. Before we get to that discussion, though, let’s talk about what makes the Expedition so compelling.
Compared to its primary competitors from General Motors — the Chevy Tahoe, the Chevy Suburban, and the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL — the 2015 Expedition and extended-length Expedition EL models tow more weight, supply more space for cargo, provide greater ground clearance, and deliver more comfortable accommodations for third-row passengers.
Yet, despite the Ford’s superiority in these areas, the Chevy and GMC models have utterly dominated the sales charts and commanded more than 77 percent of full-size SUV sales during the first two months of 2014. Meanwhile, the Expedition accounted for less than 14 percent of sales in the segment during the same period.
This doesn’t make any sense to me, especially with the improvements Ford has made to the 2015 Expedition. Chief among them is the installation of a twin-turbocharged, 3.5-liter “EcoBoost” V6 engine that makes a robust 365 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 420 lb.-ft. of torque at just 2250 rpm.
While it is true that this EcoBoosted V6 engine doesn’t generate the mellow bellow of a traditional V8, it is tough to argue with 9,200 pounds of maximum towing capacity or the thrilling thrust the twin-turbo delivers — even in the nearly three-ton test vehicle at my disposal. Plus, if you live at elevation, the Expedition’s EcoBoost engine resists the power-sapping effects of thinner atmosphere.
Ford has also introduced a new luxury-oriented Platinum trim level for 2015 (the model I tested). Thanks to the optional four-wheel-drive system, gigantic 22-inch wheels, and second-row bucket seats, the sticker price ballooned to $67,010 (including a destination charge of $1,195). That’s just a little bit more than what Lincoln wants for a base Navigator with 4WD, a vehicle sharing plenty of its bits and pieces with this Ford.
My Platinum test vehicle included nearly all of the bells and whistles that Ford can install on an Expedition. All it lacked was extra-cost paint, a load-leveling rear suspension (available only with standard 20-inch wheels), a 3.73 rear axle, all-weather floor mats, and a rear-seat entertainment system. Loaded, the price would approach $70,000.
Before you clutch your chest in disbelief, keep in mind that this window sticker is thousands less than an equivalently optioned Tahoe LTZ, though to be fair the Tahoe does offer a greater array of safety and anti-theft systems than the Ford. Compared to the Chevy and Ford, though, a loaded Toyota Sequoia Platinum looks like a bargain. Better still, a Nissan Armada Platinum Reserve saves a ton of cash that is likely better used to start college funds for your kids, though you’ll spend more money to feed either of the less expensive beasts.
As for the Expedition, I have just two main complaints aside from how far short of fuel economy estimates the EcoBoost engine fell during my test, delivering just 14.7 mpg compared to the EPA’s 17-mpg rating for combined driving.
First, Ford needs to improve the quality of the Expedition’s interior materials. Rap your knuckles on the dashboard or the front passenger airbag cover, and the hollow brittleness of the plastic is hugely disappointing in relationship to the SUV’s price tag.
Second, there are few useful storage areas inside the Expedition. The glovebox and center console are small, the door panels don’t provide nifty nooks and crannies for storing stuff, and the few available trays are either poorly placed, or small, or both.
Otherwise, the Platinum model’s front seats are quite comfortable, swathed in soft, supple, premium leather. The second-row captain’s chairs are great for kids, but adults might find them to be too narrow and too close to the floor for comfort. Plus, they don’t slide fore and aft, and legroom is surprisingly tight. I actually preferred riding in the Expedition’s third-row seat, which works just fine for adults on longer trips.
As for what it’s like to drive the Expedition, the thirsty new twin-turbo V6 makes this heavy SUV genuinely quick, and the optional 22-inch wheels wrapped in 285/45 Pirelli Scorpion tires provide outstanding grip. They do degrade the ride quality, though, even with the Expedition’s new Continuously Controlled Damping suspension. And, along with my heavy right foot, the big wheels are likely responsible, in part, for my test truck’s poor showing on the fuel-economy front.
They also lend a false sense of security in terms of handling. I hustled down a winding country road carrying plenty of speed, thinking the entire time that the 22s could easily lull a typical driver into forgetting all about the Expedition’s high center of gravity. On the other hand, with 4WD, the Expedition earns a 4-star rollover resistance rating from the NHTSA, a better rating than all competitors except for the Toyota Sequoia, which matches the Ford.
In other dynamic respects, the Expedition could use more refinement. In traffic, the brake pedal clunks when released. The steering is light on the highway and requires plenty of twirling in mall parking lots. The ride produces too much rear bounce over speed humps and drainage channels. When driving off-road, the Expedition could use extra wheel articulation.
Though imperfect, the Ford Expedition remains an excellent choice in a full-size SUV. It does what people want a big rig like this to do, and does it better than the most popular models in the segment. All Ford needs to do is generate some hype around the facts.