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road test

Capable and comfortable, but at a hefty price

The new Ford Expedition adds the FX4 off-road package with 4x4 hardware .

With ample space and power, the 2018 Ford Expedition has been given a total overhaul

The original Ford Expedition was introduced 20 years ago and stayed mostly unchanged since. Buyers of full-sized SUVs just weren't all that discerning, as long as they had plenty of cargo space and a powerful engine for towing, and Ford had other vehicles that were a greater priority.

There've been a couple of new generations of the Expedition but they weren't that radical a change. There was an independent rear suspension in 2003 and a new transmission in 2007, together with a bunch of adjustments here and there, but last year's vehicle was awfully similar to that first year's truck. It was big and brash and brutish, just the way we used to like 'em.

But we don't any more, in this new era of hybrids and low emissions and luxury for all. So finally, Ford has given the Expedition a total overhaul.

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It's easiest to just think of it as an enclosed SUV version of the F-150 pickup truck, though it has an independent rear suspension for a cushier drive and lower ride height. There are far fewer choices, too: just the one 3.5-litre V-6 EcoBoost engine, which is recalibrated in the high-end Platinum edition to make a bit more power. There's only the one 10-speed transmission, and a choice of regular length or stretched, which adds cargo space at the back. There's also an FX4 off-road package that features 4WD and a two-speed transfer case with a limited slip differential, but otherwise, most of the options are for comfort and convenience.

The Expedition features a 3.5-litre EcoBoost engine, standard start-stop technology and 10-speed automatic transmission.

None of it's cheap, though. The base Expedition XLT starts at $59,999 and goes up through two more trim levels to $83,999 for the Platinum Max model. That's getting into Lincoln price territory.

That said, the Platinum version I drove here feels very much like a premium vehicle. It's exceptionally quiet – soundproofing through improved glass and muffling materials has come a very long way in recent years – and it's well matched to the transmission so there's no strain on hills, even when towing a trailer. Towing capacity is now 9,000 lbs (4,082 kg), or up to 9,300 lbs (4,218 kg) for some models with the $1,400 Heavy Duty package option.

Inside, there's an enormous amount of room for either seven or eight people, depending on which seating layout you choose. Just enormous. The independent rear suspension means the floor can sit lower than with a solid rear axle, and that means the third-row passengers don't need to scrunch their knees into their chests when they sit down, as with most other vehicles. There really is space for up to eight six-foot-tall people and nobody's going to fight over the rows.

An optional panoramic roof spans two rows.

In the front, there's now an electronic transmission dial on the centre console for engaging the gear, and another dial below it for selecting up to seven different drive modes for different surfaces and styles. Seven – take that Range Rover! The Expedition is very capable off-road, too. I drove the FX4 edition on a steep dirt trail here with very loose sand and rocks and it didn't put a wheel wrong.

The new Expedition has its sights set firmly on the Chevrolet Tahoe, which is the best-selling full-size SUV in North America. There was no way Ford's sales could come close with a truck that was merely competent, but the huge technology advances of the F-150 have made a successful leap over to the SUV class. It's a fair bit more expensive – the Tahoe starts below $55,000, though it's not nearly so well equipped at that price as the base Expedition.

If you're looking for more than just a work truck with a roof on the back, the Ford deserves checking out. It's been waiting 20 years, after all.

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Tech specs

  • Base price/as tested: $59,999/$83,999
  • Engine: 3.5-litre V-6 EcoBoost
  • Transmission/drive: 10-speed automatic /AWD and 4WD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 4x4 SWB: 13.8 city/10.7 highway; 4x4 Max LWB: 14.9 city/11.2 highway
  • Alternatives: Lincoln Navigator, Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Nissan Armada

The cabin includes an optional wireless charging dock, and a standard centre console bin roomy enough to store a laptop.

Looks

It's a handsome SUV that looks tough but you won't want to scratch it. Everything's beefy and you'll have no trouble finding it in a parking lot.

Interior

Very refined inside, with a realistic choice of seating for seven (twin captain chairs in the second row) or eight (a 60/40 bench). It's easier to get in and out of the third row, too. Ford's seen what some other makers have been doing with their three-row vehicles and now the second-row seats slide and tip, even with a child's car seat installed, to allow easy access to the back.

Tip-and-slide second-row seats help passengers get into the third row without uninstalling a child seat.

Performance

The newly tweaked engine is the same 3.5-litre V-6 EcoBoost from the F-150 pickup truck that makes 375 hp and 470 lbs-ft of torque. The Platinum edition is recalibrated to 400 hp and 480 lbs-ft Most of its body-on-frame platform is shared with the F-150 and, like that truck, it uses aluminum where possible to drop its weight by up to 135 kg.

Technology

Fully connected with the latest generation of Ford's Sync 3 technology, as well as six USB slots and additional power points. The Expedition is filled with thoughtful tech, such as the rear-camera washer and even the F-150's fancy Pro Trailer Backup Assist towing technology.

Cargo

Huge space, of course, especially in the Max long-wheelbase versions, and the second- and third-row seats fold completely flat for effective capacity. In the cargo space behind the third row, there's a clever shelving system that ensures stuff stays in place during the drive and when the rear door is opened.

The verdict

8.0

Highly capable and comfortable, at last, but it comes with a high price tag.

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