For the 2018 model year, the all-new Ford Expedition is all new, upgrading to dashboard tech suite featuring Ford Sync 3, standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bang and Olufsen tech and more. And we'll get to that, but I'm willing to guess that most of you are here because you want to know how well Ford's biggest SUV hauls -- whether hauling people, hauling trailers or just hauling ass.
Ecoboosted to 400 horsepower
Behind the new Expedition's massive Ford oval badge and even more imposing grille is the automaker's 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 engine. With its twin-scroll turbocharger and direct fuel injection technology, the V6 makes a healthy 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, which is about 100 pound-feet more than the previous generation's Triton V8 engine made.
That's unless you've paid extra for the line-topping Platinum trim level which bumps the output to 400 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque, which is about 100 pound-feet more than the current 2018 Chevrolet Suburban's 5.3L Ecotec V8 makes. You can go ahead and insert your own "replacement for displacement" cliché here.
Either flavor of that EcoBoost V6 would be impressive on its own, but Ford has matched both its 10-speed automatic transmission, an exceptionally good match for the powerplant that offers smooth shifts, a plethora of well-tuned gear ratios and "best in class fuel economy."
In its 4x2 rear-wheel-drive configuration, the Expedition earns an EPA estimate of 17 city, 24 highway and 20 combined mpg. Stepping up to the 4x4 config only cost a single mpg hit to the highway and combined estimates.
On the road, the Expedition feels heavy but carries its weight well with good straight-line acceleration and a planted feel around bends. There's a truckish nature to the ride that's unavoidable, but the SUV soaked up bumps better than expected and was less upset when those bumps happened mid-corner.
For 2018, the Expedition moves to an aluminum-alloy body on steel frame construction, saving about 300 pounds in the process. Despite the reduced heft, the towing capacity has actually gone up to 9,300 pounds. That left plenty of room for the 5,500-pound horse trailer that Ford had on hand for towing demonstrations.
In a side-by-side towing comparison with the Suburban (5.3-liter V8, 6-speed automatic), the Ford's EcoBoost powertrain felt more confident and beefy when towing both uphill and down. Where the six-speed bounced back and forth between gears downhill and was hesitant to downshift when climbing, Ford's 10-speed just settled into a gear -- with so many to choose from, it could choose a more accurate ratio -- and pulled smoothly and strongly.
Meanwhile, the chassis felt more planted as well, delivering a smoother and quieter ride under load. I was also pleased by the nicer, deeper sound from V6. Ford also had me make a go at hauling a 6,500 Airstream and I came away equally impressed.
Towing while moving forward is easy; it's the reversing that's hard for many drivers. Fortunately, the Expedition can be had with Ford's Trailer Reverse Assist system: a steering assist technology that allows drivers to control the swing of a trailer when reversing by using a steering knob on the dashboard. Simply turn the knob the direction you want the trailer to go and the computer will apply the correct amount of steering or counter-steering to get things where they need to be. Let go of the knob and the system will automatically straighten everything right out, no guesswork needed; pretty much anyone could do it.
The system uses the rear camera and a special sticker applied to the trailer for positioning along with dimensions the driver inputs during setup. The Expedition can store multiple profiles, so you can quickly toggle between settings for your boat, RV and race car trailers.
Off-road with the FX4 package for XLT
Next, I stepped into an XLT trim model equipped with the optional FX4 off-road package and headed into a trail course Ford had prepared.
The FX4 package improves the Expedition's ground clearance by deleting some aero-bits from the front bumper. The suspension and radiator are beefed up to handle the rigors of trail riding and a rear limited-slip differential is added which yields handling benefits both on and off-road. Finally, the package adds underbody skid plates to protect the delicate bits like the oil pan and gas tank from the terrain.
All Expedition models that I tested, not just the FX4, featured a terrain mode selector knob that allowed me to switch between various driving programs for both on and off-road. Each mode adjusts the 4x4 system, throttle, transmission and more to meet the needs of Eco-driving, Mud and Ruts or Towing, to name a few. I spent my off-road portion in the Mud and Ruts program, which Ford advised would help in with slow, low traction driving.
I also activated the Expedition's hill descent control system, which uses the anti-lock braking system to automatically control the speed of the SUV when rolling downhill, leaving me to handle acceleration and steering. I gained a healthy appreciation for the system as it kept the full-sized SUV in check while nosing down a 22% grade of very loose dirt. I was also surprised to see it kicked and help on less severe hills where I may not have thought to specifically use descent control.
Overall, the Expedition's off-road steering was more predictable and the aid systems allowed me to focus on putting the wheels where they needed to be. Meanwhile, the Ecoboost engine, predictably, proved powerful enough for climbing. I was particularly impressed by its smooth application of torque at very low speed, which came in handy when creeping carefully around a bend or when getting a bit of speed to carry my momentum up a loose incline. The Expedition proved surprisingly sure-footed for a big ol' eight-seater.
My sole disappointment is that the FX4 package is only available on the base XLT, which means you can't get it with the surround view cameras of the upper trim levels. The front camera in particular really would have come in handy when blindly cresting a hill because I couldn't see over the Expedition's taller more imposing hood from the driver's seat.
Smarter safety tech
At the upper trim levels, the new Expedition steps into the modern age with a solid suite of available safety tech and driver aid technologies.
There's the available surround camera system mentioned earlier, which grants a bird's-eye view of the area around the Expedition with multiple camera views. Even without the multi-cam system, a rear camera is standard, featuring a washer that clears mud, snow or salt off the lens with a spray.
On the highway, an adaptive cruise control system can slow the vehicle to maintain a safe following distance behind a car ahead. The 2018 Expedition's adaptive cruise can even be used in stop-and-go thanks to its ability to bring the vehicle to a complete stop, a trick that also comes in handy for the pre-collision braking system with pedestrian detection. This system uses sensors and cameras to monitor the road ahead for impending collisions and can automatically apply the brakes to prevent or reduce the severity of an impact.
2018 also sees the addition of a lane keeping assistance system, which can help prevent the SUV from drifting out of its lane without signaling by intervening with the electric power steering system.
Ford Sync 3 meets B&O Play
The rest of the tech looks familiar to the dashboard of the modern Ford Explorer. There's the excellent Sync 3 infotainment system with its Sync Apps and standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. For 2018, the Expedition gains Sync Connect telematics with a built-in 4G LTE cellular modem providing Wifi connectivity for passengers on board and monitoring of the vehicle by the owner when away.
The Expedition features power for every row with six USB charging ports for gadgets scattered throughout the cabin. There are also four 12v power points and an available 110V power inverter.
This is also one of the first vehicles to benefit from the new partnership between Ford and Harmans B&O Play audio brand. At the Platinum trim level, the Expedition features a 12-speaker B&O premium audio system. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to connect my smartphone to listen to my standard test tracks. That left me listening to satellite radio, which is okay not the best showcase for a stereo of this caliber due to its highly compressed sound quality. We'll have to wait for the full review to put the system through its paces.
Trim and pricing
The 2018 Ford Expedition comes in a few flavors starting with the base XLT at $51,695. At the mid-range is the Limited model which adds a bit of creature comfort and opens up some of the optional driver aid and tech upgrades. At the top of the line is the Platinum ($75,855), the most luxurious and fully featured of the trio.
Additionally, owners will need to decide between four-wheel driven 4x4 or rear-drive 4x2 configurations. Limited and Platinum owners can also upgrade to the longer Expedition Max, which is about a foot longer overall with a 6-inch increase in wheelbase and rear seat leg room. XLT buyers, on the other hand, have a different upgrade path ending with the optional FX4 off-road package.