Written by BJ Killeen
Driving across America is a journey everyone should take at least once in his or her life. I’ve had the privilege of crossing the country more than once, and the unique imagery of each state never fails to astound me. Our most recent trip took us from the far west of California to the Midwest in Illinois and Indiana, traveling along the southern route. Our steed for this trek was the brand-new 2018 Ford Expedition full-size SUV.
As we covered the 4,600-mile round trip in less than a week, we have to tip our hats to the brave pioneers who made the same migration over 150 years ago, without the convenience of a fast and comfortable automobile, plus hotels, gas stations, and restaurants at virtually every exit.
So many settlers packed up their family and possessions to head west, looking for land to call their own, or seek their fortunes mining for gold. What we take for granted now, they would spend over six months trying to make it to their destinations. The hardships, the loss of life, the wonder of the landscape, and the elation at the end of the journey are all chronicled in many diaries from those who completed the trails. As I review the new Expedition and talk about our trip, I’ll include some excerpts from these journals, as my way of paying homage to all those with such undaunted spirit.
The Ford Expedition has been a staple in the Ford stable for two decades now, and has been an extremely popular and profitable vehicle for the Blue Oval. Along with its sister vehicle, the Lincoln Navigator, the Expedition’s redo has been a long time coming; the last major update was a decade ago, and the last full redesign was twice that. For 2018, the Ford Expedition’s change is drastic, starting with the structure.
The Expedition remains body on frame, sharing components with the venerable F-150 pickup, but for the first time ever is using a ground-breaking military-grade aluminum body (same as F-150), which saved about 300 pounds of weight over the outgoing Expedition. The frame is fully boxed for strength, also like the F-Series trucks. What this means is ruggedness, a solid ride, tremendous work capability, and durability. It really trounces the competition (namely GM’s trio of Tahoe, Suburban, and Yukon) hard. All this adds up to a solid, efficient, and practical way to travel.
Available in three trims — XLT, Limited, and Platinum — and regular and extended-length wheelbase (MAX), the Expedition’s base prices range from $51,790 without destination for the XLT trim up to the Platinum MAX that starts at $75,720, again without destination charges. Our test model was a Limited MAX. Ours came with the $3,030 Package 301A, which included the White Platinum metallic exterior color, 2nd-row leather bucket seats (leather-like material is standard), heavy-duty trailer tow package, and the cargo package. The total with $1,195 destination came to $72,685. A fully loaded Platinum MAX will run just shy of $85K. While pricing for the new Expedition may give previous owners a heart attack, what you get in the new version should help lessen the sticker shock.
A quick stop to eat BBQ and check out the original Bass Pro Shop, located in Springfield, Missouri.
Although the Expedition’s exterior is all new, it still looks like an Expedition. Let’s be honest, a big SUV can’t have odd curves and strange corners, which would limit all it needs to get the job done, from hauling three rows’ full of people to towing up to 9,300 pounds. The front fascia is more contemporary, with a large blue oval badge and horizontal lines through the Ford five-bar grille. Available LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights, and LED taillights (on Limited) modernize the Expedition front and rear. The door handles are sleeker and more aerodynamic than previous models, and the available power running boards are much appreciated, especially by those who are vertically challenged (such as the author). Optional on our test Expedition were 20-inch 275/55R20 Toyo H/T Open Country tires. Even with a fully loaded cargo area (not exceeding the payload limits, of course), the tires did a great job keeping contact, even in heavy rain. Temps ran a little hotter along the southern route we took, but never gave us any cause for concern.
Running the numbers, the Expedition is big. The regular wheelbase is 122.5 inches, with the MAX at 131.6. Most of that extra space is for rear-seat legroom and extra cargo room. Overall length is 210 and 221.9 respectively. Width also measures up nicely, at 79.9 inches without mirrors.
The interior of the Expedition is functional and user friendly. Seats were highly adjustable, and included power lumbar support for driver and front-seat passenger.
Inside is where the Expedition excels. It looks similar to the interior of the F-150, which is good, because it’s work-oriented, with touches of unexpected luxury features. First, because it’s so wide, there’s plenty of leg room for front-row occupants. The tunnel is wide, but that provides plenty of center console width and depth, plus room for two cupholders and a storage area that includes the new, available wireless charge pad.
The available wireless keypad is on a slant so you can see your phone. Two USB ports are available if you prefer to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Speaking of the charging pad, there are plusses and minuses to it. We like that you don’t need to have a cord tethered, because it’s usually in the way and constantly tangled. The pad also is set on an angle so you can see your phone when on the pad. The other side of that coin is that, for iPhones, you need to take the phone out of the holder, which is a pain every time you get in and out of the car. Plus, if you want to use Ford’s AppLink system (which is impressive) or Apple CarPlay, you need to be tethered with a cord anyway. In theory it makes sense, but I found I just plugged my cord into the USB hub so I could use the other features.
The seats were comfortable and supportive on our long trip (I’m sure the pioneers would have traded their wagon seats for these plush ones in a heartbeat.), with good thigh support. The Platinum trim features standard Multi-Contour seats with Active Motion. I’ve experienced these in the Lincoln vehicles, and this is what I missed most in the Expedition. Those massaging seats are heavenly, and would have come in handy for the long drive.
While leather first-row seats are standard on the Limited, the second row features imitation leather. You have to pay more to get real leather on the second-row bucket seats; it’s a $740 option. We like that this is an option, because if you have messy kids, not having real leather might be the best decision you can make.
The second row can be had with either two bucket seats and a center console or this 40/20/40 three-across seating arrangement. All seats can accommodate a car seat and it won’t need to be removed if you are putting a passenger in the third row.
The second row offers plenty of leg room as well, and the seats can fold flat or push forward for entry to the third row. Going east, we had all the seats up, heading west, we had all the seats lowered to carry the load we brought home. Both positions are easy to manipulate. There’s a release button on the C-Pillar that unlocks the second-row seat and slides it forward on the track. For the third row, the Expedition features the PowerFold seats. This is a Ford design, and it makes it so easy to raise and lower them via buttons on the inside of the cargo area. For those who need extra people capacity, you can opt for the second-row 40/20/40 power-folding tip-and slide seats to accommodate that third person.
Cargo carrying ability is massive; with all seats folded, the Expedition can haul 104.6 cubic feet of cargo, while the MAX bumps it up to 121.4 cubic feet. That beats the Chevrolet Tahoe, Nissan Armada, and Toyota Sequoia easily. The Expedition also beats the competition with more room behind the third row with all seats in the up position, with 20.9 cubic feet for the regular wheelbase.
The Expedition also has an available cargo management system where you can flip the bottom section of the floor up and around to form a shelf. Makes it especially easy to reach just by opening the rear liftgate glass. Perfect for when you don’t want to open the liftgate all the way. By the way, that liftgate is power operated (standard on Limited and above trims), and also is available with hands-free foot activation depending on trim level.
A giant panoramic Vista roof allows those in the back rows to enjoy the sunshine. The Vista roof is a $1,475 option on the Limited model. Because the glass area is so big, you can definitely feel the heat difference with a sunroof versus without.
Other interior items you shouldn’t live without are the 110-volt outlet (located in the back of the center console), dual-zone automatic climate control and rear climate controls, heated and ventilated front-row seats, memory driver’s seat, and power-adjustable pedals. The Limited also came standard with the new, exclusive B&O Play audio system that replaces the Sony audio Ford has partnered with for years. Sound is excellent, and since B&O Play is a sub division of Harman Kardon, that’s a level of quality we have grown to expect in our vehicles.
One feature I use constantly on my Lincoln MKC is called Auto Hold, where you can push the button, release your foot off the brake at a stop, and the vehicle will hold its position. Unfortunately for Ford, this is a Lincoln-only feature. Once you get used to using it, however, you surely miss it when it’s gone. It would be a handy feature to have here.
We can’t talk about Ford without mentioning SYNC 3, Ford’s connectivity and infotainment system. For the most part, the system is easy to use. It’s fast, and allows the use of your phone apps through AppLink. You can even use Ford+Alexa to ask questions, order from Amazon if you have a Prime account, and link it to your home system. Also new is the ability to use the Waze app as a nav system. Honestly, you can use just about any Nav system you want in the vehicle, as well as the navigation that is packaged with the Expedition. We kept switching around, but found the Google maps to be most accurate. Unfortunately, when you use an iPhone connected through Apple CarPlay, you have to use Apple Maps, so we just ran the Google map off the phone. The onboard nav system was good, but didn’t always give the most accurate route, even though you can decide if you want the fastest, most direct, or the most economical way to go. Keep in mind, however, if you use Waze, or any app off your phone, it will use your data plan.
Ford technology is much appreciated. We love the FordPass app using SYNC Connect that allowed us to do remote functions, such as start/stop the Expedition, as well as lock and unlock the doors remotely. We used these features several times on our trip because we wanted to cool down the interior before we hopped inside.
Even Rambo appreciates the tough look of the Expedition’s exterior! Arizona’s last stop is a popular tourist spot before you hit Nevada and Hoover Dam.
While the interior is full of great features, it’s the power that takes center stage on the new Expedition. The only engine is the second-generation 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbocharged powerplant that produces 375 horsepower and a ridiculous 470 lb-ft of torque. Step up to the Platinum trim, and the power jumps to 400 with an extra 10 lb-ft of torque. What’s nice is that almost all this torque is available at a low 1,500 rpm for great takeoff, even when loaded to capacity with people and cargo. Fuel economy numbers are impressive for such a large vehicle. While Ford’s EPA estimates are 17/22/19 city/highway combined, we saw a high of 23 mpg, with an overall average of almost 21 mpg. With a full load, and climbing hills, that’s way better than we expected. The MAX has a larger gas tank than the regular wheelbase, at 28 gallons, which gave us a range of between 550 and 600 miles. We had to make personal pit stops before we needed fuel. It’s an efficient way to travel if you can handle long, 400-mile stints at a time. Fill ups ranged between $60 and $80, with an overall fuel total of under $600 for the entire trip.
The engine is paired with Ford’s new 10-speed automatic transmission, which was developed as part of a joint venture with General Motors. There are three overdrive gears and a manual mode where you can select the gear needed for the road conditions. When we were pushing up hills, we dropped it into 9th to keep the momentum. The shifts were smooth and well spaced. This is an impressive transmission that first appeared in the F-Series trucks.
Although we didn’t tow, the Expedition has a max tow rating of 9,300 lbs. That’s between 700 and 1,900 lbs MORE than the competition.
Rear axle ratios are 3.15, 3.31 and 3.73, depending on model and what you need the vehicle to do. Our test Expedition MAX included the available Heavy-duty trailer tow package with the 3.73 rear end, and although we didn’t tow anything, we’ve played around with it previously in Detroit, and the package is a must for those who do spend a lot of time moving boats, campers, or trailers. The package includes Pro Trailer Backup Assist, electronic limited slip differential, heavy-duty engine radiator, integrated trailer brake controller, and two-speed automatic 4×4 with neutral towing capability of 4×4 models only. Other tow-specific features include BLIS with trailer coverage, dynamic hitch assist, trailer sway control, many towing apps in the instrument cluster, and being able to customize up to 10 trainers. There is no other competitor that can match this long list of features.
Manteno, Illinois, is a small town about an hour south of Chicago. It’s home to Rad Rides by Troy. You’re looking at an area that used to be a house we owned. The city bought it, tore it down and made a really nice town square.
While the Expedition is big, driving it doesn’t feel like it. The electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering kept the vehicle on course without a lot of sawing movement. The steering feels progressive and nicely weighted. Often engineers tend to overboost the steering on a big vehicle to make it feel easier to steer, but it ends up feeling artificial. The Expedition’s steering is responsive and delivers a connected feeling to the road.
What a difference 87 years makes! Here’s a 1931 Model T that belongs to Tom Aschenberg from Layfayette, Indiana. Almost all original, both these vehicles were designed to do the same tasks. Tires got wider, headlights got smaller, and horsepower jumped by a factor of 10!
Same can be said for the suspension. Up front is an independent short/long arm setup, coil over shocks and a stabilizer bar. In back is also an independent design, with i-link, stabilizer bar, and optional rear mechanical load leveling. What’s interesting about the suspension on the Expedition is that it’s porthole in frame, meaning the frame has holes in it where the rear half shafts go through so there’s no hump in the rear. This creates a flat cargo floor and a lower liftover height: a win-win all around. Braking also was surefooted both loaded and unloaded. We never felt as if the brakes couldn’t stop the vehicle, even with the full payload.
Whenever you get a chance, stop and checkout the road signs and historical markers. That’s half the fun of going across country.
Our trip took us a total of almost 4,600 miles, through nine states. Overall, you couldn’t ask for a better traveling companion than the Expedition. It was impressively quiet at high speeds, a smooth ride on the highway (a bit rougher on city streets), and felt solid, delivering an impressive amount of driver confidence, no matter the weather or road conditions. Our total time driving was over 71 hours. A final goodbye included a hand car wash. For those looking for a vehicle to do it all in comfort and style, the Expedition comes out at the top.
(All quotes from the Diaries of William Henry Hart.)