It’s big, it’s heavy, it consumes a ton of gas… and yet, North American consumers continue to clamour for it. And this is not just idle talk; the American automaker based in Dearborn, Michigan confirmed officially this past winter that it was revising upwards production figures for its two mega-sized SUVs: the Ford Expedition and its more luxurious (and now more-powerful) cousin, the Lincoln Navigator.
Ford’s plant in Louisville, Kentucky is thus taking on more personnel to meet growing demand for the two large SUVs. No fewer than 550 new jobs are being added at the assembly plant, where just a few short years falling demand had led to job cuts. Times have certainly changed, helped in no small part by the overhaul of the Expedition last year.
That revamp did the Expedition a lot of good; for one it saw the SUV drop its steel outer shell in favour of aluminum, like the Ford F-150 truck. I had occasion to get behind the wheel of the automaker’s largest utility model earlier this spring, as the final remnants of snow lingered on the ground. Here is the portrait of an old friend who took to the gym, and seems to have given itself a second life, or at least prolonged its journey for a few more years.
As imposing as ever
The Expedition shed 136 kg with its refont, thanks especially to the switch to aluminum – and the Expedition has several panels, so that switch made a difference! But that doesn’t mean the Expedition has altered its formula in any meaningful way. That formula has allowed Ford to rake in real profits on the model since the late 1990s, so it would have been unwise to mess with it. In its guts the Ford Expedition is thus still a cousin to the F-Series pickup, with the exception of the rear suspension which foregoes traditional leaf springs for an independent suspension.
The vehicle is dimensionally as imposing as ever and has an enormous amount of window surface. The alloy wheels are sized in proper proportion to the body. You can also say that the shape of the vehicle is conservative, with for example the large C pillar behind the second-row window. That said, while working within the confines of this more traditional styling, Ford’s designers managed to give the SUV a more-elegant front fascia, as well as a rear end that has been streamlined thanks to the inclusion of a black strip linking the rear lights (or chrome strip in the case of models not fitted with that options package).
For my weeklong drive, Ford supplied me with a Limited edition equipped with black 22-inch wheels, included in the Stealth Edition optional package. In addition to those exclusive wheels, the Expedition gets several black elements, notably on the badging, the front of the bumper and the light clusters.
I admit I much like this darkened visual package, as well as the big wheels that properly fill in the space under the wheel arches. I’m less thrilled about the cost of the tires that envelop those wheels, mind you…
375 horses is more than enough!
For its 2019 Expedition, Ford is offering two levels of power. The Platinum edition gets 400 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque to play with, but you do have to feed it Supreme high-octane gasoline. Our Limited version, sitting at a lower retail price, has to “make do” with 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. Did I suffer from this scandalous power shortfall? Not one bit! The previous-generation Expedition has already been united with Ford’s 3.5L twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 and that was a successful marriage, with a truck that was heavier and a powertrain that delivered less output.
With the company’s new 10-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive – note that it’s possible to drive in FWD configuration to save a bit on fuel – the Expedition makes clear it’s ready to work, and to that end it offers the best towing capacity in the segment at 4,173 kg, surpassing even the luxury Navigator from Lincoln with its 3,765-kg capacity.
A living room on wheels
I find myself using this phrase a lot these days, mostly because these days there are an increasing number of vehicles on the market that deliver a truly exceptional level of comfort – and this despite the spread of oversized wheels in product offerings and the still-terrible condition of many of our Canadian roads.
This is the case with the Expedition, which coddles passengers on trips short and long. This big American people-mover eats up the kilometres without any apparent effort, and surprisingly it offers the driving experience of a smaller SUV. The adaptive steering (whose force depends on the speed being driven at) is a big reason for this, as is the DRIVE MODE nob, which allows you to adjust the vehicle’s parameters (shocks, heaviness of the steering, the responsiveness of the powertrain) to suit your mood.
Despite the elephantine size and weight (2.5 tons, or 2,551 kg) of the Expedition, it also puts forth strong-sustained accelerations. To get you up to speed when merging onto the highway, the Expedition does its job well. Obviously, the laws of physics still apply and must be respected, meaning it’s reckless to take this SUV into corners at high speed and braking distance is not exactly what you get in a Corolla. But that’s the reality of driving a full-size SUV of any kind.
A word about the interior
The cabin of the Expedition, less blow-your-socks-off than that of the Lincoln Navigator, is nonetheless a very welcoming space, not only because of all the room (of which there is a ton), but also because of the plush seating and the comprehensive roster of equipment included in the Limited version we drove. Even with three rows, there’s plenty of space for all – including in the back. There’s no shortage of good-sized storage spaces, especially in front. The central console comes equipped with wireless smartphone charging, two USB ports, two cup-holders and a closed compartment beneath the armrest.
The dashboard is identical to what you find in the F-150, so Ford lovers will feel right at home.
The last word
Before it makes the leap into full electrification (eventually), Ford can continue to fund its development of that sector with its profitable Expedition/Navigator tandem. The big Ford became a suddenly very improved product last year with the big revision, to the point where it’s casting a big shadow over rival GM’s products.
It’s easy to live with on a daily basis, and at least slightly less gas-guzzling than before, but given its sheer size the Expedition remains a full-size SUV that’s not for everyone. Still, given how successful ford has been with it over the past year and change, there is a substantial percentage of the SUV-buying public ready and willing to go big, really big and enjoy the benefits a massive, comfortable American utility model can bestow.