As it stands, GM dominates the full-size SUV market with the Suburban, Tahoe, Yukon, and Yukon XL. Nice rigs, sure– but Ford might have finally figured out how to beat them. The 2015 Ford Expedition ditches the deadweight V8, gets a nice new interior, and is now my pick in this class.
I can't over-emphasize how much more popular the GM SUVs are. Last year 38,350 Expeditions were sold compared to 51,260 Suburbans, 83,502 Tahoes, 28,302 GMC Yukons, and 31,258 Yukon XLs. (That's 194,322 SUVs out of The General's showrooms). A few people bought Land Cruisers and Armadas too, but I don't think GM's product planners have heard of those vehicles.
Obviously, Ford reckons they deserve a bigger piece of this pie and hope breaking status quo is their ticket to do it; the 5.4 V8 has been pulled in favor of one of my favorite new Ford engines; the EcoBoost turbo 3.5 V6.
I won't lie; I was expecting the market to indicate that GM made a superior product in this class. And maybe they did; the last Ford Expedition I drove was a 1997 first-gen. It was slow, had ungainly buttons, guzzled fuel, and I hated it.
That not longer applies. I mean, the new engine is still thirsty for fuel but it's smooth and moves the SUV along in a proper hurry.
New gauges are highly customizable and rendered in deliciously crisp computer screens.
Handling, I dare say, could even be called "sharp" in Sport mode (which this thing has).
We all know how fervently truck buyers can cling to the brands they're familiar with, but I don't think the effect is as strong in the SUV world. Even in this largest, truckliest "full-size" class. If SUV shoppers (who can't be talked into a minivan) are predisposed to buy GM take a test drive in the 2015 Expedition, I reckon they'll be hard-pressed not to defect.
"Simple" is the word that comes to mind first. The new Expedition is probably the most conservatively-styled SUV on the market for 2015; from the front quarter it almost looks like the 1996 original with a new front facia. The look lacks the ferocity of the Dodge Durango, and hasn't been as modernized as GM's 2015 SUVs but I like where it landed– the face looks purposeful and yes, those tow-hooks are functional.
The filled-in slats of grille threw me off a little... and at first I thought Ford might have forgotten to finish punching-out this pre-production model. But the design is actually intentional.
One of Ford's aerodynamics guy Ken Anderson did the design, and the plastic is dialed for maximum cooling and "streamlining" such as that is with a basically brick-shaped SUV.
(Note: Ford originally told me their aerodynamics specialist Steve Parks worked on this project, but it turns out that was not the case.)
The Expedition still borrows bits inside from the 2015 Ford Super Duty; namely the big slab of flatness in front of the passenger side. But where the pickup truck's interior looks tired in some places and overzealous in others, it's been tweaked and tugged in all the right spots for the SUV. I guess this bodes well for a redesign on the big pickup.
The third-row is quite usable, and provides plenty of legroom for my 6' self. In fact, with a big guy in the driver's seat the way-back is actually comfier than the second row. Those rear seats fold down flat at the touch of a button in the cargo bay, and flip back up the same way.
Ford boasts that their cargo area is "flatter" than the Suburban's, and larger too. It is bigger, but the difference is something like seven cubic feet... you won't notice unless you take out your tape measure. I never really had a problem with a "slope" in the Suburban either.
Now I just want a panoramic sunroof option. If they're gonna put one in the 2015 F-150 (they are, we saw it) they should damn well be able to put a glass roof on anything.
Gadgets & Toys
An 8" screen in the middle of the dash is recessed a little so it stays flat on a raked center stack. That makes pushing buttons easier, but you're still going to be tapping your foot waiting for the infotainment system's torpid processor to load menus. Thankfully Ford heard our complaints and put things like climate control back into physical buttons, but I'm still pretty unhappy with the speed at which their computer does business.
Screens on the gauge cluster are a different story. Ford did a really nice job augmenting the main dials with two 4" screens that are customizable to display a wealth of information. Left can be set to a digital tach and navigation is really logically positioned on the right. Controls here respond quickly and the graphics are razor-sharp.
Ford has completely abandoned the V8 for this SUV, and nobody should miss it. The 3.5 EcoBoost engine you know and love in the F-150 is brilliant in the Expedition. Throttle tip-in is surprisingly aggressive; don't boot it out of a drive-thru unless you want to be wearing your coffee.
The engine's been tuned to 365 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, the latter of which is all available at just 2,500 RPM on 87 octane gas. Compare that to the 5.3 EcoTec V8 that powers GM's full-size SUVs makes 355 horsepower and just 388 lb-ft of torque... which doesn't peak out until 4100 RPMs.
Having driven the Suburban recently, I can verify that the comparably-sized Expedition EL feels a lot faster a lot sooner off a stop. No, really; jump on the juice and this thing will properly surge while simulating a mini-wheelie thanks to soft shocks (you need to be in "Comfort" mode to get that last part of the experience).
Sadly, the turbo woosh that's delightfully apparent in the F-150 has been quieted but I bet you could figure out how to bring it back with a blowoff valve or something.
No official fuel economy claims have been made, but Ford reps promise "about a 15% improvement" over the outgoing 5.4 V8. If true, we should be looking at 15 MPG in town, 21 on the highway and 17 combined in the 4WD version.
The six-speed automatic is good, smooth, and jumps into 4WD seamlessly on the fly. "SelectShift" lets you pointlessly shift manually with a little button on the gear knob but you're better off just letting the SUV do its thing.
Traction control and AdvanceTrac work hard to keep you out of trouble, so make sure you hold the button down for long enough to turn them both off if you want to turn your rear tires into taco toppings. Which the EcoBoost Expedition will do no-problem.
Ride & Handling
I already told you how much fun digital gauge clusters are, but the tech Ford's most proud of in the new Expedition is the "Continuously Controlled Damping" suspension they brought over from Lincoln. As they describe it, CCD is:
"An advanced suite of sensors continuously monitors and adjusts the suspension. The sensors also detect body motions and steering and braking dynamics in milliseconds, faster than you can blink. Select the operating mode — Sport, Normal or Comfort — that suits the driving experience you prefer, from exceptional ride quality to a spirited, sporty feel."
It actually seems to work, too. Handling's decidedly tighter in "Sport" while it's noticeably cushier (also floaty) in "Comfort." I have a feeling this option is going to cost a ton and might go unappreciated by most drivers, but it performs as advertised.
As you may or may not know, the Ford Expedition has had independent rear suspension for something like eleven years. This cuts down unsprung weight and makes ride quality a little better and improves handling.
The new Expedition certainly looks higher off the ground than a Suburban, and it is. But barely. The 4x4 Expedition is 8" off the ground; the Suburban is 7.9". Articulation abilities seem to be similar too; Expedition's approach angle is 22.5º, departure is 20.3º, and the ramp breakover is 15.3º on the 220.8"-long EL. A 224.4" Suburban can approach at 15.5º and departure angle is 21.1º.
So, neither of these vehicles will be dirt-devouring monsters but at least the Expedition has a sweet digital tilt-and-roll gauge! Joking aside, with all this power a little lift and some great tires would go a long way provided you didn't order your Expedition with the complex electronically controlled shocks.
Cargo, Hauling, & Towing
Any 2015 Expedition can tow at at least 9,000 pounds, maxing out at 9,200 when properly equipped. That actually smokes the Suburban, which is rated for 8,000.
We weren't able to test how well the Expedition pulled those four and a half tons, but with so much torque on tap so low in the rev range I bet it does just fine. At the expense of a lot of gasoline, of course.
Inside the cargo bay is nicely laid out, with a fold-up divider and plenty of space behind the third row seats, even before you electronically fold them down.
Without announcing anything official, Ford says the 2015 Expedition will cost "about $40,000" for the base 2WD XL to "about $60,000" for the range-topping Platinum. Every Expedition will have the SUV's coolest features (the engine and gauge faces), so the best bargain might be found in the lowest 4WD trim you can get a sunroof in.
I think I've made it pretty clear that I'm a fan of this SUV. The effect might be amplified by the fact that I was expecting to be underwhelmed, but I really enjoyed driving the 2015 Expedition and think Ford's on to something trading two cylinders for turbos. Now I just wish Ford would make the same refreshments to the Super Duty pickups so that thing could come out of the stone age.
Images: Andrew Collins, Ford