The auto industry is little more than a fist fight, with every brand trying to knock out its rivals. Rather than throwing haymakers, though, these companies launch newer, smarter, more dynamic products. And with every blow that lands, you can be sure the competition is winding up for its own counterattack.
That's where we join Ford and Chevrolet. After the Blue Oval launched its well-received and long-overdue reinvention of the three-row Ford Expedition in 2018, it enjoyed a few years with a staggered Chevrolet. Late last year, though, the new Tahoe and Suburban SUVs arrived, and with them, advanced technology and far better driving dynamics.
While Chevy has landed a hammer blow against Ford, Dearborn is ready to strike back with a facelifted Expedition. But a week behind the wheel shows that the current model is still a decent example of the truck-based, three-row breed. The roomy cabin, fair price, and twin-turbocharged powertrain make it a good choice, age be damned.
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The Expedition won't see a redesign for a few years, so the next update will be a facelift that's likely to riff on the current model's clean (but bland) exterior. That's mostly okay. As vehicle designs go, there's little to offend here.
The Expedition neatly merges the F-150's chiseled styling – it shares its basic platform and aluminum construction with the popular pickup – with the smoother lines of Ford's crossover range. That means C-clamp-shaped running lights flanking a rectangular, cheese-grater-style grille in front, while the taillights are the apparent offspring of an F-Series and an Explorer. In profile, crossover lines dominate the aluminum body, with a conventional beltline and none of the chamfering found around the F-150's greenhouse. The equipped Black Accent package’s gloss-black wheels and black elements in the fascia do little for the Expedition's look.
The interior design feels particularly antiquated, especially with a redesigned F-150 hitting the market. The steering wheel design, switchgear, and the overall layout of the controls on the dash is solidly last-generation Ford, while the collection of plastics features shapes that look robust but also deeply uninteresting. The Expedition's cabin benefits from some fun detailing on King Ranch, Limited, and Platinum trims, but our everyman XLT model, with its simple stitching and dull silver accents, is a textbook case of function over form.
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Even years after it debuted and despite the arrival of newer competition, the Expedition still has the roomiest third-row seat bench on the market, offering 36.1 inches of legroom (more than you'll find in the back of most compact sedans). Pair that with excellent headroom and solid shoulder space, and the Expedition's last row really could play host to a couple of adults on a short jaunt. That's doubly true when you slide the second-row forward, expanding total leg space to an epic 40.9 inches.
Room in the rest of the Expedition is similarly adequate. The second row is a fine place to while away a day on the road, especially with the available and highly recommended captain's chairs. Pass on the seven-seat layout and the second row features 40/20/40 split seating with a reclining back, so it's still plenty comfy. Legroom sits at 41.5 inches, which is just half an inch behind the newer Chevy Tahoe.
But let's talk about the front seats, which is where our issues lie. The chairs themselves are flat and rather uncomfortable. It feels like the big Expedition's front buckets came from a smaller product. They're oddly constricting without feeling supportive. The front row is rather tight, too, with a small pedal box that reminds us of past Ford crossovers, like the Flex and Explorer. And in general, our Expedition XLT tester's faux leather upholstery feels cheap and plasticky – it's the best reason to step up to the Limited.
Despite its age, the Expedition exhibits a solid handle on tire and wind noise, while the ride is passable when you consider the truck-based roots. That said, the introduction of the new Tahoe should leave Ford worried.
Any customer that's experienced the sophisticated air springs and magnetic dampers in the range-topping Chevy will find the Ford's grasp of body motions, especially over small bumps, disappointing. The Expedition isn't nearly so isolated, with secondary body motions following bumps that the air-sprung Tahoe would shrug right off. The good news for the Ford is that it's far closer in ride quality to non-air-suspended Chevys, which make up the bulk of Tahoe/Suburban sales.
The Expedition can manage quite a lot of junk in its trunk, with 19.3 cubic feet of space when the third row's up, 57.5 when it's down, and 104.6 cubes when owners stow both the second and third row. Those lag behind the new Tahoe, though, which finally adopts an independent rear suspension and gains carrying capacity because of it. The redesigned Chevy has a 25.5-cubic-foot minimum, 72.6 cubes with the third-row folded, and a max of 122.9 – that last figure bests even the extended-length Expedition Max and its 121.5 cubic feet of space.
Nowhere are we more looking forward to a refresh than in the Expedition's technology suite. The standard 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and the accompanying Sync 3 software were fine in 2018 and are still okay today, but 2021 Ford F-150 Redesign Revealed With Hybrid Version, Clever Features will mark a huge upgrade for the Expedition. As it stands, this setup is on the low end of competitive, besting what you'll find in the ancient Toyota Sequoia and putting up a decent, but losing, fight against the redesigned Tahoe. Still, if you're a glutton for screen size, the display looks positively tiny in the Expedition's vast cabin.
The Expedition complements its Sync 3 infotainment suite with available 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity. Two USB-A slots per row is acceptable, but we're hopeful the new model will add more, along with USB-C connectivity. In terms of functional options, Ford's nifty ProTrailer Backup Assist and a 360-degree camera system are available on the mid-range XLT, although both were missing from our tester.
Unlike the Tahoe, which asks owners to choose from one of three engines, the Expedition is only available with a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6. Every example boasts 375 horsepower, 470 pound-feet of torque, and a 10-speed automatic transmission. That puts the big Ford squarely between the Tahoe's 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V8s in terms of output. The Expedition beats both, though, with its ultra-accessible torque, which owners can call upon from just 2,250 rpm.
Acceleration from a standstill starts with a hint of turbo lag before the 3.5-liter comes to life – the surge of torque makes getting up to speed a breeze. The 10-speed automatic, meanwhile, manages it all with ease, clicking off upshifts that are smooth but far from leisurely. Dig into the throttle while rolling, even at higher speeds, and both engine and gearbox respond readily. As has been the case for years, there's a lot to like about Ford's EcoBoost/10-speed combination.
While Ford rates our tester at 6,500 pounds for conventional towing, adding the optional Heavy Duty Tow package increases that figure to a segment-leading 9,300 pounds (9,200 if, like this example, you go for four-wheel drive). For comparison, the Nissan Armada is the nearest competitor, maxing out 8,500 pounds, while the Tahoe manages up to 8,400, and the Sequoia sits at 7,500. But the Expedition's reliance on an option pack to reach its max towing is disappointing – even without options, the Tahoe can manage at least 1,100 pounds more.
Neither the Expedition nor any of its competitors are especially agile. The Ford makes its pilot acutely aware of the 5,623 pounds of weight and 17.5 feet of SUV in the corners, where heavy body roll, squat, and dive come in. The steering is light and lacking in feedback, but the weighting makes the Expedition manageable in places like parking lots. In fact, despite its size, good visibility makes it easy to pick out the corners of this big thing. It's certainly more tolerable in that regard than the Tahoe.
The Expedition has an adequate safety suite for a vehicle that debuted in 2018, but Ford's decision to limit desirable features to an option pack on this XLT trim is disappointing. That said, every XLT features standard automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot monitoring. The $1,100 Co-Pilot 360 Assist pack adds full-speed adaptive cruise control.
The Expedition loses points for the XLT trim's lousy halogen projector headlights. Unlike GM, which offers LED headlights on the volume Tahoe LT, Ford only offers advanced headlights on the King Ranch and Platinum. At least automatic high beams are standard, though, and the sightlines in all directions are excellent.
Among gas-powered rivals, the Expedition and its twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 are the most efficient pairing in the class, returning an EPA-estimated 17 miles per gallon city, 22 highway, and 19 combined on 87-octane fuel. That falls just a hair short of our 21-mpg-combined target for three-row, truck-based SUVs. The Ford would normally earn a point for most efficient, but the new Tahoe and its 3.0-liter diesel earn that distinction.
The volume Chevy and its 5.3-liter V8 lag behind the twin-turbo Ford – look for 16 city, 20 highway, and 18 combined. The ancient Sequoia and refreshed Armada, meanwhile, return 13/17/14 and 13/18/15, respectively.
Prices for the 2020 Expedition start at $49,995 (the lowest in the class), but the XLT featured here demands $52,810 for two-wheel drive or $55,860 for four-wheel drive – those prices don't include the $1,695 destination or $645 acquisition charges. Our tester adds the ritziest of the three main equipment packages, the $3,685 202A pack (heated and ventilated front seats, a power liftgate, and heated steering wheel, as well as the power front seats and leatherette upholstery from the 201A pack.
The $1,895 Black Accent package is pricey, but it includes the second-row captain's chairs (a $595 option) and a navigation function for the Sync 3 infotainment (only available otherwise as part of the $1,100 Co-Pilot 360 Assist package) in addition to the blacked-out wheels and accents, so it's an okay value. Out the door, our as-tested price was $63,780.
No matter how you slice it, the Expedition still undercuts the Tahoe. The base Tahoe LS may retail for $50,295 in two-wheel-drive, 5.3-liter V8 form, but good luck finding this fleet-favorite outside your local Enterprise Rent-A-Car. The Tahoe LT, meanwhile, starts at $55,095, with four-wheel drive adding $3,000 to that price. As for a rival to our tester's Black Accent package, plan on spending $58,395 for a Tahoe RST (with the same $3,000 premium for four-wheel drive).
Nissan's new Armada is more in line with our Expedition XLT – an Armada SV starts at $52,500 with four-wheel drive adding $3,000 to the price. Toyota shows well, with its aged Sequoia SR5 starting at $50,100 and the TRD Sport model ringing up at $52,815. Like the rest of the segment, Toyota prices four-wheel-drive competitively, at around $3,200.
The bottom line? At the XLT trim, the Expedition remains a decent value, with competitive equipment and adequate capability. We'd advise against climbing the trim ladder, though, at least without testing the Tahoe High Country and its air suspension.
Notably, the Ford Expedition is on our list of the Best SUVs for Towing.
Expedition Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2020 Ford Expedition: Review
2020 Ford Expedition XLT