Fri. Dec 13th, 2019

2020 Ford Expedition Review: For Big Trips, Big Families, Big Budgets

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2020 Ford Expedition Review: For Big Trips, Big Families, Big Budgets

The 2020 Ford Expedition is a honking big SUV that does pretty much what you expect: It hauls eight people, trailers four and a half tons of cargo, feels more at home on the interstate than country back roads, gets okay gas mileage that feels better when you calculate MPG-per-passenger, and provides a measure of luxury. If you’ve been in other SUVs that seem big outside yet snug behind the second row, the Expedition is comfortable for everybody on board.

Ford modernized the Expedition for the new 2018 model (fourth-generation), made more driver safety assists available, dropped the V8, and raised the max towing capacity to 9,300 pounds. The 2018, 2019, and now 2020 models are essentially similar vehicles. Despite starting prices in the fifties and sixties, the lower-trim line Expedition XLT and Expedition Limited still make some advanced driver safety features optional. As you move to higher Expedition trim lines and prices approaching $80K, you get closer to the Lincoln Navigator, the Expedition’s first cousin, where there is no doubt about the level of luxury.

On the Road with Expedition

I drove a top-of-the-line Expedition Platinum model, 210 inches long, not the 222-inch Expedition Max. Even so, it carried a lot of cargo, scrambled up dirt roads with its four-wheel-drive, played music with little distortion, and transported three sets of couples in extreme comfort. The boat we have at our summer camp wouldn’t have challenged the standard 6,000-pound towing capability, let alone the HD trailer package 9,300. As Ford said at the midsize Explorer announcement last December, buyers willingly buy capacity they may never need. (Many intenders don’t own a boat or trailer.) Or as psychologist BF Skinner said, “If freedom is a requisite for human happiness, then all that’s necessary is to provide the illusion of freedom.”

The beast stickered out right around $80K with the HD towing option; virtually every other possible feature was embedded in the base price. Even without the Max version, the third row was fine; the Max adds length in the cargo bay, not the third row. Getting up to speed is really good, about 6.5 seconds with the pedal floored. This for a 5,700-pound vehicle with a V6 turbo (“EcoBoost”) engine, but as it makes 375 hp and is paired with a 10-speed automatic, the V8 isn’t missed. Making a sharp turn or a sudden lane change, the Expedition felt ponderous and yet still in control. The driver safety assists can help you avoid the need for abrupt steering changes caused by a lapse of attention. Make sure you get the safety extras you want.

The controls are well laid out and large, which is easy to do in such a big cockpit. The gearshift selector is a rotary knob on the console; it’s different from a shift lever but you should adapt quickly. You might find it initially challenging to shift from Drive to Reverse without going all the way to Park, but the same could be said if you were changing from knob to lever. Ford Sync 3, now with more than a decade of trial and (early on, lots of) error, works very well. Some reviewers call the 8-inch center stack display large, which it’s not in something this big. Ten or 12 inches is where Ford needs to go. Size matters. The B&O audio on the test was very, very good.

If you’re looking at a full-size SUV, you’ll find the Expedition is roomier than the rest of the competitors. That alone may be a deciding factor.

The Ford Expedition cockpit is upscale on the top, Premium, trim line. One advantage of a big car is lots of space for driver and passengers.

Ford Expedition Trim Walk

There are four Ford Expedition trim lines (model variants). Features and options are essentially the same whether you’re shopping a 2020 or a 2019 still on the lot. The Max models are about $3,000 more and add a foot of length. Four-wheel-drive (not just all-wheel-drive) adds just under $5,000 and knocks 1-2 MPG off EPA ratings for the rear-drive Expeditions: 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway; 15/20 for the King Ranch. So, with six people aboard on a long trip, the Expedition gets 144 miles per gallon per passenger. Every Expedition has stability control (AdvanceTrack), as have all SUVs sold in the US since the 2012 model year (federal mandate). It dramatically reduces the odds of a rollover in a sudden-swerve or loss-of-control situation.

Every Expedition includes Sync 3 infotainment (very good), FordPass Connect telematics, automatic mayday calling, and AM/FM/satellite radio. Every Expedition gets at least these parts of Ford Co-Pilot360 technology standard: pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, rear sonar, automatic high beams. This is optional on some trim lines, standard on others: blind-spot warning (Blind Spot Information System) with rear-cross-traffic alert, trailer tow monitoring, lane departure warning / lane-keep assist, full-range adaptive cruise control, Pro Trailer Backup Assist, hill descent control, and auto parking (parallel, perpendicular). The Expedition does not offer a head-up display.

Expedition XLT, $54,195 including $1,385 freight. A lot of the driver assists you want and probably need for something this big are optional. In comparison, Honda and Toyota make their driver safety suites standard on their cars costing as little as $20,000. LED lamps are optional. An FX-4 off-road package has tuned shocks, new electronic limited-slip rear differential, a half-dozen skid plates, off-road tires, and FX4 badging; it’s pegged at about $2,000 but when you click the add-package button, it’s $10,000 because of other required packages.

Expedition Limited, $64,730. Blind-spot monitoring and hill start assist are now standard parts of Co-Pilot360, but not adaptive cruise or lane departure warning. Audio is again by Bang & Olufsen. The FX4 package is offered on Limited, too.

Expedition King Ranch, $74,280. This sort-of replaces the Expedition Texas package with a trim line of its own. King Ranch essentially means brown leather, two-tone paint, and extra badges. Standard features now include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, 360-degree cameras, parking assist, and a panoramic sunroof. Headlamps, taillamps, and fog lamps are all LED. Specs show a tow hitch is not offered. Fun fact: A quarter of all trucks in the US are sold in Texas.

Expedition Platinum, $75,320. This one’s easy to figure out, in terms of options. If it’s offered on the other Expeditions, standard or optional, it’s part of the base price here. Standard-versus-optional features parallel the King Ranch trim. The only extras are captain’s chairs in row two, premium paint, the HD tow package, and a limited-slip differential.

Ford Explorer sold more than 200,000 cars in each of its first four years. The last decade it’s been as low as 32,000. After nine months of 2019, Expedition sales are up 53 percent and it may hit 100K sales by year-end. Expedition’s closest competitor, the Chevrolet Suburban, sold since the 1930s, is shown for comparison.

Should You Buy?

The choice to buy a full-size SUV hinges on these considerations: Do you need something that carries five to eight people and all of them want comfortable seats? Do you need to tow a big boat or trailer? How much luxury do you want? Do you want less outwardly visible luxury? If that’s your leaning, you’re in mainstream Big SUV territory. The first two yesses put you in the class of big SUVs that includes the Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon, Nissan Armada, and Toyota Sequoia. The third yes (“want luxury”) steers you toward the Navigator (much the same underpinnings), Yukon Denali, and Cadillac Escalade. Also the Infiniti QX80, the biggest (length) of the non-US flagged automakers, and the Toyota Sequoia. The fourth yes (luxury without a high-luxe nameplate) puts you back in a high-end-trim Expedition or Suburban (also Armada and Sequoia), and it parallels the thinking of pickup truck people who want a King Ranch F-150 or High Country Silverado.

2020 Lincoln Navigator.

2020 Lincoln Navigator.

The higher up the Expedition line you go, the more you should think of Lincoln as well. (Same underpinnings. Way different leathers. Head-up display.) The base Expedition is $20,000 less than the entry Navigator. But the top trim Expedition Platinum is only $11,000 less than the top Navigator. (There’s also the ultra-luxe Navigator Black Label.)

If you’re shopping Expedition, you may find both the Ford.com Expedition site and the downloadable brochure do not make it easy to compare at a glance what’s on each trim line: available, standard, optional. In comparison, the Lincoln Navigator site is a model of clarity. (Note that Ford held an editor/analyst seminar this summer showing how Ford is improving the customer user experience by spiffing up stores, setting up shopping mall kiosks, and making sales-rep tables be round for a less us-versus-them experience. Quick thought: Improve the website, then order new tables.)

Be sure you understand the safety features you want on the Expedition you buy. Ford Co-Pilot360 is a shape-shifting list of standard and optional availability, varying by car and by trim line. With a vehicle this big, you probably want them all: ACC-BSD-RCTA-LDW, the surround cameras, and parking assist. If you trailer, you must get Pro Trailer Backup Assist, a small steering knob and smart camera that steers car-and-trailer in the direction you intend without jackknifing. It’s included in the $1,570 HD Trailering package.

If a big SUV is what you want, the Ford Expedition is at the top of the pile, even more so if you want an extended cargo bay some competitors lack. The Expedition Limited is our bang-for-the-buck choice, such as $65,000 is bang-for-the-buck (before options). People-, cargo-, and trailer-hauling are all first-rate. The power output of the V6 turbo obviates the need for V8 power. Also look at the Toyota and Nissan, two other solid choices, more so than Chevy/GMC. The BMW X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS are better than all of these, but their prices start in the mid-seventies (good luck finding one that cheap at the dealer); a nicely equipped model is $90K, they aren’t as roomy inside, and towing capacity isn’t as high.

Bottom line: The Ford Expedition is the best choice in a full-size mainstream SUV if that’s the kind of vehicle you want, and the mid-tier Limited trim makes the most sense. The Expedition Max version, a foot longer, improves cargo space but not legroom in back, and you’ll need to declutter your garage to get all 222 inches (18.5 feet) inside.

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