By Derek Price
Barreling down the highway in a vehicle as big as this — the new, palace-sized Ford Expedition — always gives drivers a sense of safety as they look down on the road from their invincible-feeling perch.
Now there’s some data to back it up.
After undergoing government crash tests, it was announced on June 8 that this new generation Expedition has earned the highest possible safety score. It gets an overall five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s New Car Assessment Program, the only vehicle in its class to do so.
It’s just another feather in the cap of a vehicle that’s gaining attention for leapfrogging its cross-Detroit competition at General Motors in many ways.
Before we get to those strong points, though, I’ve got one gripe: too much plastic in the interior. Tightly assembled as they may be, the materials around the center stack and console elicit flashbacks of the bad old days of Ford’s past.
Beyond that, though, there’s a lot to love about Ford’s clean-slate redesign of its spacious, capable family hauler.
At the top of that list is its solid feeling body, all the more remarkable because of the material it’s made from: aluminum alloy.
Like the F-150 and Super Duty pickups, the Expedition makes extensive use of aluminum to save weight and improve fuel economy. Surprisingly, the aluminum construction that manages to shave 325 pounds off its waistline also feels stronger than the outgoing Expedition, by a long shot.
Shut the doors, and you’re surrounded by bank-vault silence. It’s extremely well insulated, offering the kind of respite-from-the-road demeanor that I usually associate with premium brands and higher price points.
The Expedition isn’t cheap, starting around $52,000, but it drives like a vehicle that costs even more than that. In fact, I’d rather spend a long highway trip in the Expedition with its gloriously soft, supple seats than in, say, an $84,000 Toyota Land Cruiser.
A smartly designed cabin with 15 cup holders, two glove boxes, ample storage space and seating for eight passengers makes it ideal for big families, especially if you opt for the MAX version that’s almost a foot longer than the regular Expedition. With around 17 extra cubic feet of cargo capacity and a bigger gas tank, it’s the one you want for road-trip duty.
The new Superman-strong body and frame improve the driving dynamics, too. It has a lower center of gravity now, which makes it feel more stable, and tight steering that makes it seem like it shrinks in parking lots. It’s impressively easy to maneuver for something so gargantuan.
A long list of active safety features add to the family-centric appeal. You can get it with Cross-Traffic Alert, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, auto high beams and enhanced active park assist to help keep you out of trouble and, hopefully, never find out how accurate those crash test ratings really are.
Most people buy full-size SUVs for their functionality, not their look, but the new Expedition does a good job updating the well-worn box-on-wheels motif for a new generation. It’s simplified, cleaner and sleeker now, like someone from the Apple Store gave it a minimalistic makeover. I like the look.
Finally, if its fresh body and frame are a home run, the new powertrain is a grand slam. I haven’t been this impressed with an SUV’s engine and transmission combo in a long time.
The Expedition is powered by a 3.5-liter, turbocharged V6. While in some ways my nostalgic side misses the grunt of a big, American V8 in SUVs like this, the turbo V6’s real-world performance and near-instant response win me over.
Coupled with a 10-speed automatic transmission, acceleration and braking feel as well sorted as some sports sedans, even if its hefty feel in corners will never be mistaken for one.
Pricing starts at $51,790 and $54,475 for the stretched Expedition MAX, both of which start with the well-equipped XLT trim as their base models.
For luxury shoppers, a Platinum MAX 4×4 is priced over $80,000.
At A Glance
What was tested?
2018 Ford Expedition MAX XLT ($54,475). Options: Package 202A with Sync Connect, BLIS, Intelligent Access and heated and ventilated leather seats ($5,605). Price as tested (including $1,295 destination charge): $61,375
Wheelbase: 131.6 in.
Length: 221.9 in.
Width: 93.4 in.
Height: 76.2 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 (375 hp, 400 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 city, 23 highway
Why buy it?
An all-around redesign helps the new Expedition leapfrog the competition from General Motors. Its spacious, silent cabin provides a premium feel even on the base XLT trim, and its capability and safety make it great for family trips.