By Derek Price
There’s a reason full-size, truck-based SUVs remain relevant in a world saturated with more fuel-efficient crossovers.
It’s all about what they can do.
A week behind the wheel of the beefy Ford Expedition reminds me just how much more these vehicles can accomplish than a regular passenger car.
Need to haul people? You and seven friends can pile in with room to spare.
Need to relax on the highway? This is a quiet and smooth way to gobble up miles of pavement from the comfort of soft, recliner-like seats.
Need to do some towing? The Expedition can pull up to 9,300 pounds, enough to eliminate the need for a separate pickup for some families.
Need to drive off road? Even the base version is built for it with nearly 10 inches of ground clearance, and the optional FX4 package adds premium off-road shocks, skid plates, protection under the fuel tank and a 360-degree camera to better see the trails.
It’s remarkable that one vehicle can do all this, combining the best traits of a Jeep, a Lexus and a pickup truck in one package. But there are some tradeoffs.
The Expedition suffers from the same downsides all body-on-frame SUVs: gas mileage, handling and price.
My tester is rated for 17 mpg in city driving and 22 on the highway. Two-wheel-drive versions aren’t much better, only upping the highway number to 23.
You can feel the Expedition’s hefty weight every time it changes direction, and a starting price nearly $50,000 keeps it out of reach for some families.
If you can afford it and don’t mind burning the gas, though, this is a great do-it-all vehicle for work and play. It can haul materials to a job site, take kids to school and tow a boat to the lake on weekends. It’s easy to see the appeal.
You can get an even bigger version, the MAX, for about $5,000 more. It adds around a foot in extra length to give you 17 more cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Power comes from a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 that makes 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. The power delivery reminds me of pickup-truck V8s from the past, but the sound and smoothness are more car-like, helped by Ford’s ever-unflustered 10-speed transmission.
An upgraded version of the same engine makes 400 horsepower in the top-of-range Platinum version.
Aside from the sheer audacity of driving something this big and capable, the most surprising thing about my test drive was how refined the Expedition has become for on-road driving.
A complete redesign for 2018 made it drive more like a car than ever before, including excellent wind and sound insulation and a softly sprung suspension for a floating, serene highway ride. I was pleasantly surprised at the turning radius for a truck this size.
My tester, the mid-range Limited grade, benefits from a plush, spacious cabin with lots of content. It has more hard plastics and glaringly artificial materials than I’d like to see with an as-tested price over $70,000, though.
As a whole, it delivers a lot of capability and comfort for people who want to get everything they need in one vehicle.
Pricing starts at $49,995 for the XL STX version, which only has seating for five. The more traditional Expedition with three rows of seats starts at $52,810 for the XLT trim.
The Limited adds a lot of luxury content, including power running boards, 20-inch wheels and premium sound, while the King Ranch starts at $72,735 with insanely huge 22-inch wheels and a Western-themed luxury cabin.
The Platinum trim tops the lineup at $73,775 with a more contemporary look and feel, plus the more powerful, 400-horsepower EcoBoost engine.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2021 Ford Expedition Limited 4×4 ($64,625). Options: Equipment group 302A ($3,820), Texas Edition Package ($2,075). Price as tested (including $1,695 destination charge): $72,215
Wheelbase: 122.5 in.
Length: 210 in.
Width: 93.4 in.
Height: 76.4 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 (375 hp, 470 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 city, 22 highway
Why buy it?
The Expedition is all about capability. It can tow heavy loads, haul bulky cargo, go off-roading and carry eight people in luxurious comfort.