Updates to the 2015 Ford Expedition create one of the nicest-driving big SUVs ever, but the disappointing lack of cosmetic updates means few people are likely to notice.
Big SUVs used to be the de facto choice of families all over the U.S. Able to haul massive amounts of stuff, or most of a basketball team, their V-8 power and four-wheel drive made them the ultimate wagons — all-weather, modern Conestogas that can haul boats and broods across the country.
That utility, however, came at a price — fuel economy, mostly, as the full-size SUV almost always came with a V-8 engine and thousands of pounds of steel to lug around. But times have changed, and the market has changed with them. Full-size SUVs are nowhere near as popular as they once were, having been relegated to the status of expensive specialty vehicle used primarily by people who specifically need their particular combination of hauling ability and cargo capacity.
Ford has just updated its Expedition, adding a slick electronic suspension and replacing the SUV's ubiquitous V-8 engines with something new: a twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6. No V-8 engine is offered in the 2015 model (compare the 2014 and 2015 models here). GM is sticking with V-8s in its new Chevrolet Tahoe, so will this rather significant change affect the usability or desirability of Ford's big SUV?
Exterior & Styling
Your first thought upon approaching the 2015 Expedition will undoubtedly be: "Did I buy a 2014 by mistake?" The changes for 2015 are so subtle as to be almost irrelevant — it looks almost exactly the same as it has since its last full redesign in 2007. There is a new grille and lower bumper, and new headlights and taillights are present (now with more LEDs), but that's the extent of things to talk about for the exterior. As before, the Expedition is available in two lengths, the Expedition and Expedition EL, but both versions seat eight people as standardly configured.
Parts of the Expedition's body and greenhouse glass look as if they haven't changed since 1999. Contrast that with the significantly changed and very attractive all-new 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and Chevy's longer Suburban, and the refreshed Expedition looks like a brand-new 10-year-old truck.
How It Drives
Thankfully, the Expedition most definitely does not drive like an older truck. In fact, it's almost a pity Ford didn't spend a little more coin on the cosmetic updates, as the changes to the chassis and powertrain have created a genuinely, dynamically impressive truck.
Powering everything is a twin-turbocharged, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 that makes 365 horsepower, which is enough to get the Expedition moving with more urgency than you might expect from a V-6. Even with a V-8 no longer available, the Expedition doesn't lose any of its towing or hauling ability — it just gains a little bit of fuel economy in exchange for those two cylinders. The tow rating for the Expedition goes up to 9,200 pounds when equipped with an optional towing package; it's 6,500-6,600 pounds normally.
My test truck was equipped with Ford's "continuous control suspension," an electronic system that adjusts the shock absorbers to suit conditions or driver-selectable settings. It might seem odd to have a full-size SUV with a Sport mode for the suspension, but it actually works to keep the Expedition planted and better controlled. Feedback is still big-truck-vague, but it's no longer numb and ponderous; the Expedition rides beautifully, handling pavement imperfections easily and quietly, giving just enough sensation through the steering wheel to boost confidence and control. Just be sure to keep the adjustable suspension in Normal or Sport modes; if you switch it to Comfort mode, be prepared for the motion of the ocean. In Comfort, the suspension goes squishy and the truck bobs over pavement undulations as if it has very poor body control. The brakes are firm and confidence-inspiring, bringing the big truck to a stop easily and with little drama.
With the switch from V-8 to turbo V-6 power, the EPA mileage estimates for the Expedition go up across the board, coming in at 16/22/18 mpg city/highway/combined for the two-wheel-drive model and 15/20/17 mpg for the four-wheel-drive Expedition. Opt for the larger, long-wheelbase truck, and your fuel economy suffers a little, coming in at 15/21/17 mpg for the two-wheel drive, 14/20/16 mpg for the four-wheel-drive EL.
Here's the kicker — the Ford is rated almost identically to the V-8-powered Chevrolet Tahoe, which in two-wheel-drive form gets 16/23/18 mpg. Two other V-8-powered full-size truck competitors, the Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada, get considerably worse mileage: the two-wheel-drive Armada is rated 12/19/15 mpg and the two-wheel-drive Sequoia gets 13/17/15 mpg.
Unfortunately, like so many others have reported from their experience with Ford's EcoBoost turbocharged engines, I did not achieve the estimated ratings with my four-wheel-drive standard-length truck. My combined fuel economy — about half of which involved highway driving — netted just 15.6 mpg combined. While EPA estimates for the truck are higher, if there's no actual benefit in measured everyday fuel economy, customers may be left wondering what the switch in powertrains achieves and what benefit the turbo six-cylinder really provides over GM's advanced V-8. Thankfully, as mentioned before, the new engines sacrifice nothing in terms of drivability.
Hopping up into the Expedition's big, comfortable chairs is yet another step back in time. The interior looks about as unchanged as the exterior, with the exception of a new gauge cluster and center console screen and buttons. The plastic quality, trim cut lines, door panels, even the shape of the dash all look the same as the outgoing 2014 model — which sadly looked the same as the 2004 model.
Thankfully, it's still comfortable in there, if not terribly modern. Seat comfort is fine in both front and back, with actual room in the third row for real human adults. Accessing the third row is also not terribly difficult, with second-row seats that tumble and fold and an optional power retractable step to help boost you up into the high-riding cabin.
Visibility is excellent in all directions thanks to tall, upright windows and a high seating position that's representative of the genre. While the overall interior is handily outclassed by the completely redone Chevy Tahoe, the Expedition is more comfortable thanks to a steering wheel that's centered on the driver (unlike the Chevy) and a center console that's not as wide or intrusive. If you're looking for a slightly nicer interior (but only slightly nicer), the more expensive Lincoln Navigator offers better leather and a mildly more upscale interior, but its latest revision for 2015 suffers from the same issues as the Expedition — it's not new or different enough from the outgoing model, and it's handily outclassed by the Cadillac Escalade.
Ergonomics & Electronics
What changes Ford did make to the Expedition's interior came mostly in the form of electronic upgrades. The new gauge cluster brings familiar and useful information displays to the driver. The center console features easy-to-use buttons, but the touch-screen still seems a bit small given the massive real estate available for a larger unit.
The latest generation of Sync's voice controls all seem to work quite well, however, which is a welcome change from versions sampled in previous years. Connection is still a bit of a challenge, however, and it takes a while after hooking up a personal music device before it's fully usable. The rest of the switches and controls feel much like the rest of the truck — old.
The Expedition also did not get as extensive an electrical system redesign as the Tahoe did, meaning certain electronic systems — like adaptive cruise control and keyless remote entry with push-button start — are not available. Ford's familiar door-mounted keypad is available, but it's ancient tech and can be operated only while standing at the driver's door. Again, a little extra money spent on the refresh would have gone a long way toward making the Expedition a lot more competitive.
Cargo & Storage
With the latest Tahoe redesign, Chevrolet has touted the truck's new flat-folding third-row seats that disappear into the floor, but that's a little misleading: Because of how the rear suspension is laid out on the Tahoe, true drop-down rear seats are not possible. A false platform makes it look like a flat floor, but the latest Tahoe loses several inches of vertical height in the process.
The Expedition has no such problem. Due to the truck's independent rear suspension, the seats can fold flat into the floor, creating a lower liftover height and a true flat floor, front to back. This becomes evident when you compare interior cargo room: Despite being relatively similar-sized trucks (the Tahoe is a bit shorter), the Expedition features 18.6 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row of seats, while the Tahoe comes up with just 15.3 cubic feet. The Sequoia, meanwhile, brings 18.9 cubic feet to the party, while the Armada tops them all with 20.0 cubic feet. With all the seats down, the Expedition bests the Tahoe again: 108.3 cubic feet to the Tahoe's 94.7 cubic feet, while the Armada features 97.1 cubic feet. They all pale in comparison, though, to the cavernous Toyota, which sports 120.1 cubic feet.
If you need more room, Ford and Chevrolet have bigger versions of their trucks available. The Expedition EL wins the interior size comparison with its bigger cargo area, which also translates into a bigger third row. Behind the third row, the Expedition EL offers 42.6 cubic feet of room to the Chevrolet Suburban's 38.9 cubic feet. Keep the third row stowed, and the Expedition EL offers 85.5 cubic feet of cargo room, versus the Suburban's 76.7 cubic feet. Fold the second and third rows, and you get 130.8 cubic feet of room in the Expedition, versus 121.1 cubic feet in the Suburban. Third-row seating is more capacious in the Expedition EL as well, with 4.5 inches more shoulder room and 3.2 inches more legroom than the third row in the Suburban.
Using the cargo area is easy, too, with a third row that features optional power folding, operated by two switches in a side panel. Big trucks like this are used for hauling people and stuff, often at the same time, and the Expedition simply excels at both.
Crash-test results are not yet available for the new Expedition, but one rating has been published — a rollover rating of three stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As the Expedition received only a mild upgrade to its electrical systems, blind spot detection is now available, but more advanced systems like forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning are not. Those features are available on competitors like the Tahoe.
If you're looking for more airbags, you'll have to head to Toyota — the Sequoia offers additional knee protection airbags, whereas the Tahoe, Expedition and Armada do not. See the Expedition's standard safety features here.
Value in Its Class
Ford's Expedition is not a cheap truck, starting at $45,040 including destination fee for a two-wheel drive, standard-wheelbase XLT base model, or $47,750 for an extended EL model. Adding four-wheel drive bumps that price up $2,925 with either wheelbase. The Limited model, which adds items like Sync with MyFord Touch, rain-sensing wipers, a power liftgate, the power-folding third-row seat, dual-zone automatic climate control and 20-inch wheels, starts at $54,635 for the standard length Expedition or $57,287 for the EL. The King Ranch model is up next, but its changes are mostly cosmetic, with special leather, unique paint, halogen projector headlamps and painted exterior trim. It starts at $58,865 for the standard length, $61,515 for the EL.
Topping the range is the new-for-2015 Platinum edition, which adds more luxurious leather and interior trim, standard power-retracting running boards and a 12-speaker Sony premium audio system for $59,825, or $62,475 for the EL. My test truck was a Limited, standard-length 4x4 with a few options, like the continuous control suspension and 22-inch wheels. It stickered for $61,815. Load an Expedition EL 4x4 Platinum up with every option, and you'll nudge just more than $70,000. Build one your way here.
As expensive as that seems, it's actually quite competitive given the slightly more expensive price tag for Ford's cross-town Chevy rival. The Tahoe LS 4x2 starts at $46,745 — that's nearly $2,200 more than the base Expedition XLT. The extended-wheelbase Tahoe is called the Suburban, and loading one up with all the options results in a truck that tops $77,000. It may cost a bit more, but the difference in interior quality and safety amenities versus the Ford makes up for that price difference, even if it is down a little on interior cargo capacity.
The old men on the block are the Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada. The Sequoia starts at $45,320 for a 4x2 with the standard 5.7-liter V-8 and stretches up to more than $65,000 for a loaded 4x4 Platinum version. The Nissan Armada features much of the same kind of equipment as the Sequoia, but it's considerably less expensive at every trim level. It starts at just $39,055 and tops out, loaded, at just more than $57,000. Both the Toyota and Nissan are more limited in their flexibility — each is available with only one length and one engine — and both feature interior appointments and electronics that are long overdue for an update. Compare all four competitors here.