Big, bold and fully updated, the new Ford Expedition has the goods to take the sales crown away from the Chevrolet Tahoe.
Just as minivans replaced the family station wagon in the 1980s, so too did big SUVs vanquish those vans in the 1990s. Since then, however, the Great Recession and occasional gas price shocks have returned the largest SUVs to their original role in the market: expensive vehicles bought by people who need big, multi-passenger vehicles that can tow a lot of weight.
The segment leaders are the Chevrolet Tahoe and its longer sibling, the Suburban, and it isn’t hard to figure out why: Their main competitor, the Ford Expedition, hadn’t seen a major update in almost a decade. Now all that has changed.
Like the old Expedition, the new one maintains traditional, truck-like body-on-frame construction. Under the skin, the Expedition is an F-150 enhanced with an independent rear suspension instead of a solid live axle. This arrangement also allows for a lower load floor in the cargo area, enabling the third row to fold away completely – an advantage over the Chevy Tahoe’s seats, which fold flat but not into the floor. The Tahoe’s raised floor eats into cargo space and makes it more difficult to load objects.
Like the F-150, the Expedition’s body is now aluminum, but the weight difference for 2018 isn’t that significant – just a 119-pound decrease for the base trim versus a comparable 2017 Expedition. Ford added all kinds of equipment and sound insulation that serve to offset some of the benefit of lightweight aluminum. The body looks slick, with a new and thoroughly modern appearance that’s much more in keeping with the modern style of truck: high belt line, smaller windows and chunkier style. It’s fresh, attractive and has a distinctly more aerodynamic look than the outgoing model.
The Expedition comes in two lengths: Expedition and Expedition Max (formerly Expedition EL). The extra room doesn’t do anything for passenger space, but it does increase the cargo area behind the third row.
It may not have a V-8, but you won’t miss the two extra cylinders. The six-cylinder engine has plenty of power and more usable space and useful technology than any other SUV in the class.
Powering the new Expedition is Ford’s ubiquitous twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, a carryover engine. It puts out a healthy 375 horsepower in most trim levels and 400 horsepower in the top Platinum. New to the setup is a standard 10-speed automatic transmission – available with either rear- or all-wheel drive – and an electronic limited-slip differential.
I found driving it to be quite a pleasant surprise. In both regular and Max versions, it gets even punchier when you twist the rotary drive mode selector into Sport. Climbing the canyons above Malibu, California, handling the tight, twisting sweepers, descending into quick switchbacks, the Expedition exudes confidence and stability.
Ride quality is also outstanding.
Where the Expedition falls short is in fuel economy, especially when towing. It also features a smaller gas tank than its main competition, meaning its overall range is notably shorter. The regular Expedition is EPA-rated at 17 miles per gallon, 24 mpg in the city and 20 mpg overall.
The interior looks as if it could have been lifted directly from the F-150, with all the pros and cons that entails. It’s spacious, with excellent outward visibility, but the front seats feel unsupportive over longer voyages. One of our taller reviewers could not get comfortable, with his legs always at an angle and most of his thighs unsupported by the oddly short bottom cushions.
With buyers snapping up big SUVs in increasing numbers, Ford’s update to its big truck comes at the perfect time. That the truck is as good as it is should put Chevy on notice.
Power: You won’t miss the V-8
Fuel economy: Falls short
Comfort: Love the F-150 pickup. You’ll love this SUV.
What: Ford’s largest SUV
When: On sale now
What makes it go: Powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6
How thirsty: 17 miles per gallon, 24 mpg in the city and 20 mpg overall
How big: 17.5 feet. For the longer version, add almost another foot
How much: Starts at $51,790 plus $1,295 in delivery charges
Overall: So vastly improved, it may now be best of class
This story originally appeared on Cars.com as “2018 Ford Expedition Review: A Massive Improvement”