On the Road Review: Ford Expedition Max

If you are Ford Motor Co. and your bread and butter — the F-series pickup lineup — is creating profits to help fund other vehicle development, then it would seemingly make sense that the full-size SUVs based on the F-series should reflect the developmental gains that helped propel the F-150 to the top of the sales charts, correct?

The latest Expedition, as well as the longer wheelbase Max model, shown here, have finally received all of the engineering splendor that has surrounded the F-series.

The results are good — and they needed to be — as Ford has not so much neglected as ignored this part of its business, generally ceding sales of full-size SUVs to Chevy and GMC as the previous Expedition got a little long-in-the-tooth on the enhancement scale.

All of that is corrected for 2018. Behind a bold new fascia, Ford has used aluminum throughout the Expedition’s body to save weight, 300 pounds, while adding features and content to create a better overall package. A new 10-speed automatic transmission joins the two 3.5-liter Ecoboost turbo-V-6 engines, making either 375 or 400 hp (depending on trim selected), which are each teamed with a new automatic stop-start system aiming to boost fuel economy. Top-selling 4WD models earn EPA ratings of 17/22-mpg, while 2WD models gain two miles per gallon on the highway cycle. Our lavishly equipped Expedition Max — the new name for the long-wheelbase edition — eked out 19.9 mpg during its wintry visit.

Dimensionally close to Chevy’s Suburban, the newest Expedition Max offers ample passenger space in all three rows, with convenient access assured. Buyers can opt for seven- or eight-passenger layouts, while power folding second- and third-row seatbacks can reveal up to 121 cubic feet of peak cargo room. As it is, the Max has almost double the behind-the-seat cargo space as the regular Expedition — a reflection of the additional 12-inches of body atop a 131.5-inch wheelbase. The redesign, with some side views that actually seem similar to the GM trucks, added almost 4 inches overall to the Expedition.

Incredibly, this is the fourth model year with only V-6 power in the Expedition, and this engine is more than adequate for this three-ton SUV. Throttle response is excellent for any requests of the right foot, with a hushed, confident surge available at any time. Displaying good balance but a bit softer ride dynamic than our recent Navigator, the Expedition Max can tow up to 9,200 pounds of trailer in 4WD models.

Inside, the improvements and changes are numerous. Apple and Android connectivity to the newest Sync 3 system increase the flexibility and functionality of Ford’s signature info-entertainment complex, all funneled through an easier-to-use touchscreen. A large console knob lets you scroll though several drivetrain configurations and traction modes in the Control-Trac 4WD/2-speed transfer case for the surfaces and conditions you encounter, aided by Hill Start/Hill Descent control, while a new rotary shifter replaces the former lever. Depending on trim, new safety features include camera and radar-sensing technologies with lane-keeping, cruise and automatic braking capabilities, plus parking assist and Pro trailer backing assist. The overall feel is enhanced; doors close with a solid thud, textures appear to be more premium, and the Expedition’s Platinum trim was closer to the aforementioned Navigator.

Using a fully independent suspension that is smoother than the GM rival’s solid-axle rear suspensions, the big Ford is hushed as it cruises effortlessly over less-than-perfect surfaces. Tight turns require more space, and steering feel could be faster, more communicative, yet the Ford’s handling and ride balance match up well to the expectations in this segment.

Pricing starts at $52,890 for a 2WD XLT model; add $1,585 for 4WD. Limited trim starts at $65,365, while the sampled Platinum jumps to $75,720. Included on the Platinum are push-button start, remote start, heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, panoramic sunroof, power-folding rear seats, power running boards, power liftgate, power-folding side mirrors and top 22-inch chrome wheels, along with the 400-hp version of the Ecoboost. Max editions get a 28-gallon fuel tank — five gallons larger than regular Expeditions (almost 600 miles of range).

Last year, Chevy’s Tahoe/Suburban combination outsold the Expedition 3-1. Ford needs to close that gap, and the Expedition is set up to help achieve that goal. With the pending return of the Ranger — now as a midsize pickup — plus a redesigned Bronco based on a Ranger-sized chassis, Ford is all-in on its truck lineup. It’s where the profits are, as car sales continue to slide.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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