Y’s motoring expert Alvin Thomas tries the SUV that doesn’t believe in change for the sake of it, and is the better for all that.
A lot of manufacturers believe in the maxim that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
But of late, Ford has morphed into a manufacturer that loves to raise the bar, break stereotypes and create “fresh” new models.
The Mustang, the Explorer, the Edge and the whole line-up have all been refreshed twice in the past six years!
Its Expedition, however, remains the only car in its line-up that has remained largely unchanged for more than a decade (at least in terms of design).
Mind you, that hasn’t affected sales. For instance, the Expedition reigns supreme as one of the best-selling full-sized family haulers in Saudi Arabia – and that is definitely a testament to the Expedition’s capabilities.
Sitting atop the range (above the sporty Edge and the practical Explorer in terms of size), the Expedition is now taking on the GMC Yukon and the Chevrolet Tahoe from the “land of the free”, and the Nissan Patrol and the Toyota Land Cruiser from Japan.
But the Expedition scores points by remaining the beefy, traditional passenger carrier with exceptional towing capabilities that it has always been known for – its old-school charm.
Granted, the SUV did get a minor facelift in 2015 when Ford opted for redesigned headlamps, fog lamps and LED tail lamps.
My tester also came with a chunky chrome front grille and a large chrome bar connecting the tail lamps. Apart from that, there is a set of powered side-steps that is deployed only when the doors are opened.
The Expedition also rides on large 56cm rims, which is easily one of the biggest set of rims I have seen in a very long time. Come to think of it, the last vehicle I tested with such large rims was a Ford Edge Sport, which I quite liked. But I wasn’t quite sure about how the tyres would cope with rocky terrain.
Still, the Expedition comes with skid-plates under the engine, transmission and fuel tank in case you want to head off-road and into the elements. There’s enough ground clearance and short overhangs (at the front), which will help in climbing up steep hills and other rocky surfaces. But more on that later.
It has a very functional cabin – much like what you would find in the Ford F-150 pick-up truck. The changes aren’t immediately noticeable but there are really some nifty cues that make driving – and just being in the Expedition – an enjoyable affair.
The seats, for instance, are clad in leather but maintain comfort as they cushion you. There’s not much lateral support but you still won’t feel like you’re driving a large truck.
The dashboard is largely covered in hard plastic, as is the case with most cars in this class. There’s also a splash of “faux”wood around the entertainment screen and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) controls too. Soft-touch spots are limited to the mid-panels on the doors, and the steering wheel.
The volume, HVAC and drive select control knobs are large and chunky, as are most of the other buttons. Even the controls on the steering are sizeable, which makes them a breeze to use while driving.
Ford’s Sync system screen with DVD and navigation with 14-speakers have also been installed in the Expedition. The screen, like most Sync systems of old, is relatively difficult to use. But the next generation of the Expedition should come with the newer Sync 3 system, which is great news.
As expected, there’s enough space inside: both the second and third rows are spacious with tonnes of head and leg room – it is definitely the best in class.
The Expedition also comes with independent rear suspension, which allows for comfortable bench seats in the third row as well. Surprisingly, this is one of the few seven-seater SUVs that can consistently haul seven people in comfort.
The biggest change in the new Expedition is under the hood. It now receives a powerful 3.5-litre “Ecoboost” V6 engine as opposed to the thirsty V8 that used to lie under the hood. The new engine can pump out 365hp and an astonishing 568Nm of torque, which is more than adequate to get the 2,600kg SUV rolling.
High torque figures are characteristic of turbocharged engines but I’ve grown to admire the wide torque band produced by V6 Ecoboost engines, meaning you’re never completely out of steam. That is particularly commendable when you’re looking for a swift overtake.
Even more astonishing is that the engine doesn’t produce any real turbo lag. Of course, the acceleration isn’t blistering or mind-boggling, thanks to the way the six-speed automatic gearbox is tuned but it was enough to have me alert at the wheel… and keep me smiling. Surprisingly, I could even hit the 100kph mark from a standstill in eight seconds (Ford claims 6.8 seconds) on a hot afternoon.
The throttle response is way better than most turbocharged cars of today. However, sometimes the gearbox tends to take time for a quick shift down, but that could be to maintain the comfort of passengers in the back.
On the road, the Expedition behaves like a typical SUV, taking a lot of body roll into corners (it’s better than the Chevrolet Tahoe, though).
This meant I had to lay off the throttle and get on the brakes early. But at no point did I feel threatened to push the SUV past its limits. Electronic nannies like Electronic Stability Control (ESP [with roll stability control]) do help to keep things in check but there’s no way technology can defy ignorance so it is best to drive like a responsible driver.
After all, the Expedition is still a classic body-on-frame truck.
The suspension does soak up bumps effortlessly but that makes the SUV feel a bit floatier around town. The electric steering is tuned in a manner to respond to quick inputs but it doesn’t upset the dynamics of the car during normal driving.
I managed to take the vehicle off road at Al Amerat, too. It is definitely a capable off-roader. The excellent ground clearance and low-end torque make it very capable on steep climbs.
The weight is the Expedition’s greatest drawback: it does roll back in certain uphill conditions (depending on terrain), leaving the driver to compensate using the throttle. But that’s not something to worry about because the 4WD system is excellent.
You also have low-range gearing if you find yourself in tricky situations. However, I didn’t need to switch to low-range as I didn’t dare to venture deep into the wadi.
The Ford Expedition may have taken a decade or so to become what it is today but with its new Ecoboost engine, refined interior and relatively modern exterior, this may very well be one of the finest off-road-ready people carriers Ford produces today – even with the modern seven-seater Explorer taking centre stage in the carmaker’s long line-up of SUVs.