Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whateverThe Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Ford Expedition Platinum.
The 2018 Ford Expedition Platinum, By the Numbers
- Base Price (as Tested): $76,175 ($81,815)
- Powertrain: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, 400 horsepower, 480 pound-feet of torque; 10-speed automatic transmission; four-wheel-drive with low range
- EPA Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
- Towing Capacity: 9,200 pounds
- Cargo Capacity: 20.9 cubic feet behind the third row, 63.6 cubes behind the second row
- Cupholders: 15
- Ground Clearance: 9.8 inches
- Quick Take: The Ford Expedition Platinum is a big ol' slice of old-school, cushy Americana that outclasses the domestic competition—though its high price pits it against a lot of fancy competitors.
The King is dead, long live the King is a phrase that's been used in various forms for centuries to signal the instant transfer of power from a deceased king to the next in line—but it also applies to just about every facet of modern life. We may not have real monarchs anymore, at least not here on the shores of freedom, but think about it: There must always be a best, a peerless choice, a leader of the pack in everything from politics to pop culture to consumer goods. It seems we'll never stop putting crowns on heads—and we're also still very much in the business of knocking them off. The King is dead, long live the King!
So in that spirit: Hear ye, hear ye, the all-new 2018 Ford Expedition Platinum is the best American full-size family SUV you can buy today. That means yes, in this writer's estimation, the Expedition is leagues above the venerable Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, both of which feel near retirement when stacked up against the new Ford. It's also more capable and refined than the beefy Dodge Durango. Especially in its top Platinum trim, the Expedition is every bit the heir apparent to the throne of large family road trips.
Granted, its platform-mate the Lincoln Navigator is a much fancier affair and a more comfortable place for six adults to pass the miles. But honestly, it's too nice for most children—are you really going to give an eight-year-old the controls to Lincoln's 30-way "Perfect Position" power seats?. So it's the Ford Expedition Platinum that delivers the right amount of creature comforts for Mommy and Daddy wrapped up in a sensible package built to withstand the rigors of reality. It's lighter and livelier than the old model, even if that new independent rear suspension is better at coddling the cabin than carving a corner.
FoMoCo is onto something with the blend of modern amenities, cushy luxury, and utilitarian abilities served up in the Ford Expedition. It proved a solid steed for a five-day stint in the Denver area during Thanksgiving; between using all three rows to shuttle my family around and helping my brother procure a new couch, I couldn't think of something that felt more like a modern vision of the American land yachts of yore. I had the same feeling when I drove the Chevy Suburban last year, but now that the new Expedition has arrived, it seems that deeply human cycle has kicked in once again. The King is dead, long live the King!
2018 Ford Expedition Platinum: The Pros
- The Ford Expedition is more than an enclosed seven-seat F-150; it might ride on a modified version of the pickup's frame and share the same aluminum body construction, but one look at the sheet metal shows a distinct, handsome fascia and a simple design that's a clean break from its bedded brother. It's at once boxy and sturdy-looking, yet a little streamlined. That's pretty much what every large SUV is trying to pull off these days—only difference here is, it actually works. Now, who else wants to see that front end on a pickup?
- Step inside the Platinum edition—mind the power-retractable running boards—and you'll find a cavernous, leather-lined space enhanced by a panoramic sunroof. It has the larger-than-life feel you expect in a truck like this, with flip-forward captain's chairs in the second row, an eminently usable third row (losing the solid rear axle allows for a lower cabin floor), and a ton of tech, like massaging front seats, a 10-device-capable wi-fi hotspot, and a premium Bang & Olufsen sound system. Many of the goodies are options, which does leave the pricing strategy a little...ambitious. But in terms of comfort and function, especially for those with large broods of brooding kids, there isn't much to complain about in the Ford Expedition. It's simply an easy, friendly space, one I didn't feel bad turning into a carpeted cargo hold when I stuffed a giant couch in there.
- Just like with its switch to aluminum bodies, Ford took a few lumps when it went big on EcoBoost V6s a couple years back in the name of efficiency. It's true that losing a V8 is like losing an old friend—and come on, the Raptor should really have those two extra cylinders. But in something like the Expedition, the twin-turbo V6 is more than enough to hustle around faster than anyone should be driving a 5,500-pound truck. It punches with surprising force off the line, with the 10-speed flinging cogs around to keep the peak torque coming. 0-60 miles per hour takes just 5.7 seconds.
- This isn't related to the Platinum model, but it's great that Ford is also making an FX4 off-road version with real four-wheel-drive and a two-speed transfer case. The FX4 Expedition also rocks a terrain-management drive mode system, a 3.73 rear axle with an electronic locking differential, numerous underbody skid plates, off-road shocks, a higher-clearance front bumper, and an upgraded radiator. This is where losing the solid rear axle does hurt a bit, but the FX4 package is still more comprehensive than the Tahoe's Z71. And you can still spec the Platinum with the rear locker, which is a nice touch.
- The Ford Expedition's independent rear suspension prioritizes comfort over connectedness, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that in a behemoth like this. The Platinum model has continuously-adjusting dampers to further isolate you from the madness below. Some have complained that the steering is too light and numb, that it's too taxing to keep the thing in its lane. I will say this: It drives big. You're up high. You're the king of the road, and you just have to accept the responsibility and own it in the Ford Expedition. Heavy lies the crown. (And don't worry, the Lane Keep Assist, part of a compendium of active and passive driver safety features, is an able puppet master).
- I would be remiss if I didn't mention that you can still open the tailgate glass independently.
2018 Ford Expedition Platinum: The Cons
- There are some real problems with the interior at this price point. There are nods to genuine luxury—the seats are comfortable, nicely stitched leather thrones, able to heat, cool, or massage your posterior. The wood trim is nice. The rotary gear shift is fancy, I guess. But it's all sold out by a plain design that cribs heavily from Ford's Super Duty pickups and features far too much lower-quality plastic for an $82,000 vehicle. And most of the things that gussy up the Platinum's interior are only available in lower-priced trims (where the cheaper look is admittedly easier to swallow) as part of expensive option bundles.
- One of the bigger head-scratchers is the bizarre +/- button setup Ford designed for the Expedition's manual gear selector. I understand that there aren't too many times owners will want full control over the 10-speed transmission. I don't understand why Ford placed the buttons on the center console like a seat heater interface. And the transmission is annoyingly slow to respond to the inputs to boot.
- I'll take a sorry excuse for an exhaust note and an earful of turbo whistle if giving up two cylinders means an appreciable increase in mileage. Unfortunately, that's not quite the case here. Yes, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 is a mite more efficient than an equally-powerful V8, but an EPA rating of 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway doesn't set off the eco-fireworks. That highway rating looks more like 19 at 75 mph, and a 23-gallon tank means stopping more often than you'd like on a long-range road trip (by comparison, the Tahoe has a 26-gallon tank).
- Cast a wider net than its obvious domestic competitor—especially at the $82,000 Platinum price point—and the Expedition's scattershot luxury approach falls even flatter. The Mercedes-Benz GLS450, the Land Rover Discovery, the Lincoln Navigator, the Cadillac Escalade, even the aged Infiniti QX80 offer fancier interiors (not to mention badges) that deliver more of the "wow" factor buyers expect for that money. In terms of capable mainstream family explorers, it's also knocking on the door of the $85,000 Toyota Land Cruiser. The Ford Expedition is at once solid and comfortable, and an extremely fine SUV. But it doesn't feel special.
2018 Ford Expedition Platinum: Value
So the king's not perfect, and shortcomings like its so-so mileage and an ergonomic crime of a manual gear selector pale in comparison to the ultimate issue: the cost. It's true that the Ford Expedition rules all SUVs with a class-leading 9,200-pound towing capacity and the most usable eight-seat layout (equipped with the middle row bench) around, but unless you find yourself making full use of those impressive numbers on a regular basis, an $82,000 Ford might not be the best choice. To use a couple examples from above, the sharp Mercedes GLS450 and the glitzy Lincoln Navigator start at thousands of dollars cheaper—over $10,000 in the case of the Merc, in fact—and offer a more cohesive luxury experience for the money.
Then again, few things depreciate here like a used Mercedes (or Land Rover), while these full-size American SUVs tend to hold their resale value pretty well. So the Platinum might not make the most sense from an immediate economic standpoint, but it also might pay off in the long run. At the very least, maintenance costs will be lower for the Ford. And a $60,000 Ford Expedition XLT still obliterates lower-end rivals like the Nissan Armada and Toyota Sequoia. Both the regular-wheelbase and embiggened Expeditions are marginally more expensive than similarly equipped Chevrolet Tahoes and Silverados, but again, the Ford is at its core a more advanced truck.
The Bottom Line
And so the transfer of power is complete, and the monarchy endures. The Ford Expedition isn't the symbolic figurehead you see around the world today; no, the automotive market is still very much a feudal society, with overlapping lands and a chaotic struggle for control over the hearts and minds of millions, and big trucks are at the center of that maelstrom. If Chevrolet's troubled launch of the new Silverado shows anything, it's that trucks are an endless font of passionate opinions in America. The Ford Expedition happened to show up to a market ready to be captivated after four-plus years of listless rule from Chevy's GMT K2XX twins.
From a pure sales perspective, General Motors is still the top dog, handily beating the Expedition, Expedition Max, and Navigator variants when you combine sales of the Tahoe/Suburban, Cadillac Escalade, and GMC Yukon this year. Both companies do a ton of fleet sales, so it's not really an accurate gauge of consumer interest. But it only takes a second in the driver's seat to realize that the Ford Expedition is distinctly an American royal, in the same way the massive sedans of the Fifties and the luxury coupes of the Seventies were. The King is dead, long live the King!