Road test: 2015 Ford Expedition

Ford’s full-size SUV is a worthy off-road contender.

The Ford Expedition can accommodate up to eight adults in three rows, with seats that fold flat when not required. Courtesy Kevin Hackett
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Have you noticed how almost all the large SUVs available in this country are given really rugged, adventurous names that attempt to conjure up mental images of the great outdoors and the free spirit associated with the United States? Think about it: Yukon, Tahoe, Touareg, Range Rover, Trailblazer, Traverse, Explorer, Terrain, Cherokee, Navigator and Pathfinder – they all have an intrinsic link to huge spaces, epic vistas and a sense of escapism. Even Dodge’s Durango is named after a state in north-west Mexico, bringing with it a sense of danger and excitement – at least when you know what it means.

So Ford’s (really) big SUV was bound to have a fitting moniker: Expedition, in many ways, couldn’t be more appropriate. It’s an expedition, for instance, to walk around this vehicle’s external perimeter. It’s an expedition to leave the front seats and enter the rear quarters – the sheer enormity of this car is difficult to take in at first, so much so that it can be rather intimidating to someone like me, who drives a small car on a daily basis. This is a Ford for a generation for whom size really does matter.

In the silver paintwork of my test car, the Expedition looks quite fresh and modern, despite its now ageing design – in stark contrast to some other examples I’ve seen with two-tone colour schemes that make it look like a throwback from the 1970s. The aggressive front end is better resolved than its rivals – which I’d venture to say include the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Nissan Armada and the lesser-spotted Toyota Sequoia – but its rear still looks like nobody at Ford’s design studios has actually been bothered to sketch anything new since 1984. But hey, it’s ­biiiiiiig, and that’s all that matters to some buyers, right?

Inside, it’s pleasant enough, with acres of black leather ­upholstery and, displeasingly, lots of nasty, scratchy plastic trim where in rivals you’d nowadays find plush, soft touch surfaces. It’s here, more than anywhere, where Ford’s big truck needs to up its game, especially now GM’s offerings have, at last, righted past wrongs when it comes to interior appointments. The seats, too, feel firm and unsupportive (especially when it comes to rows two and three), but there’s plenty to offer fellow occupants in terms of electronic gadgetry and connectivity, even if Ford’s on-board systems can’t hold a candle to GM’s MyLink infotainment set-up.

Unlike the current crop from its Detroit rivals, the Expedition’s power-train has actually shrunk in size without detriment to the way this behemoth moves. The old V8 lump has lost a couple of cylinders and gained forced induction in the name of efficiency, but this engine is remarkably refined and packs plenty of grunt, with a silky smooth power delivery right across the rev range and almost imperceptible noise levels.

Coupled with the Expedition’s comparatively advanced four-wheel independent suspension, refinement levels are astonishingly high. It rides like a big Lexus, wafting along as if it’s a magic carpet completely detached from anything so nasty as a road surface. Yet that suspension is still able to tackle quick cornering and heavy braking without those on board reaching for the sick bags.

The six-pot mill is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that mercifully doesn’t have its shifter mounted next to the steering wheel, and with this amount of torque on tap, six cogs are more than enough. The steering is all-electric and becomes slightly heavier in Sport mode, but it’s never an effort in the traditional sense, and despite its colossal proportions, the Expedition is always easy to drive.

It’s those colossal proportions that give the Expedition and cars of its ilk their USP. They’re huge enough to swallow your entire family, all your possessions and detritus. They’re huge enough to throw parties in, and I can ­imagine, after a few years of ownership, when you’re cleaning out your Expedition, you might find that bike (the one you thought had been stolen) under one of the seats. Yes, the whole point of vehicles such as this is to act as transporters of people and stuff, and the Expedition does so admirably.

With accommodation for up to eight adults and seats that fold entirely flat when not required, this Ford makes a strong case for itself as a load-lugger extraordinaire, but it’s more than that. It’s actually a well resolved ’ute that, if you can deal with its sheer bulk, is easy to live with and pleasant to drive on short commutes or much longer, err, expeditions.

It’s never going to set the world alight, but in this region, cars such as the Expedition are extremely popular for obvious reasons. This thing is basically one step down from a Winnebago and, if you’re blessed with a large family you can stand being inside a car with, there are few to touch it. Sure, the Lincoln Navigator is more luxurious, but it doesn’t possess the Ford’s bullish charms, and especially when compared to the outmoded ­offerings from Japan, the Expedition still manages to be a worthwhile contender.

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