For most cars, buyers typically have the pleasure—or the pain—of cross-shopping among a dozen or more competitors. But those in the market for an extended-length, truck-based SUV will find the choice refreshingly simple, with just two mainstream-brand options. Most will go for the Chevrolet Suburban/GMC Yukon XL twins. But we just bought the dark horse in this race: the updated-for-2015 Ford Expedition EL.
Buying either won’t get you on the Sierra Club’s nondenominational holiday card list. Still, these behemoths prove to be very useful power tools. Three spacious rows of seats fit seven or eight passengers, while the added length means everyone can take their luggage, too. Minivans can’t do this; only commercial-grade, full-sized vans can, but they conjure up jokes of Chris Farley living down by a river. Optional four-wheel-drive gives these big SUVs some off-road capability, and hefty towing numbers let you drag your house behind you.
Indeed, as soon as the Expedition EL showed up at the Consumer Reports test track, the staff swarmed around it. Our black-on-black rig looks fresh from Secret Service duty. Testers immediately signed up for a weekend road trip here, some towing there. Like vacation homes, power boats, or wood chippers, a big SUV like this is something we'd much rather occasionally borrow than pay to own and feed ourselves.
Most folks who actually do buy one go for the GM competition. The Suburban and Yukon XL are fresh off a stem-to-stern redesign for 2014. Expedition changes for 2015 are far more modest, more of a makeover rather than reconstructive surgery. This makes the Ford one of the oldest designs on the market, with the short-wheelbase version introduced way back in 2003. Based on the outgoing F-Series pickup, the 2015 Expedition doesn’t get the 2015 F-150’s new aluminum body. Maybe that comes a few years later.
Until then, it feels like the Expedition is marking time. You really notice it sitting inside. While the Suburban/Yukon XL interior feels like it was dipped into a pool of soft-touch materials, the Expedition’s dash and doors scream old-school truck. Acres of rock-hard plastic make the cabin look cheap. Loud wind noise, especially on the highway, is also a blast from the past. In comparison, the GM competition feels and sounds like a luxury car.
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Cheap and trucklike isn’t what you expect for $63,080, the sticker price for our EL Limited 4x4 test truck. Of that, $2,785 bought us navigation, a moonroof, and power retracting running boards. Short people appreciate the step up, but the boards are too narrow and often get in the way. The $490 blind-spot monitoring system should be considered mandatory, and the $795 second-row bucket seats aid family tranquility.
The Expedition seems pricey, but it’s considerably cheaper than the $69,790 paid for our 2014 Chevrolet Surburban LTZ. That said, our Suburban had a lot more stuff, including a rear entertainment system—a $1,995 option on the Ford. Modern electronic safety gear such as forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems are commonplace options for the Suburban/Yukon, but you can’t get them at all on the Expedition.
Ford does have one ace up its sleeve, the most important part of the 2015 update. The Expedition got a heart transplant, replacing its overwhelmed 5.4-liter V8 with Ford’s oh-so-common 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. Subtract two cylinders and a few pounds, add 55 horsepower and 55 lb.-ft. of torque, and you get near-instant thrust.
Here the Expedition finally grabs a win. It is much livelier to drive than the sluggish-feeling Suburban. Ford also scores in the towing wars, with the Expedition EL rated for 9,200 pounds max—almost 1,000 more than the 5.3-liter V8-equipped GM rivals.
Despite the name “EcoBoost,” fuel economy improvements are modest, with EPA overall going up one mpg. Still, better mileage with more power is a good equation. We’ll see if the Expedition EL can beat the Suburban’s 15 mpg overall in our tests.
Some of the Ford’s old-school charms remain. Supermodel-thin roof pillars and tall windows make for easy front and side visibility, something that’s lost in most modern designs. And thanks to the more-efficient packaging from the Ford’s independent rear suspension, the Expedition’s third-row seat is more comfortable for adults than the less-accommodating GM twins'.
Stay tuned as we put more miles on this big, black truck. They’ll probably go by quickly—assuming we can get people to stop driving our plush 2014 Suburban.