On Autos: Ford now sells the best jumbo SUV


2018 Ford Expedition. Photo courtesy of Brady Holt.

Most D.C. drivers aren’t looking to buy an SUV that measures 17.5 feet from nose to tail even in its “short-wheelbase” version. Even fewer are likely to want the extended-length variant that’s 12 inches longer.

But some do.

Full-size SUVs like the recently tested Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon and Toyota Sequoia are pricey, bulky vehicles that balance everyday comfort and luxury with heavy-duty capability. Purely from a practical standpoint, there’s little to recommend in these models over car-based crossover vehicles like the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, or Volkswagen Atlas.

But the intangible qualities of a towering seating position, rumbling engine and king-of-the-road styling continue to win fans even in the city. If you’re interested in a full-size SUV, there’s a clear new class leader: the redesigned 2018 Ford Expedition.

Although the Expedition has long trumped its competitors for passenger space and comfort, particularly in the third-row seat, last year’s model looked and felt dated. The new model boasts more contemporary styling inside and out, the latest safety and convenience technology, and a powerful yet relatively fuel-efficient turbocharged V6 engine.

In EPA testing, the Expedition achieved up to 20 mpg in mixed driving. That’s in line with some minivans and crossovers and truly outstanding for a 5,500-pound 375-horsepower hunk of brawn.

Priced from $53,085, and easy to load up toward $80,000, the Expedition is a luxury car for buyers whose preferred luxury flavor skews away from sleek European sports sedans. And its family-friendly passenger accommodations ensure little sacrifice, as long as you have a place to park something this size.

But even aside from the Expedition’s size and price, there are still some drawbacks. Like its competitors, it doesn’t have a super-smooth ride on a poorly paved street — or even a super-smooth one. And while it handles well for what it is, that’s still judging it by the standard of a large truck.

The Expedition’s top competitors are a quartet of models from General Motors: the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon and their extended-length counterparts: the Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL.

If you’re looking for a big luxury car rather than a family car, the Tahoe and Yukon have a lot going for them. The cabin is more elegant than the Expedition’s, and the front and second-row seats are especially comfortable. (Ford would invite you to step up to the Lincoln Navigator, the Expedition’s luxury cousin, for maximum opulence.)

Other popular qualities in the Yukon and Tahoe include their boxy exterior styling, which emphasizes the utility in sport-utility and the overall flavor of a big SUV. And they come with traditional V8 engines, rather than a V6, and are nearly as fuel-efficient as the Expedition.

Unlike Ford, the Tahoe and Yukon also include a large touchscreen as standard equipment — despite costing less. Prices start at $49,290 for the Tahoe and $50,395 for the Yukon, and the gap widens when you look at transaction-price data.

But if you need to use the third-row seat, the Expedition walks away from the Yukon and Tahoe. The GM models’ seat is low to the floor and has surprisingly little legroom. Moreover, there’s hardly any cargo space behind the third row when it’s in use, and you have to lift your cargo way up to get it into these trucks. Ford is much more generous in both respects, thanks in part to a more space-efficient type of rear suspension that allows the Expedition’s floor to be lower.

2018 GMC Yukon Denali. Photo courtesy of Brady Holt.

The extended-length Suburban and Yukon XL give GM some extra interior space, but add quite a bit of bulk. If you want maximum cargo room, Ford still has a counterpart called the Expedition Max.

Meanwhile, to get much of the full-size SUV luxury flavor at lower prices than Ford or GM, consider the Toyota Sequoia. This aging model dates all the way back to 2008, but it retains the throne-like seating position and comfortable seats — even in the third row — that help explain the Expedition’s appeal.

To keep things modern, Toyota has recently added a suite of advanced safety features as standard equipment. That adds to the value of this SUV that’s priced from $49,895.

But on the road, the Sequoia feels its age. While the GM SUVs and the Ford Expedition handle pretty well for their size, this Toyota has missed out on a decade of advances. Its big V8 engine and six-speed automatic transmission also trail the more advanced powertrains from GM and Ford. That results in an old-school 14 mpg in mixed driving as tested.

2018 Toyota Sequoia. Photo courtesy of Brady Holt.

Toyota also hasn’t updated the truck’s infotainment system. A tiny six-inch touchscreen floats in the Sequoia’s giant dashboard, out of the driver’s easy reach. It also lacks the slick graphics and advanced smartphone integration of the more modern competitors.

It bears repeating that if you’re just looking for a big family car, a minivan or crossover is the more sensible option. The best ones have equivalent or even greater interior space, lower prices and superior maneuverability. But if trucks like these connect with you more, the Expedition is the best-rounded option. And to get the same benefits with a luxury-grade interior, Ford sells a premium version of the Expedition as the Lincoln Navigator, which is also newly redesigned this year.  

Visit tinyurl.com/large-suvs-current to see more photos of the tested Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon and Toyota Sequoia.