Did you know that this particular large SUV almost became #VOTY18?
The enthusiast’s winner – the Lexus LC – squeaked by in the public ballot by just one vote. One vote separated it from what I would call the consumer’s choice for #VOTY18 – this big family hauler.
The Ford Expedition challenged the large SUV market with its aluminum body construction and a stronger, more durable 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6. The result is a lighter offering that simply laughed at the trio from General Motors – the Chevrolet Tahoe, Suburban, and GMC Yukon. Not to mention being superior to anyone else wanting to play in the large SUV space.
If the Expedition won #VOTY18, would it be a worthy #VOTY? Would you support a large SUV made for families as this website’s audacious representative of automotive excellence?
There is a logic behind this "what if" scenario. In 2019, 84% of all new vehicle registrations in the state of Minnesota were "light trucks" – pickups, SUVs, and crossovers included. That remains the highest percentage of light truck new vehicle registrations in the USA. Perhaps this could be justification for not only the Expedition almost winning #VOTY18 by the single vote margin, but of the Kia Telluride's ascension as #VOTY19, along with the other major accolades it received since this fall.
The reason I’m talking about the Ford Expedition is that another arrived at my doorstep. It was not just an Expedition – but an Expedition MAX. And, not just any Expedition MAX – it was the Platinum.
You might say that this is a proper Minnetonka Tractor.
Let me explain the term "Minnetonka Tractor." On the second iteration of the BBC’s Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson would call high-end SUVs roaming the streets of certain neighborhoods in London as "Chelsea Tractors." He still does, with derision. Jezza would point out how these Range Rovers (or, Range Rooneys, as he calls them), BMW X5s, Mercedes-Benz GLEs, and so forth would clog up the streets of London to do the school run.
Around Lake Minnetonka are communities full of high-end homes and hopefully well-mannered children who would play hockey, lacrosse, or any sport at that matter. In these large SUVs, these families would drive them for the school run, or running to sports practice…or music lessons…or vacations to the cabin somewhere in the state of Minnesota.
Usually, the GM trio would dominate the Minnetonka Tractor scene. Not lately. The Ford Expedition has started to appear on the driveways of these six-to-seven digit homes west of Interstate 494 and south of US Highway 12. Heck, they’re appearing everywhere.
That’s a good thing since variety is the spice of life. The Ford Expedition deserves its place among the usual Minnetonka Tractor crowd for one reason…they’re much better than everything else!
Before I explore the reasons for this snap summation, I better explain the Expedition MAX for a moment. It is the long wheelbase version by nine more inches over the "regular" Expedition. The MAX is also twelve inches longer than the "regular" model.
One telltale sign of the MAX is how far back the wheel well is for a longer door opening along the bottom. The rear section is also longer while maintaining the same overhang out back.
What I have is Ford’s answer to the Chevrolet Suburban with more poise and execution overall. That’s just for starters.
The Platinum trim level could be Ford's equivalent to the GMC Yukon XL Denali. I would argue that the Expedition Platinum offers a level of luxury that is well presented for its class. It is quite a classy ride.
Perhaps, classy enough to be considered a modern day Country Squire? Without the faux wood siding, mind you…
All of the thoughts above have been swirling in my head as I began evaluating the Expedition MAX Platinum. It’s all context. But, there is justification for all of this context.
As I drove what could be considered something close to the top of the SUV food chain, I have to know how it feels and what it’s like to live on that side of life’s great pageant. The problem is that I do not live in, say, Minnetonka, Wayzata, Orono, or Excelsior. Let alone some other similar areas across the Twin Cities, such as North Oaks.
But, what if I did? Scratch that…let's finally talk about the Expedition MAX!
On some level, it does feel its size even though it is about ten inches shorter than an F-150 with the SuperCrew cab and the 5.5-foot box. Yet, it doesn’t. It is lighter on its feet than you think. You can thank the aluminum body construction for that.
When you step into the Platinum, the 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 gets a power upgrade from 375 horsepower to 400. It also has 480 pound-feet of torque. A smooth-shifting ten-speed automatic transmission facilitates power through Ford’s Intelligent 4WD system. This also includes the Terrain Management System, which enables you to select seven modes depending on the kind of traction you need in certain conditions.
If you are a tow kind of person, you can haul up to 9.000 pounds behind you in the Expedition MAX Platinum 4WD configuration. Some Expedition models can tow even more – up to 9,300 pounds worth. These are numbers no one can question, especially in a large SUV like this.
Where customers base their purchasing decision on is the second- and third-row seats. Access to the rearmost seats is done through a handle on top of seat second-row seatback enabling it to tilt and slide forward. It is wide enough for an adult to gain access. Third-row space in the Expedition MAX offers a lot of legroom, as does the second row. However, if you have the large panoramic roof equipped, as in my tester, headroom for tall torso folks may be a challenge.
Cargo space is best described as huge. In the Expedition MAX, the cargo hold stretches from 34.3 cubic feet behind the third-row seat to 121 cubic feet with all seats down. In other words, you can carry anything from a few hockey bags to hauling the entire team’s equipment.
All of this hockey talk is great and all, but with every vehicle I work with, it all comes down to the driving experience. It is comfortable, as is the ride when the tarmac is smooth. The four-wheel independent suspension handles the bad stuff, including vehicle-swallowing potholes, in stride. Cornering is definitely soft with some lean and roll near the limit. You will feel it on cloverleaf interchanges.
You will be surprised by the steering system. It offers tight turns even for a 222-inch SUV with a 131.6-inch wheelbase. The steering is light in feel, however, which may wallow in the lanes before triggering the Lane-Keeping System. The brakes are good, though I felt that I need to be completely on the pedal with some force to ensure a complete stop. When the Expedition MAX stops, they do so with a solid distance in various situations.
Did I forget to talk about fuel economy? Well, the 2020 Expedition MAX Platinum with its 400-horsepower twin-turbocharged engine and four-wheel-drive averaged 17.1 MPG.
How much does all of this MAX cost? The sticker price on my tester came to $84,065. The Expedition lineup offers four trim levels – each in regular and MAX versions and all available in either two- or four-wheel-drive – starting at $52,810.
In this review, I mentioned a few of its competitors. Perhaps in trying to find context for this story. Having never driven a Chevrolet Suburban or GMC Yukon XL, I do not have the experience to understand why these Minnetonka Tractors do so well with families. Except, they are absolutely perfect for these families – including the Ford Expedition MAX.
There is a phrase I’ve avoided using in this missive – "large and in charge." It’s a cliché if you ask me. But, it is an apt cliché. Just as saying that the Ford Expedition could be an apt #VOTY2020. Or, that it is the best large SUV in the market right now. Or, that families in communities, such as Minnetonka, Wayzata, North Oaks, and other tony suburban enclaves, should consider the Ford Expedition MAX (or the shorter Expedition model) as their next family hauler.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by the Ford Motor Company
All photos by Randy Stern