2020 Ford Expedition full-size SUV: why you might prefer a 2019 or a 2021 model instead

2020 Ford Expedition

2020 Ford Expedition

What changes will make the 2020 Ford Expedition different?

Perhaps a new option or trim package as Expedition enjoys one more model year of full-size-SUV supremacy before facing off against the redesigned 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban. The ’21 General Motors archrivals will be all-new for the first time since model-year 2014 and are expected to adopt some attributes that make Expedition – for now — the better all-around SUV. Most significant, they’ll gain third-seating-row packaging efficiencies that come with an independent rear suspension.

Expedition, and its upscale cousin, the Lincoln Navigator, have enjoyed that edge since 2003 and capitalized on it with a model-year-2018 redesign. The redo included fresh styling, a new body made mostly of weight-saving aluminum, and a more powerful yet more fuel-efficient powertrain. The ’20 Expedition will reprise all that with little change. It’ll return in regular-length and extended-length Expedition Max form, each with a choice of rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel drive (AWD) and seating for up to eight passengers.

Like the Tahoe, Suburban, and their upscale kin, the GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade, the Expedition is an old-school sport-utility vehicle. Rather than following crossover-SUV practice, in which body and frame are as unified carlike structure, its body attaches to a separate truck-type frame. This heavier-duty construction is well suited to towing and hauling, but generally can’t match crossovers for ride, handling, or fuel economy.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy a 2019?

Buy a 2019. In every important way it’ll be a duplicate of the 2020 Expedition but won’t suffer the price inflation that typically accompanies the new model year. The Expedition to wait for will be the 2021 model. It’s more likely to receive meaningful updates as Ford maneuvers to steal some thunder from the next-generation Tahoe and Suburban.

For ’21, Ford could well give Expedition a high-performance variant, ala the 420-horsepower Tahoe and Suburban RST models. Alternately, it could introduce the fuel-saving option of a smaller turbocharged V-6 engine.

For 2020, though, count on this big SUV to repeat its basic four-model 2019 lineup. Both body lengths should return in entry-level XL, volume-selling XLT, upscale Limited, and flagship Platinum grades. Aimed at fleet and commercial markets, the XL would again come with seating for five. A third-row bench that increases capacity to eight should continue as an option (at around $800) for the XL Max and be standard on all XLT, Limited, and Platinum models. Seven-passenger seating would again be available for Limited and Platinum via a pair of second-row captain’s chairs, optional at around $750.

Will the styling be different?

Not in design, although Ford could come up with new trim packages, such as the Special Edition Package introduced for 2019. That $3,955 option for Limited models added such features as black-painted 22-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps and fog lamps, an automatic-adjusting suspension, and hands-free parking assist, among other features. It compliments a Stealth Edition package that trades body-color and chromed surfaces for a gloss-black finish on wheels and exterior trim and unique red-stitched leather upholstery.

Overall, though, the ’20 Expedition will retain the styling that came with the model-year-2018 redesign. An evolution of the previous-generation’s look, it got more sharply defined lines and gained a full-width grille that encompasses the headlamps. More important, the Expedition grew.

Regular-length models added 3.5 inches to their wheelbase (the distance between front and rear axles) and about 4 inches to their body, while losing an inch of height. The extended-length Max gained less than an inch in wheelbase and overall length but remained significantly longer than the regular-length, by a substantial 9.1 inches in wheelbase and by 11.9 inches overall. The two have essentially the same passenger volume, however.

The Max’s extra length is devoted almost entirely to added cargo space. While the regular Expedition has 21 cubic feet behind the third-row seat, 64 with it folded, and 105 with both the second and third rows folded, the Max provides 36, 80, and 121 cubic feet, respectively. A power folding third-row seat will again be standard on XLT and above, as will a power liftgate. On Limited and Platinum, the liftgate will have hands-free operation. Expect a handy cargo management system with adjustable shelves to again be standard on the Platinum and optional on all but the XL.

While Expedition and Navigator remain close kin beneath the skin, the 2018 redesign widened the gap between the Ford’s mainstream-market placement and the Lincoln’s premium-class positioning. The latest Navigator looks and feels more upscale throughout and has a more powerful version of their shared engine to help justify base prices that start around $75,000, some $25,000 above the least expensive Expedition.

The difference is most pronounced in their cabins. Against the Lincoln’s premium accoutrements, the Ford gets a fairly prosaic dashboard with commodity-grade controls and panels of hard plastic. It’s all perfectly functional but can seem discordant given the plush leather upholstery standard in the Expedition Limited and especially the sumptuous perforated leather and gracefully stitched door and dash trim in the Platinum.

Like the Navigator, however, Expedition is uncompromised for passenger room and comfort. It is a decidedly tall step up to the interior, and you’ll make liberal use of the sturdy grab handles and the standard running boards (power deployable on Limited and Platinum). Stretch-out space on substantial seats in the first two rows is complimented by genuinely adult-worthy accommodations in the third. That’s a marked advantage over the outgoing GM rivals and an asset equaled in this competitive set only by the Toyota Sequoia.

Any mechanical changes?

None likely for 2020, but Ford certainly has the option to extend engine choices at both ends of the spectrum if it feels a need to improve fuel economy or meet competitive challenges. For ’20, however, Expedition will continue with a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 from Ford’s EcoBoost family of engines. It’ll retain 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, with Platinum models again boosted to 400 horses and 480 pound-feet. That’s in contrast to the 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque this V-6 makes in the Navigator. And it continues Ford’s go-it-alone approach in a class in which every competitor has a V-8.

Good thing, then, that the strong, smooth EcoBoost 3.5 gives up little performance to any rival V-8. It lacks the unabated thrust furnished by the Navigator’s more powerful iteration. But, aided by a quick-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission, and with more torque than any direct-rival V-8, Expedition easily meets every acceleration challenge. Helped by weight savings associated with the aluminum body, it even boasts category-leading tow ratings: 9,300 pounds for the regular-length, 9,000 for the Max.

Still, a gas-price surge could have Ford contemplating a future Expedition available with the more efficient engine, say, the 2.7-liter turbo V-6 (325 horsepower, 400 pound-feet of torque) offered in its F-150 pickup truck. A performance war with GM could see it offer a sport-oriented Expedition model with something like the Navigator’s version of the EcoBoost 3.5.

Every ’20 Expedition will again come with driver-adjustable Normal, Economy, Sport, and Tow/Haul drivetrain-configurating modes. Rear-wheel drive will be standard, with all-wheel drive an extra-cost feature at around $3,000. That’s a pricey uptick, but this AWD system makes Expedition well-suited to travel off the beaten path. It’s allied with a generous 9.8 inches of ground clearance; a locking rear differential; low-range gearing; and driver-selected settings for mud, ruts, grass, gravel, snow, and sand. The FX4 Off-Road package should also return, adding seven underbody skid plates, special gearing, off-road-tuned shock absorbers, and other heavy-duty enhancements. For ’19, the FX4 package was available only on XLT versions at $1,650.

Ford would do well to recalibrate the 2020 Expedition’s steering for a little more on-center feel and a little less fidget at highway velocity. That behavior is by no means a deal-buster, though, and is easily offset by a direct, natural feel at lower speeds. Nothing this large – even a regular-length Expedition is 17 feet long, 6.5-feet tall, and weighs nearly 3 tons — is nimble. But this SUV changes direction alertly and with a degree of sure-footed balance that drains the drama from twisty roads and congested boulevards.

Ride quality will again be best – and quite unperturbed by anything short of a sinkhole — with the 18-inch wheels and relatively tall-sidewall tires standard on XL and XLT models. The Limited comes with 20s; massive 22-inch rims with lower-profile rubber are optional there and standard on the Platinum. Bump absorbency suffers accordingly but never becomes punishing. A suspension that automatically adjusts to road conditions should return as an option on the Limited and standard on the Platinum. Called, Continuously Controlled Damping, it works subtly to maximize comfort and composure.

Will fuel economy improve?

With no change to powertrains, 2020 Expedition EPA ratings ought to repeat model-year 2019 numbers. That would again put it atop this admittedly thirsty class. Expect the regular-length version to rate 17/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined with rear-wheel drive and 17/22/19 with AWD. Look for the 2020 Expedition Max to rate 17/23/19 and 16/21/18 mpg, respectively. Ford should continue to recommend 87-octane gas for all ’20 Expeditions.

Interestingly, we wouldn’t expect the aforementioned 2.7-liter turbo V-6 to result in significantly higher EPA ratings. Used with this same 10-speed automatic transmission, it’s only marginally more fuel efficient in the similarly massive F-150 pickup, which lends its frame to the Expedition and Navigator. And our real-world experience suggests less powerful engines tend to work extra hard to motivate really big vehicles, negating much of their presumptive fuel-economy advantage.

Will it have new features?

Unlikely, given the an already comprehensive roster that includes such available amenities as Ford’s automatic-steering Pro Trailer Backup Assist and hands-free parking into and out of parallel and perpendicular spaces. Those features are included in various options groupings, among them the Special Edition Package, which also includes cargo-management panels, the continuously damping suspension, trailer controller, and other items and is an example of how Ford may again collate features into new packages for model-year 2020.

A more important change would be to make some key driver aids standard on more than just the flagship Platinum model. All ’20 Expeditions will again come with autonomous emergency braking that can stop the SUV to avoid a frontal collision with another vehicle. Also standard will be anchor latches for up to five child safety seats.

But we’d urge the automaker to include other useful safety features as standard on 2020 Expeditions other than just the Platinum. These would include pedestrian-detection capability for the autonomous braking system; adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, even in stop-and-go driving; lane-departure warning and automatic steering correction; and automatic highbeam headlights.

For 2019, these features were part of the Driver Assistance Package for XLT and Limited models. The package was a stand-alone option at a not-unreasonable $715 and also bundled into other costlier and more extensive packages. Similarly, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection was standard only on the Limited and Platinum. Other manufacturers include this full sweep of safety features as standard on far less expensive vehicles, and we believe that ought to be the case for every version of a family-oriented SUV such as the Expedition.

Aside from that, the list of standard and optional features is extensive and builds logically as you ascend the model ladder. Again included with every ’20 Expedition will be such features as tri-zone automatic climate control, a class IV trailer hitch, keyless entry with pushbutton start, and power heated side mirrors with security approach lamps. XLT models should again add such niceties as power front seats with power lumbar support, while Limiteds build on that with leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, heated power folding mirrors with integrated turn signals, and other items. The ’20 Platinum should return with all that, plus elaborate multicontour front seats with power massage and memory.

While Ford’s adept Sync interface for mobile devices will again be included on every ’20 Expedition, to insure real-time GPS mapping in the absence of a cell signal you’ll need the imbedded navigation system that has been standard on the Platinum and optional as part of packages or as a $740 add-on for the XLT and Limited.

How will 2020 prices be different?

They’ll increase. By how much depends on a variety of factors, including Ford’s perception of demand for the Expedition. Interestingly, despite justified critical acclaim, sales of the redesigned Expedition were flat through the first nine months of 2018. Meanwhile, the competitive set grew a healthy 7 percent, again dominated by the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban. More curious, sales of the new-generation Navigator increased an astounding 82 percent over the period, although the Lincoln remains outsold by the Ford 3-1 (and by the Escalade 2-1).

In its class, the ’20 Expedition will remain competitively priced. EX and XLT models should again start in the low-to-mid-$50,000 range, like their Chevy rivals. Base prices for Limited and Platinum will remain from the mid-$60,000s to low $80,000s, pitting them against the GMC Yukon Denali, the relatively upscale Nissan Armada, and the near-premium-class Toyota Land Cruiser.

Estimated base prices here include Ford’s destination fee, which was $1,295 for the 2019 Expedition. Most buyers order AWD; with that feature, figure starting prices of regular-length AWD 2020 Expeditions of around $53,600 for the XL, $57,300 for the XLT, $68,300 for the Limited, and $78,700 for the Platinum.

For Max versions, anticipate adding around $3,700 to the base price of a 2020 XL and around $2,700 to the base price of the others. For all, deduct $3,000 or so if you want rear-wheel drive.

Among returning key options, for the XLT, expect Equipment Group 202A to again cost around $5,500 and add such features as the safety-minded Driver Assistance Package, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, hands-free unlocking and tailgate, a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals, heated and ventilated front seats, Wi-Fi modem, and wireless phone charging.

For the 2020 Expedition Limited, expect the popular Equipment Groupe 302A to return at around $6,500 and include all the safety and driver-assist items, including pedestrian detection; a panoramic moonroof; 22-inch wheels; imbedded navigation; hands-free parking; and Continuously Controlled Damping. At around $7,500, look for Equipment Group 303A to again include all that, plus the black-out Stealth Edition trim, LED headlamps, and a 360-degree exterior-view camera system with lens washers.

The Platinum should return with all the above-mentioned features with just two main factory options: the heavy-duty tow package (about $1,600) and the duel-headrest rear-entertainment system ($1,995). Add those, and you’ll be looking at a sticker of around $86,000 for a 2020 AWD Platinum Max.

When will it come out?

Look for a 2020 Ford Expedition release date during the third quarter, 2019.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, Toyota Sequoia

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]