Vehicles that are referred to as “sleepers” typically pack tons of power, feature a stock or dilapidated look, and prefer to hit the streets in search of unsuspecting rivals. Rarely do these automobiles pack any form of off-road prowess, preferring straight-line speed over mud-slinging. This leads us to an interesting thought: If you had to pick one unsuspecting off-road superstar, what would it be, and more importantly, why?
Enter the all-new Ford Expedition FX4. Ours was dressed in suburbia-approved shades of Blue Metallic paint, complete with side steps to help get the kids into the car after soccer practice, and seating for eight. Looking a million times fresher than the generation it replaces, the all-new Expedition drives like a much smaller vehicle, offers mountains of tech and amenities, and in FX4 fashion, packs some surprisingly sharp 4×4 chops.
Save for some FX4 badging, this SUV looks about as pedestrian as it gets, all the way up until you climb inside and start poking around. A center console drive selector features 4-Low, 4-Automatic, and a locking rear diff button, as well as a 2-Hi setting for increased highway efficiency. For steep scenarios there’s also a downhill descent control switch on the top of the center stack, which performs much like that found in current F-Series models. Ford has also allocated a 3.73:1 ratio electronic limited-slip differential to FX4 versions of the Expedition. They provide additional traction.
Toggle through the digital driver display within the cluster, and you’ll find off-road vehicle articulation monitoring, as well as a bevy of traction settings. Utilizing Ford’s proven Terrain Management System gives you the ability to select up to seven preset modes for tackling everything from deep ruts and mud, to sand and snow, as well as on-road tasks like towing. It’s the same setup that has made the F-Series FX4 such a star when it comes to grip, earning this version of the Expedition big points in our review book.
But it’s not all computer-controlled settings and electronic throttle monitoring, either. The FX4 Expedition gets exclusive additions like re-tuned off-road shocks, custom rear suspension, a low-range transfer case, a larger radiator, undercarriage protection for the fuel tank, vehicle-specific skid plates, and Michelin all-terrain tires. There’s also a handful of cosmetic features, like unique 18-inch magnetic metallic-painted wheels, a dash and instrument panel borrowed from the Super Duty, chromed-out and branded running boards, heavy duty floor liners, and FX4 badging.
So it looks about as plain as can be on the outside, all but a million times more modern than the outgoing model. It can also transport the entire family to Grannie’s for the holidays, while discreetly holstering an arsenal of traction and off-road enhancements. All of this is great to find at first glance; but how does the Expedition FX4 do, both on-road and off?
From a daily-driven, “gotta get the pizzas before picking the kids up from school” sort of perspective, the Expedition FX4 is pretty damn close to being flawless. Comfortable, spacious, storage-focused, tech-oriented, and incredibly easy to control, it has almost everything you could ever want or need in a grocery-getter. Name the SYNC 3 feature and it’s there. Looking for storage solutions or a switch to help with inclement weather? It’s all at your fingertips, with a tasteful “less-is-more” take on rugged styling and cabin layout.
A fistful of cabin favorites include the Super Duty split glove box, hulking center console storage with file folder rails, low-profile rotary electronic shifter, and the cavernous amounts of space given to second, and even third-row passengers. There’s also a sliding second row for easy access to the rear, USB ports in both front rows, and 120V plugs for heavy-duty charging.
Venture off the beaten path on a camping trip or into a state park, and you’ll find that the FX4 does an outstanding job of limiting wheel slip and soldiering over various terrain due to the aforementioned traction settings. While attending Ford’s launch program for this vehicle in 2017, I was impressed by the way in which the Expedition FX4 behaved on rock-strewn mountains. Slowly easing our way down the other side, descent control and the SUV’s unique suspension provided 4×4 predictability and ample passenger comfort.
A year later, and the Expedition FX4 still feels just as capable as ever off-road, at least in regard to its traction settings and suspension. Rain-soaked hillsides, muddy forest trails, creek beds, and sandy embankments were all conquered with little issue in the FX4, earning it “4×4 sleeper” status.
That’s not to say that the SUV didn’t struggle at times, with its stock 9.8 inches of ride height and uninspiring tires providing the biggest concern. Without additional amounts of ground clearance, the Expedition forces you to constantly fret over beaching the chassis when deep ruts and steep rakes appear. While its suspension features impressive wheel articulation, the removal of virtually every low-hanging attachment is pretty much mandatory if you want to confidently hit some trails in this machine. And as for those Michelin OWL compounds, let’s just say that they prefer refined city driving over mud-slinging, making them a prime target for replacement.
However, in regard to interior, tech, and daily livability ratings, the Expedition receives an almost flawless scorecard. My biggest complaint has to be the vehicle’s wireless charging dock, which is so tightly packaged that even average-sized phones require you to become a hand contortionist. There also weren’t any undercarriage and sideview cameras for clearing obstacles on trail or in the parking lot, a surprising safety feature miss on a $66,000 vehicle packing that much tech. Save for these complaints, along with its stock ride height and city-slicker tires, the Expedition FX4 proved yet again to be a piston ring away from being marriage material.
Committing to this version of the SUV also gives you the 3.5-liter EcoBoost power we all know and love (375-horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque), along with Ford’s sensational 10-speed automatic transmission. This means you get a 9,200-pound max towing capacity, and up to 22 mpg on the highway, with 17 being the average around town… if you can manage to stay away from Ford’s enjoyable Sport mode.
All told, the all-new Ford Expedition is an outstanding SUV, and in FX4 trim makes for a brilliant 4×4 buying option. We would just opt for a different color, and if the need for a third row or regular towing was deemed unnecessary, we’d omit Equipment Group 202A in order to save $5,605. It’s quite a bit of dosh to throw around, and enough to make a big difference when shopping around.
From there we’d look into a lift kit, swapping out those 18-inch wheels and ho-hum tires for something far more aggressive. At that point, you might as well toss a tubular rack on top, slap a bull bar with a winch and some additional lighting up front, and look into aftermarket bolt-ons from the F-150 3.5-liter EcoBoost that would carry over. Hmmmm…