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Suburban, Expedition: On those long road trips, the Big Two are tough to beat

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Saturday, July 19, 2014

When you travel with six persons and their luggage, nothing beats a full-sized SUV like the Ford Expedition or Chevrolet Suburban.

Over the past month I have had the opportunity to drive both these vehicles and they are just great for family vacations.

Power and Size

POWER AND SIZE – The 2015 Chevy Suburban has the seating and cargo space to carry six and the horsepower to get them to their destination in style. Messenger photo by Ken Roselle

We rented two almost-new Ford Expeditions for separate family trips to New England and Michigan with six people on board for each trip. And, for the last few weeks I have been driving a 2015 Chevrolet Suburban, thanks to the nice folks at James Wood Motors in Decatur.

The Expedition, while big and comfortable, hasn’t changed much lately. I own a 2010 Expedition EL and the new ones were almost identical to the one I have. The Expedition is due for a power-plant upgrade in 2015 with the EcoBoost V-6 that has been such a hit in the F-150 pickup in recent years.

Frankly, the Expeditions were sluggish compared to the power of the Suburban and that’s understandable because the big Chevy has a 45-horsepower advantage. Both have six-speed automatic transmissions.

The Suburban is a much more modern vehicle and Chevrolet and GMC finally have fold-down third seats – years behind Ford with this feature. To get extra cargo room you no longer have to struggle to remove the heavy third row seat.

Both the Expeditions we rented and the Suburban I borrowed from James Wood were the mid-level models – XLT on the Ford and LT on the Chevrolet. But the Chevrolet has the upscale “luxury package” that adds such nice things as heated seats, power folding second-row captains chairs, and a fine Bose sound system.

The Expeditions didn’t have navigation systems, but the Suburban does. Honestly, with today’s iphone technology and tech-savvy grandchildren, the navigation of Maine and Michigan highways was no problem even without the built-in navigation system.

If you plan to carry people in the third row, always opt for the second-row bucket seats. They make getting in and out of the third seats much easier. One of the Expeditions we rented had buckets in the second row and the other a full-width seat that folded. But walking through the opening in the second row seats is easily the best way to get in and out of the third row – just ask my wife and granddaughters.

There are those who complain about the fuel mileage and size of the Expedition and Suburban, and city folks delight in calling them “gas-guzzlers.” But just for fun, check the “mileage per passenger” when you have six on board and the equation may change.

We averaged about 14 MPG on the Expeditions loaded with passengers and luggage, and so far on the Suburban I’ve done about the same, but on a couple of trips to Fort Worth the electronic “fuel used” gage showed highway mileage of 20-plus.

Ford is expected to roll-out an all new Expedition within the next few years and most Ford observers expect it to be much lighter than the current version, with lots of aluminum on the body panels – similar to the 2015 Ford F-150 which will be about 600 pounds lighter than the current version thanks to extensive use of aluminum.

For 20-25 years I have driven lots of Suburbans, Expeditions, Yukon XLs and even a Cadillac Escalade. The new Suburban is much improved over all of them. Prices on the new GM SUV’s are steep with the Suburban I’m driving tipping the MSRP scale at almost $62,000.

There are lots of nice alternatives that I have driven recently including the Buick Enclave, Dodge Durango and Ford Explorer. All are less expensive and all have three seats and will carry six people in relative comfort. But the problem comes with the space behind the third seat – and that is where the Suburban and Expedition shine.

For driving around town, the smaller vehicles are definitely easier to handle, but when you hit the road with the family – the Suburban and Expedition are hard to beat.

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