Big, burly family favorites, the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition are two of the best third-row SUVs out there. But which one takes the top spot?
In a nation obsessed with excess, the twenty-year American love affair with the SUV makes perfect sense. Americans love their trucks, and they loved, for a time, their station wagons and minivans. What Americans didn’t love, was having to choose between these vehicles. The SUV, its purest expression in the form of third-row behemoths like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition, combines the practicality and power of pickups with the family friendly capaciousness and comfort of those wagons and minivans.
Large third-row SUVs are a small, and therefore fiercely contested, segment (not unlike minivans, in fact). The Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition slot in the top half of the segment by offering ample power, plenty of passenger space, and modern creature comforts. So, which one do you want for that mythic family rendezvous at the lake cabin (of course you’re bringing the boat) or the long dreamt-of cross-country road trip? Let’s find out.
The raw numbers for these two SUVs are predictably large. Take the footprints for example. The Tahoe measures 74” in height, 81” in width, and 204” in overall length. Not to be outdone, the Expedition is slightly taller at 76”, slimmer at 80” wide, and a good deal longer at 210”. The Expedition Max add nearly another foot in back for a full 221.9”, with almost all of that additional size going to “maxing out” the cargo hold.
2020 Ford Expedition – ford.com | Shop 2020 Ford Expedition on Carsforsale.com
As to the powertrains, the options for Tahoe are limited to two engines, a 5.3-liter producing 355hp and 383 lb. ft. of torque or a 6.2-liter V8 producing 420hp and 460 lb. ft. Note that V8 is only available on the Premier trim level and gets the Tahoe up to that 8,600lb. max towing capacity. The V6 engine is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, while the V8 gets a 10-speed automatic.
The Expedition, for its part, offers just a 3.5-liter turbo V6 that puts up 375hp and 470 lb. ft. Though here too the top trim Platinum, with its extra bit of tuning, will get you more power, bumping up to 400hp and 480 lb. ft. and a segment best 9,200lbs. in towing. The Ford gets a 10-speed automatic transmission.
It might not surprise you that neither of these giants gets very good gas mileage. The Tahoe’s two engines don’t differ that greatly, with the V6 getting 15 city and 22 highway, while the V8 dips the city mileage to 14 but gains slightly on the open road with 23 highway. The Expedition gets 17/23 with RWD while the 4WD gets 16 city and 21 hwy.
The most significant differences between the Tahoe and Expedition emerge once you’ve opened the doors and gotten behind the wheel. Both SUVs behave in a truck-like manner on the road. The Tahoe wins out on drivability with light, accurate steering, while the Expedition has a more lumbering and vaguer feel.
2020 Chevrolet Tahoe – chevrolet.com | Shop 2020 Chevrolet Tahoe on Carsforsale.com
The opposite is true when considering the ride quality. This will be the last year for the Tahoe’s (and Suburban big bro’s) live rear axle, which is finally getting replaced by an independent rear suspension (and rumored optional air-suspension) in 2021. That will be a welcomed upgrade as the Tahoe’s currently ride suffers on rough roads. The Expedition, on the other hand, provides a smoother ride for its occupants, a significant point in its favor in terms of day-to-day livability.
That edge in daily comfort for the Expedition extends into the available interior space for passengers and cargo. The sheer immensity of the Ford isn’t fully realized until you’re inside. Cavernous feels like the correct adjective. Take, for comparison, the third row, which in the Tahoe, is as cramped as significantly smaller SUVs. No one but small children will find it suitable for anything but the shortest trips to the corner store. By contrast, the Expedition gives even adults an almost van-like level of space in the way way back. That spaciousness is found throughout the cabin, with plenty of elbow and leg room for 6+ foot passengers.
Similar to the passenger room situation, the cargo space is another area where the Expedition sets the bar. The Ford has 20.9 cu. ft. with all three rows in use, 57.5 with the third row folded down, and 104.6 cu. ft. (the Expedition Max is even more generous with 34.3/73.3/121.5). The Tahoe lags behind with 15.3 cu. ft., 51.7 cu. ft., and 94.7 cu. ft.
General highlights for the Tahoe include Chevy’s excellent MyLink infotainment system housed in an 8-inch touchscreen, standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and a stylishly designed interior. The Enhanced Driver Alert package, including features like collision warning and lane keep assist, adds $695 to the price tag.
LS – $48,000
Remote start, rear parking sensor, 10-way adjustable driver’s seat, Wi-Fi Hotspot, and digital radio.
LT – $53,000
9-speaker Bose premium audio system, leather and heated front seats, and the Sun, Entertainment, and Destination package adds a panoramic sunroof and rear seat entertainment systems.
Premier – $62,700
Heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, keyless entry, wireless phone charging, blind spot monitor, and push button start. This is also the only trim that gets access to the larger 6.2-liter V8 engine.
Ford’s CoPilot360 now comes “standard” (but with an overall price bump of $680 from last year). Adding $3,000 at any trim level can get you the Max version which adds 11” in length to the already prodigious SUV.
XLT – $52,810
8-way power adjustable front seat, tri-zone climate control, available panoramic sunroof, navigation, and rear seat entertainment.
Limited – $63,345
Leather seats, wireless phone charger, 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo system. Special packages add navigation and adaptive cruise control.
Platinum – $73,935
“Multi-contour” quilted leather seating, satin aluminum grille and other exterior flourishes, and the engine tuned up to 400hp.
King Ranch – $72,895
Like the F-150 trim the King Ranch Expedition gets Del Rio leather seats, special wheel and door panel coverings, exterior badging, and gray body accenting.
You probably won’t be disappointed with either of these large SUVs. Both offer modern, comfortable interiors, plenty of towing capacity, and loads of desirable tech. But the Expedition distinguishes itself with the additional cargo and passenger space, the smoother ride, and that upper end towing range. So, if you’re in the market for a giant, road dominating SUV, the Ford Expedition should be your first consideration.