While we openly wish that Ford would build and sell an Expedition Raptor, the reality is that off-road aficionados seeking a full-size Blue Oval SUV have only one model to turn to at the moment: the Expedition FX4 or Expedition MAX FX4.
The FX4 arrived as a package alongside the current-, fourth-generation Expedition for the 2018 model year. In fact, the introduction of the FX4 package marks the first dedicated off-road package available for the Ford Expedition in more than a decade. The Expedition FX4 adds several noteworthy upgrades to help the full-sizer better navigate trails and other unpaved surfaces.
But now, Ford’s cross-town rival – General Motors – introduced the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 and Suburban Z71. In the past, both models have competed with the Expedition FX4, but the 2021 model year brings a complete overhaul of the Chevy offerings that places an increased focus on the Z71 models. That spurred us to take a closer look at how these rugged full-size SUVs compare on paper.
Setting The Baseline
Before we get started, we should set the baseline of this comparison.
The Expedition FX4 goes up directly agains the Chevrolet Tahoe Z71, while the Expedition Max with the FX4 package goes up against the Chevrolet Suburban Z71. In other words, the Tahoe is to the Expedition as the Suburban is to the Expedition Max.
Neither of these are hardcore offroad machines. Instead, they’re meant to be used on the pavement, while also being able to drive on unpaved surfaces and some moderately-challenging trails.
From a powertrain standpoint, the Ford Expedition FX4 is powered by Ford’s 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine making a very healthy 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. It is backed by Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission that, ironically, was co-developed with General Motors. The Expedition FX4 also features a two-speed electronic four-wheel-drive system and a terrain management system. An electronic limited-slip rear differential with 3.73:1 gears rounds out the powertrain lineup of the Expedition FX4.
By comparison, the 2021 Tahoe Z71 and Suburban Z71 are powered by Chevy’s naturally-aspirated 5.3L V8 L84 engine rated at 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. The atmospheric Small Block V8 mates to GM’s version of the 10-speed automatic transmission. Standard four-wheel-drive with a two-speed transfer case, Hill Descent Control, and a mechanical limited-slip differential with 3.71:1 gears rounds out the powertrain details.
Winner: the Expedition FX4. It’s more powerful, and that power truly matters when moving vehicles of this size.
Moving on to the exterior, the Ford Expedition FX4 rolls on a set of 18-inch Magnetic Metallic cast aluminum wheels wearing 32 inch all-terrain tires with stiffer sidewalls. The model also features a few other unique items, including FX4 badging on the liftgate and front fenders, and chrome running boards.
The 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 and Suburban Z71 come with standard 20-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch all-terrain tires. Z71 badging, black and black-chrome exterior accents, and black running boards round out the package.
Winner: we’ll have to call this one a draw, since both models provide several unique accents on the exterior that allow them to stand out from their less rugged counterparts.
This is where things start to get interesting, since many of the features for both offroad machines lie beneath the surface.
For the Expedition FX4, Ford has installed a set of stiff, off-road-tuned dampers plus a total of seven skid plates to protect the engine, steering gear, transmission, fuel tank, and transfer case. The FX4 also utilizes a sand shield to protect the turbocharger intercoolers from being clogged by sand. A set of black tow hooks round out the off-road-oriented hardware. An fully-independent suspension system is present and accounted for.
Meanwhile, the 2021 Tahoe Z71 and Suburban Z71 feature a unique front fascia that allows for a higher angle of approach. In addition, both models have a front skid plate and red tow hooks. The standard suspension features fixed dampers that are shared with other models within the lineup. The piece de resistance comes with the optional Air Ride Adaptive Suspension and Magnetic Ride Control, which enables an impressive four inches of ride height adjustment.
Additionally, this new generation of the Tahoe and Suburban swaps the live rear axle for an independent rear suspension, resulting in a independent suspension system.
Winner: this is a tough one, but we must concede that the Tahoe Z71 and Suburban Z71 edge out the Expedition FX4 thanks to a unique front fascia that not only signals ruggedness, but allows for a better approach angle, to boot. Plus, the optional air suspension seems to be impressive.
In terms of pricing, the Expedition FX4 is offered as a standalone package on XLT or Limited models. Pricing for the package ranges from $1,650 on XLT to $2,035 on Limited. Including the vehicle, the starting price is $59,810 for the Expedition FX4 (XLT trim) and $62,835 for Expedition Max FX4 (XLT trim).
By comparison, the 2021 Tahoe Z71 starts at $60,495 while the 2021 Suburban Z71 starts at $63,195.
Winner: the starting prices are comparable, so we’ll leave this one as a draw.
|2020 Expedition FX4 / Expedition MAX FX4||2021 Tahoe Z71 / Suburban Z71|
|Availability||Free-flow package for XLT and Limited models||Standalone trim level based on mid-tier LT model|
|MSRP||$1,650 – $2,035 package cost, $59,810 Expedition, $62,835 Expedition Max||$60,495 Tahoe, $63,195 Suburban|
|Standard Suspension||Fully independent suspension, off-road front and rear shocks||Fully independent suspension|
|Optional Suspension||-||Magnetic Ride Control with Air Ride Adaptive Suspension (allows 4 inches of ride height adjustment)|
|Engine||Twin-Turbo 3.5L EcoBoost V6||Atmospheric 5.3L V8|
|Transmission||10-speed automatic||10-speed automatic|
|Rear Differential||Electronic limited slip||Mechanical Limited Slip|
|Four-Wheel-Drive System||Two-speed electronic four-wheel-drive system and terrain management system||Standard four-wheel-drive with a two-speed transfer case and Hill Descent Control|
|Skid Plates||Seven skid plates protecting engine, steering gear, transmission, fuel tank, and transfer case, plus sand shield (to protect the turbocharger intercoolers)||Front only|
|Wheels||18 inch Magnetic Metallic cast aluminum||20 inch machined aluminum with Technical Gray pockets|
|Tires||32-inch all-terrain||33-inch all-terrain|
|Unique exterior elements||None||Unique front fascia with high approach angle|
|Badging||FX4 badging front fenders and liftgate||Z71 badging on front fenders and grille|
The Expedition FX4 package certainly provides some desirable upgrades that make the full-size bruiser worthy of driving on trails and unpaved surfaces. However, we think that there is room for Ford to improve the product and to make it more desirable by heading in a similar direction as Chevy did with the 2021 Tahoe Z71 / Suburban Z71.
For instance, we would love to see a more aggressive and functional front fascia, as well as an adjustable suspension system. The rest of the Expedition FX4, as far as we’re concerned, is downright perfect, particularly when it comes to the powertrain and skid plate implementation. That said, we’d love to see the FX4 package gain more capability in the future that would enable Ford’s biggest SUV to be a more formidable off-roader.