Car Reviews

Tow Like a Pro With Engineering Help on the 2018 Ford Expedition

Expedition, Lincoln Navigator get trailer backup system that debuted on F-150

Expedition, Lincoln Navigator get trailer backup system that debuted on F-150

It’s finally boating season for the parts of the country that have seasons. Which means extra duty for vehicles capable of yeoman service.

About half big SUV buyers use it to tow. Because these are among an automaker’s most profitable vehicles, engineers are always looking to ensure the ability to pull a trailer, camper, or boat as easily as possible.

If you to a boat ramp on a Sunday afternoon, there is often a lineup as drivers struggle to manoeuver; the window is down as a companion yells ‘more to the right’ and the frustrated driver debates whether to give up and go home—no fishing today. Some will drive an extra block to avoid backing up a trailer if they have had little practice or confidence. Even the skilled can benefit from technology that reduces the margin of error.

So it comes as no surprise that the Pro Trailer Backup Assist feature that made its debut on the 2016 Ford F-Series will be available on the 2018 Ford Expedition full-size SUV and its luxury counterpart the 2018 Lincoln Navigator, making them the first in the segment to offer it, Ford officials claim.

Of those who tow, 15 percent are hitching something weekly or monthly, said Ryan Gillenwater, Expedition marketing manager. To meet their needs, the 2018 Expedition coming later this year has increased towing capacity to 9,300 pounds (4,218 kg), up 100 pounds (45 kg) from the outgoing model, with the heavy-duty tow package that beefs up the radiator and oil cooler. That compares with 8,400 pounds (3,810 kg) for the Chevrolet Tahoe RST, 8,600 pounds (3,900 kg) for the Dodge Durango, and 8,500 for the Nissan Armada.

Ford has not released Expedition pricing or the cost of the tow package. It is a $350 USD option on the F-150, and there is no reason to believe it should cost more on the Expedition.

The F-150, which can tow 12,000 pounds (5,443 kg), first got Pro Trailer Assist for the 2016 model year, and it is popular; half of buyers opt for the feature. The Super Duty doesn’t have it because it has a hydraulic steering system, which requires the driver to do the steering.

The F-150’s system was adapted for the Expedition. That required unique tuning, adjusting the algorithms, and, importantly, the rear camera must be positioned differently because it sits higher on an SUV than on the back of a pickup and the wheelbase is different despite sharing the same architecture.

The system uses a rear camera that captures a sticker on the tongue of the trailer to track the angle of the trailer relative to the vehicle pulling it. Steering is done by turning a knob on the instrument panel to direct where the trailer needs to go, and the vehicle responds accordingly—no need to counter steer or match angles. The truck will follow the trailer.

You push the knob to turn the system on, and a menu appears on the cluster listing up to 10 different trailers. The measurements of each trailer must be entered manually including dimensions from the bumper to the center of the ball, measurements from the center of ball to the sticker on the trailer tongue, measurements from the camera center to sticker center, and measurements from the bumper to center of trailer axles. Once the dimensions have been input, the vehicle retains the data. Each trailer has its own sticker for the Expedition to read. There is a light beside the rear camera to be able to read the sticker in the dark. Once you locate the correct trailer in the menu and hit OK, the system locates the sticker and the knob is ready for steering duty.

We tried it, launching a 23-foot Supra Raptor speedboat that weighed 5,300 pounds (2,404 kg); the trailer added another 6,900 pounds (3,130 kg). And yes, it was as easy as billed.

We asked the engineers on hand for a list of the common mistakes people make while trailering.

  1. A system that makes it easy and intuitive can minimize the pressure and stress, especially with people watching you at the boat ramp, said Mike Bell, vehicle engineer expert for backup assist.
  2. Jackknifing is one of the biggest issues. Not knowing how to countersteer or match the angle to keep both trailer and vehicle going in the right direction can cause you to overcorrect and jackknife. There is no recovering from it, said Michael Moore, product development engineer. There is no choice but to pull forward and start again.
  3. Steering the wrong way. Trailers are tricky because you have to turn left to go right which throws people off. The system was engineered so you turn the knob in the direction you want the trailer to go and the vehicle follows.
  4. Weight distribution. A lot of people load the trailer incorrectly. This affects overall towing.
  5. Wandering while backing up. The system makes it easier to back up straight, correcting for you with very little input needed. In fact, it works so well that Ford put a speed limit of 6.5 km/h going straight in reverse and 4 km/h when turning.