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Ford Motor Co. on Tuesday debuted the industry’s first aluminum-body SUV with a bigger, lighter and more loaded Expedition.

The all-new 2018 Ford Expedition’s high-strength aluminum-alloy body and redesigned steel frame shave up to 300 pounds off the full-size SUV’s total weight, depending on the trim level, but Ford says it maintains its off-road capability.

The aluminum-body SUV, which will hit showrooms this fall, is the second time Ford has taken the lead in aluminum: The redesigned 2015 F-150 was the first pickup with an aluminum body. Despite some initial concerns about durability, the F-150 has proved to be a rugged best-seller. The Expedition is based on the same platform as the F-Series.

The fourth-generation Expedition made its global premiere at a private event in Dallas ahead of its public unveiling at the Chicago Auto Show later this week.

The eight-passenger family hauler is bigger — four inches longer and an inch wider — and loaded with more features than the current full-size SUV.

All told, the 2018 Expedition has more than 40 new features and driver-assist technologies, officials said, including park-assist, lane-keeping, adaptive cruise-control and a collision-avoidance system that helps drivers avoid other vehicles or pedestrians.

Updates aimed at boosting connectivity, comfort and overall utility include a wireless charging pad, an in-vehicle WiFi hotspot, six USB charging ports, four 12-volt power points, 15 cup holders, updated second- and third-row seating, Ford’s latest Sync3 technology and retooled cargo space behind the third row.

Interior changes were aimed at making the Expedition cabin more spacious and easier to enter and exit for second- and third-row passengers, according to Todd Hoevener, chief program engineer at Ford.

The company redesigned the center console, which has several charging ports and an electronic shifter dial on the console, removing the mechanical shifter.

In another big update, Ford introduced sliding second-row seats in the new Expedition, which allow passengers in the second and third rows more legroom and easier entry and exit. The second-row seats now have a “tip-and-slide” function, which allows access to the third row without the need to remove a car seat because the second row doesn’t need to fold to be moved. The third row also reclines.

“We spent a lot of time on (adaptability),” said Hoevener. “No more fixed (second-row) seat like most of our competitors have.”

Both rows can be folded flat to open a cargo area large enough to hold 4-by-8 sheets of plywood, Hoevener said, which has been an Expedition benchmark for years. With the seats up, the cargo space has shelving and an updated design to prevent cargo from falling out of the vehicle when customers open the liftgate.

The all-new Expedition has some performance-related changes, too.

The vehicle is powered by a 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine and comes standard with auto start-stop technology and a 10-speed automatic transmission that debuted last year in F-Series trucks.

Hoevener said the big SUV is expected to maintain best-in-class towing. Ford will offer its Pro Trailer Backup Assist knob.

Taking a cue from the smaller Ford Explorer, the latest Expedition has a Terrain Management System which lets customers choose between multiple drive modes depending on road conditions, ranging from sport, eco or 4x4 mode, to sand, mud, gravel or snow modes.

The new Expedition will be available in XLT, Limited and Platinum series. All three trim levels come in the extended-length edition. Vehicle weight will be released closer to the sale date.

Ford did not release expected fuel economy or pricing for the new SUV. The 2017 Expedition gets an EPA-estimated 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, and starts at $47,125.

Ford has seen SUV sales increase by 80 percent over the last five years. The Expedition reboot caps the “freshest, strongest SUV lineup” Ford has ever had, said Ford’s strategic planning and distribution manager, Michael O’Brien, at a media preview event for the Expedition last week.

The new Expedition is built at Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, where Ford also makes F-Series trucks.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

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