At 18.4-feet long and well over three tons of mass, the 2015 Ford Expedition EL King Ranch is not a vehicle that says downsizing. In fact, as Ford’s largest SUV, the only aspect of the substantially updated Expedition that has shrunk is the powerplant, the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. Everything else about this beast is as huge as the home state of the eponymous ranch it is named for.
The EL is the longer of two Expedition variants that have been available since the heavy-duty Excursion was discontinued in 2005 after a six-year run. While the current Expedition is related to the mid-2000s era F-150 pickup, it’s actually pretty substantially different and can really considered a distinct platform. Unlike Ford’s pickup trucks that continue to support solid rear axles on leaf springs, the Expedition utilizes a multi-link independent rear suspension which gives it an important advantage over the segment leading Chevrolet Suburban in third-row room, but I’ll come back to that later.
On the outside, the latest Expedition doesn’t look dramatically different from those that have come out of the factory for the previous seven years. The new grille and headlights feature more delicate detailing than the outgoing version while the rear lamps and bumper have also been reshaped. Particularly on the high-zoot King Ranch edition that rolls on 22-inch diameter alloys, the effect is distinctly more sophisticated than the older model. In profile however, you would have a hard time distinguishing between the 2014 and 2015 Expedition.
From a distance, those big shiny wheels help to visually shrink the Expedition and the short wheelbase version looks almost like the last body-on-frame Explorer. As you get closer however, there is no mistaking this for anything but an extra full-sizer. As befits an SUV named for a Texas ranch, the fender badges look like super-sized belt buckles. When you grab the door handles, the running board automatically motors down to make it easier to step up and in. As soon as the door closes, the step retracts into the lower body work leaving more ground clearance for plowing through the snow at your Aspen ski chalet or running over the tumbleweed on your west Texas ranch.
Like its primary competitors from the GM, the Suburban and Yukon XL, every Expedition is equipped with three rows of seats and belts for up to eight occupants. Where the Expedition differs and has a significant advantage when it comes to people moving is the aforementioned independent rear suspension. The solid rear axle on the GM trucks requires space to accommodate vertical motion of the differential so the rear floor pan is curved upward at the back. As a result, passengers in the back row of any of the GM trucks find themselves sitting in a position that leaves knees above their hips. Kids will have no problem in the third row of a Suburban, but three adults can sit in the last row of the Expedition EL in significantly more comfort.
All of the seats in the King Ranch edition are covered in Mesa brown leather with the first two rows having the ranch brand embossed in the seat back. I drove the Expedition during what has been by far the coldest week of 2015 so far and every time I climbed up into the driver’s seat, I was extremely thankful for the thermal enhancement. The front thrones are both heated and cooled for optimal comfort no matter what the temperature is outside although I would have appreciated a heated steering wheel as well. In the second row, the outboard seats are equipped with heat, but no cooling. Those second row seats fold down and flip forward manually. The third row seats can be folded or raised from the rear of the vehicle by pressing a switch.
Ergonomically, the Expedition is okay, but not exceptional. Given the width of this truck, the flat dashboard that runs from door to door means that the climate controls and central touchscreen can be quite a reach. The MyFord Touch system in my tester, generally worked reliably for a change although the user interface is less than ideal. Getting to the navigation menu requires tapping the top right corner of the screen and that meant leaning forward to reach it. The center stack area of the Suburban bulges out from the surrounding dashboard putting those controls within easier reach. On the other hand my phone’s bluetooth connection did hook up quickly after startup.
For a company like Ford that likes to promote its technology and connectivity credentials, one other disappointment about the Expedition was the relative lack of power points. Like other Ford’s with SYNC or MFT, the Expedition has the usual allotment of two USB ports, a 12-volt outlet and a single 110-volt AC outlet in the second row. Most minivans, crossovers and SUVs today have extra USB ports in the back to help keep the kid’s devices charged on a road trip. Even the Chevy Silverado I drove last fall had five USB ports, three 12-volt outlets and a couple of AC outlets.
Even with eight occupants belted in, the super-sized Expedition has 42.6 cubic feet of cargo space in the back, enough swallow a big family’s worth of gear or luggage. With all of the seats folded, the volume jumps to 130.6 cubic feet, more than the long-wheelbase Transit Connect cargo van.
If you follow the airline approach of calculating seat cost per mile, an Expedition carrying eight people and their luggage would actually come out as a pretty efficient vehicle. On the other hand if you are driving it solo most of the time or with one or two kids in the second row, this beast is far from the best choice for being environmentally conscious despite the new powerplant.
The old 5.4-liter V8 has been banished in favor of the 365-horsepower 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. During mostly around town driving for the first several days of use, I barely managed 11.5 mpg. Over the last couple of days I put on about 150 miles of highway driving to some meetings on the other side of Detroit and managed to get the overall average up to 14.2 mpg.
While the fuel economy was unexceptional, this stout powerplant does move this three-ton behemoth without even breathing hard. If you have a horse trailer or a big boat, the Expedition will pull up to 9,200 pounds.
The EPA rates the four-wheel-drive Expedition EL at 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined but those numbers are based on the base 18-inch wheel and tire combination. The King Ranch I drove had the optional and substantially heavier 22-inch alloys wrapped in Pirelli Scorpion all-season tires. Given the mass and inertia penalties of that rolling stock and temperatures that dipped as low as -24 F in my neighborhood, my real world results were actually pretty decent. If you don’t need the capabilities of vehicle like the Expedition, you’d be far better off with a much smaller, lighter vehicle.
The 2015 Expedition starts at $45,040 for a rear-wheel-drive short-wheelbase model. The loaded Expedition EL King Ranch I drove had a sticker of $65,935, not inexpensive by any means, but competitive with other full-size SUVs like the Suburban and Yukon XL and the Expedition offers far more usable room in the third row.