REVIEW 2015 Ford Expedition EL King Ranch 4X4
Ford calls its full-size SUV the Expedition for a reason. Over the course of three weeks, a new EL King Ranch 4X4 model took me from the suburbs of Kyle, TX through the winding rural roads of Blanco to the quaintness of Fredericksburg to the beautiful Christmas light displays all over downtown Johnson City. Whether I was driving around my neighborhood or making lifelong memories with two close friends on the road, I had plenty of chances to learn about the Blue Oval’s peoplemover and where its journey as a product has brought it in the 2015 model year.
Although the Expedition has a lot in common with the F-150, it’s not having quite as big a year as the pickup. Yes, both vehicles get new styling and engines, but the truck gets an entirely new, lightweight aluminum body whereas the ute receives a mid-cycle update and sticks with a steel shell that’s been tweaked and refreshed.
The 2015 Expedition looks most different from the 2014 model up front. A new three-bar grille is flanked by sleeker, more elegant-looking halogen projector headlamp casings. Below those, the large round fog lights that were swimming in a huge, mostly blank bumper have been replaced by LED bar units which are surrounded by a more visually dynamic front end. Out back, a thick chrome strip spans the width of the rear hatch, making the 78.8-inch-wide Expedition (excluding mirrors) appear even broader than it is.
My Bronze Fire Metallic tester’s optional 22-inch polished aluminum wheels ($2,180) were eye-catching but understated, despite their massive size.
Overall, the new rig looks more refined and attractive than the one it replaces. It’s amazing what a facelift can do.
Inside, my King Ranch loaner’s handsome Mesa Brown leather seats coordinated nicely with the unglazed wood-tone trim, although that did look like something out of a 1980s living room. On a particularly cold day, I was delighted to discover that I could keep my leather gloves on while using the eight-inch touchscreen. I can’t even do that with my so-called smartphone. The chunky knobs were easy to grip and turn with gloved hands. I also enjoyed the heated seats, which had three settings. The least aggressive one was perfectly warm for my tastes. Max heat would’ve been unbearable after a minute.
I’m 5’10” and I found the last two rows of seats plenty spacious. However, with 130.8 cubic feet of potential cargo room behind its front seats, the Expedition EL is perhaps even better at carrying stuff. The Chevrolet Suburban is, too, but you give up 9.7 cubic feet by going with the Chevy. Even with the third row in place, the Ford’s capacity of 42.6 cubic feet trumps the Chevy’s by almost 4.
The maximum tow rating for the 2015 EL 4X4 is up by a fifth of a ton to 9,100 pounds (when equipped with an optional heavy-duty trailer towing package. Without that, you’re limited to 6,600 pounds).
Perhaps the biggest change to the Expedition for 2015 is the one you can’t see until you look under the hood. Ford’s long-serving 5.4-liter V8 has been succeeded by the popular 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. That’s it. No 5.0, no 2.7-liter EcoBoosted six. Perhaps we’ll see more choices when the next-generation Expedition comes out. For now, horsepower climbs from 310 at 5,100 rpm to 365 at 5,000. Torque is up from 365 lb.-ft. at 3,600 rpm to 420 at 2,500. Like the old engine, the new one runs on 87 octane.
I can see why Ford has sold so many vehicles with the big EcoBoost in them. When I put my right foot down, I felt all of its foot-pounds pushing me back into my seat. The direct-injected twin-turbo V6 was perfectly adequate for moving the 6,103-pound, 18-foot-long EL. That’s especially good because both regular-wheelbase (119 inches) and extended-wheelbase (131 inches) Expeditions don’t get the hotted-up 380-horsepower EcoBoost V6 found in their more luxurious corporate cousins, the Lincoln Navigator and Navigator L.
On the other hand, my review vehicle’s ratings of 14 city and 20 highway miles per gallon beat those of last year’s regular-wheelbase Expedition. The best figure I hit – after a 175-mile trip with a lot of highway driving in it – was 18.3.
A six-speed SelectShift automatic put the turbo V6’s power to the ground through a 3.73 rear end and 285/45R22 all-season rubber. It’s hard to believe that a gearbox with six speeds is now dated, but that’s the state of the industry. GM and Ram have moved on to eight-cog units. However, given that the 2017 Raptor will get a 10-speed auto, I know Ford is going to modernize the tranny in the Expedition. Unfortunately, it seems as though we’re going to have to wait for a completely redesigned version of the SUV for that to happen.
Even though the 2015 Expedition is not an entirely new vehicle, it is, according to the Blue Oval, “the first Ford nameplate to offer a continuously controlled damping [CCD] suspension that allows drivers to select from three drive modes – comfort, normal and sport.” Switching from one to another made me realize Goldilocks must be a great-great aunt of mine. Comfort was too floaty and bouncy, sport was too stiff at times, but normal was juuuust right – a great balance of composure and comfort.
Hidden Falls Adventure Park, an off-highway vehicle park in Marble Falls, has five levels of difficulty, #5 being the most challenging. Given that I didn’t own the $66,990 vehicle I was about to get dirty there, I figured it would be best not to go past #2. I was very conscious of the EL’s substantial rear overhang and shiny chrome exhaust tip and didn’t want them getting scratched to hell by rocks. Also, my tester didn’t have skid plates listed on its window sticker. The guy at the check-in counter recommended that I only stick to the #1 trails to keep the Expedition looking as new as it was.
Even on the easy paths, I was constantly aware of what an easy target for tree branches the Expedition’s enormous dimensions made it. In fact, I got a trio of forest pinstripes on the right front fender while going through a certain wooded stretch. A minimum of eight inches of running ground clearance gave me some peace of mind, though.
When Ford came to retrieve its 2015 Expedition EL King Ranch from my driveway, I looked back fondly on the all of the time I spent in it going to places I had never before seen. I also realized that the Blue Oval can take the revised eight-seater further on its journey as a vehicle. The lighter body and increased abilities of the new F-150, the modernity of the transmissions available from competitive truck manufacturers, and improvements to the tuning of the CCD suspension are great destinations for the next Expedition to hit along the way.
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