2015 Ford Expedition King Ranch — Making an aging vehicle relevant

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(February 1, 2015) After they dropped off the Expedition King Ranch at the palatial TVD offices (between Starbucks and Big Lots, but close to the park) my mindset was this: Unless you are concentrating solely on the area forward of the A-pillars, this isn’t a new vehicle. It’s a make-do until the new one arrives, which puts it at a distinct disadvantage when compared to GM’s new full-size, body-on-frame SUVs.

The 2015 Expedition is sort of like those Lifestyle Lifts you see advertised on television. The face and neck have been tightened, but all the other parts are carried over. Only in this case, it seems Ford has not only done a nip and tuck, it’s done a heart transplant as well.

The V8 engine is gone, replaced by the stout 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. It mates up to the same six-speed automatic transmission as the V8, but does so with the promise of better fuel economy. The EPA rates it at 15 city/20 highway/17 combined, numbers that will never make you popular with the Green Peace crowd, but who the hell cares?

And while EcoBoost engines have gained a reputation for not returning the gas mileage promised (mostly due to a lack of finesse with the loud pedal on the driver’s part), I was able to meet them in my week with the vehicle.

One of the problems drivers face with this engine is the temptation to spool up the turbos and launch the thing like it’s a fighter jet on a steam catapult-assisted carrier take-off. Press hard enough, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well the Expedition can hook up and accelerate. (John Force probably wouldn’t be impressed, but the driver of the Tahoe sitting next to you at the light will be.)

I’ll admit it takes discipline to accelerate gently enough to keep the turbo boost low off the line, but this pays for itself at the pump with mileage numbers that weren’t out of the question for a V8-powered Explorer too many years ago. Check that. I was never able to consistently break 20 mpg on the highway with the old V8 Explorer.

I, however, had a slight advantage in the discipline sweepstakes. The day before the Expedition arrived, I pulled my back. This made pressing the throttle with any gusto an actual pain. As it healed, I was able to use the throttle more liberally, but found it easy to get up to speed quickly, then roll out when cruising speed was in sight. It had much the same effect on fuel economy, and was a lot more fun.

The turbocharged V6 produces 365 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s enough, says Ford, for a properly equipped Expedition to tow up to 9,200 pounds, and do so with a quiet and refinement the wheezy, weedy 5.4-liter V8 it replaces never could match. Part of this new-found quiet, it must be said, comes from things other than the new powerplant under the hood. Things like sound deadening packed into the center console’s walls, new door seals, new sound deadening materials, and increased sound absorbing capability in the headliner, door trim panels, wheel wells and carpet.

It’s so effective that your passengers can almost hear the MyFord Touch-induced frustration in your brain before the #$!@ words ever leave your mouth.

They may, however, be too surprised to pay any attention to what you’re saying. That’s because the 2015 Expedition offers continuously controlled damping that detects 46 distinct braking, steering and body inputs, and adjusts the damper response according to the steering rate, road inputs and vehicle weight. While I had it, the Expedition showed no tendency to wallow, pitch or heave, and cruised with an equanimity the previous generation couldn’t match — helped in part by the optional Pirelli Scorpion 22-in. wheels and tires.

The computer damper control finally lets you appreciate the independent rear suspension’s ability to resist transferring ride motions from one side of the vehicle to the other. Plus, it no longer feels divorced from the ride motions taking place up front as the front-to-rear roll couple is more harmonious.

What’s little changed, however, is the interior. Swathed in rich, aromatic Ebony Mesa leather, it makes liberal use of the King Ranch brand (most prominently on the center console cover), and adds a luxuriousness the F-150 holdover instrument panel and rather ordinary looking seats lack. And while the front seats were a (very) pleasant surprise for my sore back, the interior as a whole was dull. The second and third
row seats look like they are from the park bench school of design — flat and boring. To be fair, it’s not easy to add depth and character to a seat that, in addition to holding a passenger or two, also must fold flat, but someone somewhere should have shaken the money tree enough to try something new.

This is a nice update, one that improves the Expedition’s day-to-day livability and economy. However, it does not go quite
as far as Ford has in the past, forsaking a visually revised interior for improvements in noise abatement, ride and handling, and performance.

Stalwart Expedition buyers won’t need much more as they will never be enticed by GM’s full-size SUVs (they’d rather eat glass) or wander far from the domestic aisle. But playing to your current fan base does nothing to grow the market. Ford has shown what it can do with an established (and aging) product to make it relevant and better to drive.

Now all it has to do is continue that process, wrap it in shiny new aluminum panels, and fit an interior worthy of the price and the vehicle’s position. With the 2016 Explorer leaning more toward Land Rover for its facelift, Ford might want to consider following that path for the next generation Expedition; leaving the Range Rover look and feel to the next Navigator.

The Virtual Driver