The full-size SUV, species Gigantus Utilitas Amnericanus, stands like a mighty and proud American Bison. The even-toed ungulate’s wet nose nervously sniffs the threatening winds of change that blows across the prairie and buffets its coarse brown mane. For now, the herd stands proud and strong in suburban habitats. But today the mighty beast catches the scent of three long rifle-wielding predators: Panic, Price and Patriotism. Squarely in their sights stands the Ford Expedition King Ranch Edition.
In my quest to pit the new Toyota Sequoia against its American competition, I wanted to compare apples to apples. Unfortunately, at the time of the test, my Texas Ford didn’t have any SUVs in stock that match ToMoCo’s big rig in Platinum trim. The Expedition King Ranch I tested lacked 4-wheel drive and navigation system common to the new Sequoia and “White Diamond” Chevy Tahoe LTZ. Still, I got a gen-u-ine flavor of what The Blue Oval Boyz have to offer in the big and tall department.
Are there ANY stunning beauties in this category? I suppose not. And for people with environmental concerns at the forefront of their consciousness, the expansive special edition Expedition is especially devastatingly hideous. While the bigger-is-better crowd will find it irresistible, the mondo-SUV is, at its core, an unremarkably inoffensive big box hiding behind an F-150 mask. A handful of King Ranch logos branded on the flanks and rear end distinguished my tester from the rest of Expeditiondom.
Open any door and [optional] power-actuated running boards flip down to offer you a convenient step-up. Gorgeous Chaparral leather wraps the steering wheel and covers the seat surfaces, furnishing the cabin like a New Mexico ski lodge. Padded leather–embossed "King Ranch"– tops the wide center console separating the front seats. While this rustic look clashes with the industrial-styled dials and gauges, compared to the frenetic Sequoia dash, the Ford is a serene work of art.
The King Ranch’s fit and finish are remarkable. The tight-fitting steel round vents, for example, feel both precise and robust. One gripe: the RPM and MPH gauges are spaced too widely-– like eyes on a cow. Otherwise, Ford’s “tough luxury” theme is a time-tested triumph.
The Ford matches Toyota’s third-row seating comfort and does it one better. Second-row Sequoia Platinum passengers are separated by a rear seat center console. The King Ranch features second-row captain's chairs sans a center console and egress to the commodious third-row is as easy as stepping between the seats.
Sit at the helm of this suburban behemoth and a major shortcoming becomes immediately apparent. It’s hard to see out in any direction other than forward. Ford’s high-sided gunnels and thick B, C & D-pillars make rearward navigation a job for the mission critical– but optional– reverse camera.
Even without 4WD, the Expedition King Ranch feels heavier than the Tahoe or Sequoia. In fact, I swore I could feel smaller objects (bicycles, strollers, smart cars) drawing into its orbit. In Newtonian fashion, this massive object resists acceleration. And once in motion, the mega-machine wants to stay in motion. Weak binders with overactive ABS and imaginative electronic stability control system sent the brakes anti-locking more often than in any other vehicle I’ve driven.
The 5.4-liter three-valve Triton V8 charged with motivating the Expedition drinks like John Daly in the Hooters hospitality tent at a PGA tournament. In 4×2 trim, the powerplant chugs a gallon of gasoline every 12 miles around town and 18 whilst cruising the open roads. In its defense: 9000 lbs. towing capacity.
Load-leveling rear air suspension does a surprisingly good job of keeping the big rig flat during corners. But the electronically controlled air bladders failed to master the old world Denton County roads that are so patched and cracked that they’ve taken on the look of an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. Neither could the power steering hold this heifer to a straight line for any stretch of time at freeway speeds.
As tested, the King Ranch rings in at $47,695. Pony up for all the toys to bring the King Ranch onto par with the fancy Tahoe and Sequoia (including $4400 four-wheel drive), and the Ford’s MSRP tops $54K. That’s nearly $4K less than the White Diamond and $6K less than ToMoCo’s Platinum. To sweeten the deal, Ford’s currently putting another $5K on the hood to help move their moribund mastodon. Toyota? Not so much.
Log a few miles in the Expedition King Ranch Edition and you’ll swear it has as much interior square footage as a one-room frontier cabin from the days that herds of buffalo wildly roamed North America’s Great Plains. And it’s a much nicer place to spend time, to boot. But its insatiable appetite for unleaded and its porcine driving dynamics are — rightly– driving this bovine to extinction.