Usually in preparation for a road trip, there is mental math to be done. Can all the bags be Tetrised in? Will there be enough room left over for food and gear? Can the dogs take up the whole back seat, or will stuff need to go back there, too?
For this road trip with the 2020 Ford Expedition King Ranch, it totally didn’t matter. Pack all the bags, bring the cooler, throw in the sofa if you’d like. Swap out the 20-pound dogs for a pair of St. Bernards, whatever. Oh, and should we suddenly acquire a boat or something, hitch that sucker up.
Immediately, it’s easy to see why the Expedition makes for compelling family transport. There’s less preparation to be done. You’re prepared for more eventualities. That extends to the people you’re bringing along, too. While a jumbo crossover like the Hyundai Palisade provides “adult-friendly” space in all three rows, the Expedition can comfortably accommodate the starting lineup of an NBA team. And the coach. And that’s not hyperbole, there really is that much more space and the seats really are that much more comfortable.
Now, many will certainly say that a minivan is equally capable of being prepared for all space-based eventualities. In fact, they even offer more cargo room behind their third rows than the Expedition can manage (although the extended-length Expedition Max evens the scales). However, it takes a lot of guts to haul around an NBA team, the coach, the point guard’s boat and a roof carrier with their luggage. The Pacifica isn’t getting that done.
Instead, the Expedition has a 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 good for 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. Read that again. That’s a massive amount of power for something that’s ostensibly a family vehicle. This brilliant engine is also tremendously smooth and quiet, except when you really gun it, in which case it has a nice, deep snarl. There’s no uncouth truckish roar here. Whether blasting off the line or passing on the highway, it actually surprises you how quick it can be. Ford absolutely could’ve put a smaller base engine in the Expedition and no one would’ve complained. Instead, it offers an even more powerful version good for 400 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque on the Platinum trim. Good grief.
Of course, with great power comes a great big fuel bill, right? Well, the EPA rates a 4×4 Expedition like this one at 19 mpg combined with a 22-mpg highway estimate. I managed 19.2 mpg during my 540-mile all-highway road trip. That isn’t bad, especially when you consider my tester had the optional towing package and its 3.73 axle ratio. For comparison sake, a Hyundai Palisade gets 21 mpg combined and 24 mpg highway. That’s not that different given their size and power difference, and in the course of a year, the EPA says you’ll only spend an extra $200 filling the Ford.
What about other truck-based full-sizers? Well, the Toyota Sequoia gets 14 mpg combined and you’d spend an extra $800 per year over the Hyundai. Admittedly, that truck was introduced during the W. Bush Administration. The current-generation Chevy Tahoe is the better analog at 17 mpg combined, but it’s still another $200 per year beyond the Expedition. And let’s not forget its standard 5.3-liter V8 produces only 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque (EPA numbers for the 2021 Tahoe are not yet available, and although its engine betters the 2020’s, it still falls short of the base Ford’s in power).
So the Expedition is gigantic, massively powerful and doesn’t suffer for it too badly at the pump. This King Ranch trim level is also impressively swank. Though the name readies you for an eye-searing cowboy motif, its interior color scheme is fashionably tasteful, the badging’s restrained and the exterior bling subdued. Even the styling of lesser Expeditions isn’t an orgy of chrome and brash, overwrought grilling. Indeed, on the Autoblog podcast, we even argued that the Expedition looks better than its Lincoln Navigator sibling. That’s certainly not the case inside, but it’s not like the F-150 King Ranch that donated its interior design is overtly trucky. There’s two-tone leather everywhere, open-pore wood on the center console (and if it’s not actually wood, it sure looks the part), and copious creature comforts. This is a luxury vehicle, even if the design doesn’t scream it.
Here come the downsides, though. Compared to every large crossover, the Expedition’s steering is slow, numb and not especially precise around corners – and by “corners” in this case, I atypically mean “long sweepers on the Interstate.” This is partly understandable as dartier steering could exacerbate driver over-corrections and increase the chance of the top-heavy Expedition doing somersaults. If anything, it would just be nice if an automated steering assist function was included with the otherwise well-executed adaptive cruise control.
The ride is another example of an inherent truck element that Ford engineers did their damndest to glaze over. Mostly, it’s wildly impressive that a truck-based SUV can have a ride as supple yet controlled as the Expedition’s. Credit masterful tuning of the independent front and rear suspension. At times, it’s genuinely luxurious. At many other times, however, vibrations from higher-frequency bumps are transmitted from the body-on-frame chassis into the driver’s hands and throughout the interior’s seat bottoms. It still has the jittery feeling of a truck, and although not pronounced, you also won’t get that in a Palisade or Pacifica.
And then there’s the price. The Expedition King Ranch starts at $77,420, and this one with minimal options goes for $79,585. Ka-ching. Basically, you could buy a well-equipped Palisade and Pacifica for that, or a loaded one of them and pocket $30,000 for future boat rentals. You could also pick up a base Lincoln Navigator for roughly the same price and get even goofier power, an adaptive suspension, the swankier cabin and nearly the same luxury equipment. Of course, the Expedition XLT 4×4 starts at $57,215, is actually pretty well equipped (you can find a basic run-down in our full 2020 Expedition review), and for roughly an extra $3,000 you can make it an Expedition Max that adds a foot of length and 16.9 cubic-feet of cargo space.
That seems like it would be the 2020 Expedition at its most sensible, all-eventualities best. It’s at a price point well clear of the Navigator while justifying its price premium over other jumbo family conveyances by providing the same extra space, comfort and performance that so impressed during this test. Sure, your friends on the Nuggets won’t enjoy the same cowboy chic interior, but hey, they can afford to drive themselves around.