Ford EcoBoost SUVs

EcoBoost makes dollars and sense

ROMEO, MICH. — Special to The Globe and Mail

To boost or not to boost?

That is the question facing Ford’s 2012 Edge and Explorer buyers, because both vehicles will offer a refined new 2.0-litre turbocharged EcoBoost four on top of their standard V-6s. An optional four, on fairly hefty SUVs, that’s both smaller and less horsepower-heavy than the standard V-6? And Ford expects folks to dish out an extra $1,000 or more for it?

All good questions, and ones that Ford knows will be tough for many SUV buyers to accept any time soon. You see, up until now, all Ford EcoBoost engines have been more about “boost” than “Eco,” with twin-turbo V-6s becoming the top-line engine on the Taurus SHO and the Flex family hauler, while a related but toughened up 3.5 EcoBoost V-6 even out-muscles the one-up 5.0-litre V-8 option in Canada’s most popular truck, the F-150 pickup.

Indeed, more than 40 per cent of Canadian F-150 buyers opted for the EcoBoost V-6 in August, with similar numbers in the U.S., making the EcoBoost V-6 the volume engine soon after it debuted earlier this year. Even Ford execs have been surprised how quickly long-time V-8 truck buyers have adopted the EB V-6. Though perhaps it’s not that surprising, given that the majority of pickup buyers are cost-conscious business folks, ones who see dollar signs not only at the lower fuel consumption compared to the V-8, but also the higher towing and hauling capabilities.

So it seems that many buyers are comfortable with the increasingly widespread “smaller engine sizes can mean more power with better fuel consumption” formula.

Though newer engines may be smaller in displacement than before, the basic pattern has stayed relatively consistent over the automobile’s 100-year-plus year history: car buyers paid more money for more power, more room or more luxury. Increasing any of these attributes typically meant a decrease in fuel economy over the base engine.

But now comes the real paradigm shift: will buyers pay more for less? Will more money for less power become the norm, if it means (eventual) savings at the fuel pump? And how does inflicting (slightly) less harm to the environment enter into this equation, if it does at all? Are we willing to pay a “green” premium?

It’s these types of big-picture questions that make the addition of a 2.0-litre turbocharged, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine option to the seven-seat Ford Explorer and the Oakville, Ont.-built Edge crossover for 2012 so intriguing. The intrigue increases after you’ve spent some time behind the wheel of this small but perky engine.

The single turbo four in this latest EcoBoost engine makes 240 hp, which is a significant 50 horses down from the V-6 in the Explorer, and 45 less than the one in the lighter Ford Edge. But the 2.0-litre also offers peak torque of 270 lb-ft, which is actually higher than the standard V-6 in both SUVs by about 15 lb-ft. Also increasing the subjective oomph factor is that this grunt comes in at lower rpm, at a much more common 3,000 rpm versus a more frantic 4,000.

In a brief drive surrounding Ford’s Romeo, Mich., proving grounds, the Explorer handled the mostly flat geography with a surprising amount of verve and sophistication, even with three adults and a healthy amount of luggage on board.

Sure, there were passing situations at highway speeds where a bit more juice would have been welcome. But this four does an amazing impression of a V-6, and may even be smoother than the naturally aspirated six, though there wasn’t the time or the vehicle accessible to test it against.

Ford folks were loath to divulge acceleration times, but estimated the Explorer four would do zero to highway speeds in about eight seconds, with the Edge four coming in around 7.5 seconds. Sport-ute engineering manager Carl Widmann conceded that the EcoBoost four is slower to highway speeds by about three-quarters of a second than the V-6 Explorer, due to a 2-3 up-shift that doesn’t happen in the six until after 60 mph.

Our shorter time with the 2.0-litre Edge on Ford’s artificially hilly proving grounds showed that its lighter weight certainly made for a more spritely beast, as expected, although you still wouldn’t call it overtly sporty. Comfort and fuel economy are certainly the emphasis here, as it likely is with most mid-size utility buyers.

On the fuel economy front, the EcoBoosted Explorer boasts official Canadian figures of 10.4 litres/100 km city and 7.0 highway, versus the V-6’s 11.9 city/8.0 highway. This V-6 figure was already lower than its three-row Detroit-based competition, but even the EcoBoosted engine is still on par with the Toyota Sienna minivan and higher than the all-wheel-drive Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

For the Edge, the Ecoboost engine lowers fuel consumption to 9.9 city/6.6 highway. This may be a touch higher than some of its four-cylinder rivals, but with a much more powerful and refined powertrain than other base fours.

Of course, those are official lab figures, in which the vehicles never accelerate past 95 km/h or turn on the A/C, as the Canadian government has not adopted the more realistic fuel consumption measurements that the U.S. government has in the past few years.

The EcoBoost four costs $1,000 in the Explorer, and an extra $1,200 in the Edge. Ford estimates this engine will pay itself off in 2.5 years, depending on how much – and how – one drives. Regardless of how long it will take, most buyers will certainly make up that cost in hard dollars.

In the end, a full-size, three-row SUV like the Explorer offering a four-cylinder engine would be unheard of just five years ago. With fuel prices in Canada averaging $1.26 a litre, or approaching the equivalent of $5 per U.S. gallon, paying more for less is suddenly starting to seem like a very reasonable proposition.

Tech specs

2012 Ford Explorer Limited EcoBoost

Type: Full-size six- to seven-passenger SUV

Base price: $29,999; as tested, $43,649 (estimated)

Engine: 2.0-litre, direct injection, turbocharged, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 240 hp/270 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.4 city/7.0 highway; premium recommended

Alternatives: Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz, Mazda CX-9, Volkswagen Touareg

Tech specs

2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost

Type: Mid-size five-seat crossover/SUV

Base price: $27,999; as tested $30,649 (estimated)

Engine: 2.0-litre, direct injection, turbocharged, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 240 hp/270 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 city/6.6 highway; premium recommended

Alternatives: Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-7, Subaru Outback, Toyota Venza

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