First Drive: 2012 Ford EcoBoost Engine
At Ford's Proving Grounds in and around Romeo, Michigan, the excitement is wrenched up with the announcement of EcoBoost engines available in Ford's 2012 Edge and Explorer crossovers. This small-displacement, turbocharged formula is already well-established in Europe, and it has enjoyed growing recognition in the guise of the EcoBoost-powered F-Series. Here in the States, the turbocharged technology's introduction to the volume-oriented crossover would seem a no-brainer. Yet even today, the 'no-brainer' isn't a guarantee in Detroit, so the formal announcement was met with considerable interest by the automotive media assembled at the Proving Grounds.
The concept of turbocharging a small displacement powerplant isn't rocket science. With air forcibly fed via an exhaust-driven compressor into the combustion chamber, power is multiplied, bringing that power and torque to a level comparable with larger displacement engines. Yet in normal, low-rev commuting the turbo remains a reduced factor in the combustion equation, so the smaller displacement's powertrain continues to deliver higher levels of economy. It's what the analysts call a win-win, and begs the question: Why weren't the Big Three doing more of this sooner?
And while we won't ponder that question, we can report that Ford's EcoBoost four is good stuff, especially when installed in Ford's midsize Edge. With 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, the newly available engine is connected to the front wheels (only) via its 6-speed automatic transmission. We found acceleration brisk, the platform tossable and the engine's intrusiveness well-masked. In combination with a midcycle tuning of its suspension and cosmetic enhancements to the front fascia, the Edge is a compelling reason to consider 'American' when shopping for a midsize crossover capable of an EPA rating of 21 City and 30 Highway.
With a third row (and almost four hundred pounds of additional curb weight), Ford's Explorer is a larger proposition and, with the same boosted 2.0 liter four, an arguably weaker recipe. Acceleration was merely adequate, and with more than the driver and one passenger - in short, a full load of passengers and their gear - we suspect the driving experience would be marginal. For those that simply want the cubic volume, and don't intend to haul around six of their closest friends, the Explorer will deliver an EPA of 20 in the city and 28 miles per gallon on the highway. With all that it has going for it, we'd opt for the V6 in the Explorer, and wish for a manual transmission or manually controlled automatic in the Edge.
Other areas of interest in Romeo included a fuel economy demonstration, with Ford's new Focus facing off against Hyundai's new Elantra. At roughly 45 miles per hour in an admittedly less-than-scientific environment, the Focus outran the Elantra, delivering over 44 observed miles per gallon while the Elantra delivered 38. And in a short handling demonstration against the 2012 Honda Civic 4-door, we found the Focus both more composed and more comfortable.