Discussions about offering eenie turbocharged engines in big people movers usually happen at German, French or Italian automakers. They have long proved willing to stuff base engines so small into multi-ton vehicles for years. And while those economy specials are popular enough ‘back home’, rarely do they ever break into North America. Until now.
|1. Ford’s Ecoboost 4-cylinder makes its debut here, with 247 horsepower and 270 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm.
2. Fuel economy is 21 mpg city and 30 mpg around town, substantial improvements over the V6 models.
3. The Ecoboost carries a $995 premium over the V6, but is only available with front-wheel drive.
Ford started offering its EcoBoost technology back in 2009 – the twin-turbocharged, direct-injection 355-hp 3.5-liter V6 first made appearances in the Taurus SHO and Flex SUV promising a serious power hike with no fuel penalty. Over one-third of Ford’s new-car buyers list good fuel economy as the leading decision-maker. Sure enough, the company expects to roll EcoBoost through the rest of its line – over 90 percent of models will have the technology as an option by 2013.
The strategy has taken a new twist, though, when it comes to Ford’s taller offerings. The facelifted 2012 Edge crossover already offers two different displacement V6’s. With the largest putting out over 300 horsepower in the top-line Sport, the mid-sized crossover needed a way to improve its fuel mileage while limiting increases in cost and weight.
So Ford is offering a four-cylinder option on the Edge, a rarity in its class. We’re familiar with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine from its promised appearances in the upcoming Focus ST hatchback and the Range Rover Evoque. But those are both significantly smaller and lighter than the 4,050-lb Edge. Still, Ford over-delivered – at least on the spec sheet: 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque that peaks at 3,000 rpm.
The six-speed automatic is identical to the V6, although the four-banger uses slightly higher gear ratios and final drive to improve acceleration and mitigate the power difference. Unfortunately, EcoBoost is only available with front-wheel drive, which might limit its appeal in snowy climes. All told, the EcoBoost is the lightest Edge on sale to date, about 60 lb lighter than the FWD V6 and almost 250 lb than the AWD.
The only other tweaks Ford added to improve fuel economy are active grille shutters that close at speed to aid efficiency, and lower rolling-resistance tires throughout the range.
So does the EcoBoost make its argument as a fuel-sipping alternative? It could be... It’s rated at 21 mpg in the city and cracks 30 mpg on the highway (vs. 19/27 in the FWD V6 or 18/25 for the AWD V6.) That’s class-leading economy without sacrificing much in overall thrust.
Ford introduced us to the EcoBoost Edge at its giant Michigan Proving Ground where we evaluated it both on local roads, and along the company’s ‘hill’ course. The three-mile loop is designed to simulate long stretches of uphill climbs with some constant-radius sweepers thrown in for good measure. Coming down the back side doesn’t reveal much about the engine, but highlighted again that the Edge is one of the steadier and predictable performers in its class.
The EcoBoost is happy to chirp the front wheels if you’re aggressive with the go-pedal at low speeds. Climbing at wide-open-throttle, you do get a hint of torque-steer near the upper end of the engine’s rev range. The party’s over by 6,000 rpm, though, and the 2.0-liter isn’t terribly melodious at that range.
Otherwise, the EcoBoost Edge mimics its six-cylinder playmates – it shares the same trim levels, wheel sizes and technological options with only a small square EcoBoost badge on the tailgate and the front fenders. It’s a subtle upgrade, for sure. There’s no boost gauge inside to distinguish the ‘blown’ engine option. Just the same brilliant but deeply flawed MyFordTouch system that has a steep learning curve. Its layout leads drivers to spend too much time scanning the touch screen rather than the road.
Downsides? Well, if you have any plans for towing, Ford doesn’t offer its Class II hitch with the EcoBoost engine. And there’s the little matter of pricing. Contrary to popular opinion, the EcoBoost is not the new entry-level engine; that’s left to the 285-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Choosing the turbo-four runs you the better part of $1,000, even though it produces less power than the ‘six’. Ford’s line of thinking is that the EcoBoost provides a fuel-savings option that would be positioned similarly to a hybrid vehicle, but without the complications of packaging batteries and an electric motor.
Just doing some back-of-the-napkin math, though, if a driver hypothetically drives 15,000 miles a year, the difference in fuel savings between the EcoBoost and the V6 is only $225 a year. The turbocharged Edge needs four years to ‘make’ its thousand-dollar investment back. That’s better than most hybrid options, which still ring in around five or six years, and that time only decreases as the price of gas rises.
The Edge itself was heavily revamped for 2011, so all of its changes and upgrades carry through unchanged. The EcoBoost pricing starts at $28,635 for the budget SE, $31,940 for the mid-range SEL and $35,795 for the full-load Limited. Super-popular options include the MyFordTouch ($750) and the Panoramic Vista Roof ($1,595).
Worth it? On first blush, and without having a more extensive drive, including back-to-back with the V6, it’s hard to recommend. There’s certainly a very small percentage of the Edge’s market that is looking at, say, four-cylinder Toyota Venzas, or maybe Subaru Foresters? Better to have the option there if needed rather than letting a customer escape to another dealership.
For now, we’ll tag the Edge EcoBoost as just another marketing-driven project, but we do look forward to a more extensive test to have Ford prove us wrong.