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The new (fuel) economy

Ford answers consumer trends

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DEARBORN, Mich. -- Fuel economy has become a key factor in consumers' purchasing decisions and Ford is responding to that priority by offering more fuel-efficient products in its 2013 portfolio than ever before.

In fact, Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, said his company is making available by year end "eight vehicles in our lineup that deliver 40 miles per gallon (5.8 litres per 100 kilometres) -- that's more than General Motors and Toyota combined."

Across the board, Ford's products have posted double-digit improvement in fuel efficiency since the company launched its Blueprint for Sustainability plan in 2007.

The Focus has a 21-per-cent increase in highway fuel economy; the new mid-sized Fusion making its debut this fall is expected to be 28-per-cent more fuel-efficient; the new 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder being introduced in the 2013 Taurus will boost its fuel efficiency by 27 per cent; the new Escape (32 per cent) and Explorer (40 per cent) have set new standards for fuel efficiency in utility vehicles.

Even the sporty Mustang and F-150 pickup are boasting better fuel consumption ratings -- the Mustang at 24 per cent and the iconic truck at 21 per cent.

A major element in this new efficiency is Ford's EcoBoost technology, which uses turbocharging to help give smaller-displacement engines big-bore muscle. The introduction of a 2.0L four in Ford's flagship Taurus full-sized family sedan exemplifies the benefits of this technology.

U.S. government fuel-economy ratings confirm the Taurus with the EcoBoost four will deliver a class-leading 32 miles per U.S. gallon on the highway (Canadian ratings have not been released, but it translates to 7.3 L/100 km). Ford says that's more efficient than three of its top competitors -- the Chevy Impala, Chrysler 300 and Toyota Avalon. Its combined rating -- 26 mpg (9.0 L/100 km) -- beats the Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec diesel, Toyota Camry V6 and Porsche Cayenne Hybrid.

The Taurus 2.0L is a $1,000 option in Canada and is available on SE and SEL trims.

The Taurus, despite its small engine, is no slouch on the road. This four-banger generates 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque and partners well with the six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission to get the most out of that output.

In a brief drive on public roads near Ford's Dearborn proving grounds, the 2.0L Taurus accelerated with vigour. In fact, I inadvertently (and unexpectedly) chirped the tires, out-hustling a Chevy from a stoplight. The Taurus was equally adept at accelerating into traffic on a freeway, where passing power at speed was readily available as well. It seems, with this new engine, that Ford has found the secret to delivering spirited performance and impressive fuel efficiency in a full-sized sedan.

"Ford understands people want fuel-efficient vehicles but don't want to sacrifice power, cargo space or convenience preferences to get them," says Raj Nair, vice-president of Engineering for Global Product Development. "Taurus fuel economy showcases Ford's success in developing smaller yet more powerful engines for its larger vehicles."

To satisfy consumer preferences, the 2013 Taurus will be offered with two other engine options -- both still delivering impressive fuel efficiency. The base 3.5L V6 engine has been updated with twin independent variable camshaft timing, adding 25 hp plus a slight gain in efficiency compared with the previous base V6. For high-performance enthusiasts, the SHO (Super High Output) sport sedan retains its 3.5L EcoBoost V6 producing 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque.

The EcoBoost family of engines continues to grow. Ford provided an opportunity to try out its 1.0L three-cylinder during this media preview. This mighty-mite motor is already available in the European version of the Focus, where it was just named the 2012 international engine of the year. It's the smallest, quietest engine Ford has built, yet its 123 ponies delivered impressive performance in the U.S.-spec Focus I tested here.

Ford is staying mum on its plans for this engine on this side of the Atlantic, other than to confirm that it will be offered here "in a small car next year." With it already fitted well into this Focus mule, it's a safe bet that will be the "small car" that carries this engine into the North American market.

Two EcoBoost engines are being offered in the all-new 2013 Escape compact SUV, and both were available for evaluation here. The 1.6L four-cylinder had decent power when it was driven hard around a twisty circuit on the proving grounds, but the 2.0L engine really stepped up the performance level. The Escape with this powerplant pulled hard out of tight corners and seemed willing to spool up without effort, although the course layout didn't allow for any high-speed driving.

We also had a quick peek at the new Fusion, which goes on sale this fall. Former Ford of Canada president Dave Mondragon said the new Fusion will offer the broadest range of engines in the model's history. Customers will be able to choose from a pure electric powertrain or a plug-in hybrid system, as well as a choice of two gasoline engines -- a 1.6L four-cylinder and a 2.0L four, both with EcoBoost. The new Fusion will also feature front-wheel or all-wheel drive and automatic or manual transmissions.

On display but not available for evaluation was the 2013 C-Max Hybrid utility vehicle, which is expected to deliver fuel efficiency of 47 mpg (5.0 L.100 km) -- better than the Toyota Prius V hybrid. The C-Max, which goes on sale this fall, will also have 50 more hp than the Prius V, with more performance and technology, Ford says.

While Ford says its 2013 product lineup is the freshest in the industry, it vows to continue to introduce new models, taking advantage of its global strategy, which is trimming its distinct vehicle platforms from 22 in 2011 to just 10 by 2017. In fact, 80 per cent of the vehicles it plans to build in 2016 will be based on just five global platforms -- a move that will enable the company to bring new products to the marketplace even faster.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2012 E10

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