2012 Ford Explorer EcoBoost

By Zach Bowman

Ford is no stranger to convincing buyers to embrace smaller displacement, forced-induction engines over their larger, naturally-aspirated counterparts. A little less than a year ago, skeptics wondered whether typically change-averse full-size truck consumers would be willing to swap their tried-and-true V8 for the turbocharged V6 EcoBoost engine now available in the F-150. According to Ford, that question has been answered – fully 41 percent of its half-ton pickups are rolling out the door with a forced-induction six-cylinder under the hood.

There’s no great mystery behind the trend. As fuel prices have inched their way upward, vehicle shoppers have begun to count efficiency among the biggest factors that influence their final decision. According to Ford, a whopping 35 percent of Explorer buyers count the vehicle’s fuel efficiency as the biggest reason behind their purchase.

Now the Dearborn-based automaker is hoping to repeat the success of the F-150 with the Explorer, and its smaller stablemate, the Edge, by welcoming a new, smaller engine to the EcoBoost family: a 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injected inline four-cylinder. This engine boasts more torque and greater fuel efficiency than the standard 3.5-liter V6, but gives up a few horses and will cost shoppers an additional $995 when it hits dealers.
Externally, it takes a sharp eye to pick out the Explorer EcoBoost from its V6 brethren. Newly designed side mirrors and subtle badge work on the rear hatch are the only real indicators that set the model apart from the rest of the flock, though extensive aerodynamic work has been hidden behind the front fascia to increase the vehicle’s efficiency. That includes active aero shutters behind the front grille that automatically close at a certain speeds to reduce drag. Ford doesn’t recommend using the EcoBoost-equipped Explorer for any serious towing. Max capacity is rated at 2,000 pounds, which means spotters aren’t likely to see a hitch dangling from the rear of the vehicle, either.

The story is much the same indoors. There is no differentiation between the cabins of EcoBoost and naturally-aspirated models. Ford even averted the easy trap of splaying the dash, floor mats and steering wheel with the EcoBoost logo. It’s all clean and very familiar, right down to the MyFord Touch system. If you weren’t a fan of the tech integration before, odds are you won’t find anything to smile about in its presence here, though Ford is quick to remind its detractors that the system enjoys a staggering 90 percent take rate on the Explorer. We have a sneaking suspicion that fact may have as much to do with how the vehicle’s option packages are arranged than any real affinity for the color-coded touch screen interface, however.

Whereas the vehicle’s exterior and interior have remained untouched, the engine bay has received a substantial overhaul. Ford has managed to pull an impressive 240 horsepower from the turbocharged inline four-cylinder at 5,500 rpm and an even headier 270 pound-feet of torque at a substantially lower 3,000 rpm. Those figures fall 50 ponies shy of the standard 3.5-liter V6, but eclipse the larger displacement six-cylinder’s torque figures by 15 lb-ft. Both engines are coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, but Ford says that the 2.0-liter EcoBoost can return an EPA-rated 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, an improvement of three miles per gallon in both city and highway driving over the base vehicle.

Part of that increase in fuel efficiency is due to a slight reduction in weight. With two fewer cylinders aboard, the 2.0-liter EcoBoost weighs around 80 pounds lighter than the standard 3.5-liter V6. Additionally, Ford isn’t offering the EcoBoost SUV with all-wheel drive. All that power from the 2.0-liter gets dumped to the pavement via the front wheels only, which makes the machine more comfortable fielding fair-weather mall duty than snowy winter mountain passes, and it also lightens the load by a whole drive axle.

And that’s just fine. Ford has brought all of its engineering muscle to bear on this all-aluminum EcoBoost four-cylinder, and as a result, the engine packs twin independently variable cams for greater efficiency over the entire rev range as well as polished bucket tappets, sodium-filled exhaust valves for greater durability and an exhaust manifold integrated into the aluminum cylinder head to save weight. That last bit also decreases the time it takes for the engine to reach optimum operating temperature, which reduces wear on the turbo and increases longevity at the same time.

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