Automobiles are so commonplace that we take them for granted and miss the fact that our autos are enormously complex. If we gave them their due, we might even view auto manufacturing as today’s foremost miracle.
Car companies design, engineer and then rapidly produce millions and millions of large, yet intricate machines that possess unimaginable power – unimaginable to earlier generations of ordinary humans. And they do it at a cost that makes cars practical and affordable for ordinary Janes and Joes like us.
That makes the car business a victim of its own success. Cars are so commonplace because they’re made so affordably. Because they’re so commonplace, we take them for granted and fail to appreciate the enormous human achievement they represent.
But here and there you see hints. A big one arrived with the two EcoBoost engines now available in the 2013 Ford Escape.
Introduced last year as a 2013 model, the new Escape is a re-engineered, next-generation vehicle. Escape is a medium-size, crossover SUV with seats for five and a deep, ample cargo space beneath a wide hatch in back. New from the tires to the antenna, the new Ford Escape is streamlined and stylishly sculpted.
Yet it retains a bold, get-around demeanor. You see that attitude in the way Escape sits high on its rear haunches and appears to lunge forward. You see it in the model’s assertive front end, with wide, tall cut-outs around the bumper and prominent strakes atop fenders and hood that streak back toward the rakish windshield. The new Escape appears well prepared for high-capacity action, for hauling people and gear with its own blend of toughness and style.
The wagon starts at a list price of $23,365 for a front-drive version with a conventional four-cylinder engine. It is 2.5 liters in size and puts out 168 horsepower. But as noted by Susan Perino, sales consultant at Regan Ford in Haverhill, drivers around here go almost entirely for all-wheel-drive versions of Escape. Look out at the roads after yesterday’s storm if you wonder why.
Escape’s all-wheel-drive variations come only with a Ford EcoBoost engine. You have a choice of two. A 1.6-liter EcoBoost four cylinder produces 178 horsepower (if you buy premium gas). That’s more power than the standard four cylinder that comes with the front-drive Escape, even though the standard engine is larger. The same goes for the second EcoBoost in Escape. At 2.0 liters – still smaller than the standard engine – it produces 240 horsepower (with premium fuel).
And here’s the real kicker. While the smaller, EcoBoost engines are more powerful, they also equal or exceed the fuel-economy returns of the larger, standard engine. The straight four cylinder with front-drive is rated 22 miles per gallon in city driving, and 31 mpg on the highway.
In a front-drive Escape, the 1.6-liter EcoBoost gets 23 city, 34 highway, while the 2.0-liter EcoBoost lands at 22 city, 30 highway. All ratings are calculated using regular gas, the recommended fuel for all three engines.
In other words, you get the best of both engine measures with EcoBoost: more power and better fuel economy. Usually those two qualities pull in opposite directions, with more power yielding reduced fuel economy and vice versa. But EcoBoost doubles them up.
Joseph Cullinan, sales manager at Regan Ford, explained that Ford accomplishes that feat by designing each EcoBoost engine from a clean sheet of paper. Instead of just cobbling improvements onto an existing engine design – a common approach in the car biz – EcoBoost engineers create a whole new motor around state-of-the-art fuel-management technologies, combining them in ways that maximize their effectiveness. Therefore Ford wrings peak performance from the latest, best ideas in engine design.
It’s not revolutionary the way, say, hydrogen-powered electric cars may someday be. But EcoBoost is darn smart. And it’s achievable, as Ford has shown.
Still, designing clean-sheet engines and then mating them to specific vehicles takes time. That’s where we get our hint about the true complexity of cars. Ford already has been selling EcoBoost engines for a few years. In fact, you could have purchased a four-cylinder EcoBoost engine in last year’s, prior-generation Ford Escape.
But virtually no one in the Merrimack Valley did, because last year the EcoBoost was available only in the front-drive Escape, which we winter-tuned New Englanders just don’t buy.
Vehicles are so enormously complex that Ford needed time to mate its winning EcoBoost engines to the all-wheel-drive systems installed in Escape. In fact, it took a redesign of the entire vehicle, tires up, to accommodate the better engines and all-wheel drive together. Now, in the new, 2013 Ford Escape, EcoBoost is all we get in Escapes with four-wheel traction.
“People are impressed by the fuel economy, and by the power they’re getting even though it’s a four cylinder,” said Perino of Regan Ford. “And they’re still getting that four-wheel drive” that’s so popular here.
So a slickly styled crossover wagon with a smart engine system that doubles up on benefits is proving to be popular. Sounds like a pretty simple formula.
2013 Ford Escape Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive crossover SUV Price range: $23,365 to $33,015 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/60,000 roadside assistance Engine (with AWD): 1.6-liter turbocharged I4 Power: 178 horsepower at 5,000 rpm; 184 lb.-ft. torque at 2,500 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic Fuel economy: 22 mpg city; 30 mpg highway Wheelbase: 106 inches Length: 178 inches Width: 72 inches Height: 66 inches Weight: 3,515 pounds Fuel capacity: 15.1 gallons Turning circle: 38.8 feet