September 15, 2011
Four-cylinder fuel economy with V6 power. It's the kind of having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too scenario SUV-buying Americans want. Ford's answer to this dilemma is smaller-displacement engines augmented with turbochargers. Fuel economy is better and performance is, well, close enough. Call it EcoBoost.
"The EcoBoost Explorer is for a buyer who has utility needs that the vehicle provides but who doesn't require as much capability," said Explorer Marketing Manager Eric Peterson. "It's for someone invested in fuel economy." And it is efficient, netting 20 city/28 highway mpg and 23 combined mpg according to the EPA, while still producing 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Compared with the V6, this is a 3-mpg combined increase in fuel economy and a 15 lb-ft improvement in torque. (Ignore the 50-hp advantage to the V6 for a moment.)
Also in comparison to the V6, the EcoBoost 2.0-liter engine adds $995 to the bottom line. Is it worth it? We just added the 2012 Ford Explorer XLT EcoBoost to our Long-Term Test fleet to find out.
What We Got
The 2012 Ford Explorer is available in three trim levels — base, XLT and Limited. The base SUV gets 17-inch wheels, integrated blind-spot mirrors, roof rails, cruise control, power driver seat with manual recline, a tilt-and-telescoping wheel, MyFord trip computer and a pretty basic stereo. We didn't want that.
Stepping up to the XLT gets you 18-inch wheels, automatic headlights, rear parking sensors and an optional Driver Connect package that has upgraded Sync and, more importantly, MyFord Touch. This newest tool in Ford's multimedia armory is making waves for being too slow and too complicated. We want to see how it feels after a year of use. We were definitely interested in this trim and could do without the Limited trim level's 20-inch wheels. The XLT starts at $31,980. But you know us....
What we really wanted was an XLT with EcoBoost and MyFord Touch. We didn't need many options but wanted the $995 engine. What we found, though, was a market flooded with fully loaded cars, dealer-installed wheels and really expensive ($1,595) dual-panel sunroofs.
That is, until we found an Ingot Silver XLT with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost inline-4 (front-wheel drive with a six-speed automatic, as that's the only drivetrain paired with the EcoBoost) at Power Ford in Torrance. It had the $3,520 205A equipment package which includes MyFord Touch, Sync, rearview camera, dual-zone A/C and the Comfort package. We also got a power liftgate ($495), blind spot monitor with inflatable rear seatbelts in the second row ($595) and navigation with voice controls ($795). But we did avoid the sunroof.
Ford was quick with the rebates and let us out the door for $35,402 on a car with an MSRP of $38,485.
Cost vs. Benefit
The 2012 Ford Explorer XLT EcoBoost is an interesting proposition; there is a power loss but a torque gain, a price premium and a fuel economy advantage, and then there's the small-engine/big-car conundrum. Towing capacity is reduced from 5,000 to 2,000 pounds. It's a light-duty SUV for someone with light-duty needs, which, if we're honest, is how Explorers are used most of the time anyway.
One factor tipping the scale in favor of the EcoBoost is that Ford recommends the same 87-octane fuel for the turbo engine as it does for the V6 — although running the stuff yields a reduction in power and torque to 233 hp and 266 lb-ft. Assuming a per-gallon cost of $3.66 (the current national average for regular fuel according to U.S. Energy Information Administration) and considering the 3-mpg combined difference versus the V6, almost 42,000 miles must be covered to make up the additional cost of the EcoBoost engine in fuel cost savings alone.
We'll drive the car and do the math. You decide if it's worth it. Twelve months and 20,000 miles with this SUV should be enough time to figure out if EcoBoost is the do-all solution. Follow along on our long-term blogs to find out.
Current Odometer: 1,110.6
Best Fuel Economy: 19.4
Worst Fuel Economy: 18.8
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 19.1
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.