Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2012 Ford Explorer EcoBoost and 2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost test drive review

Maintaining this little blog is a fun hobby, but it doesn’t pay the bills. That’s why in real life, I work as the senior editor for Penton Media’s Automobile Red Book. I research new and used cars, gather specifications, new pricing, and VIN information; then determine used values to the best of my ability.

The Red Book has been in business for a cool 100 years in 2011, and I’m proud to say that I’ve been a part of it for the past eight. The work we do here may not cure cancer, but it does touch literally millions of people. So I think it’s important to maintain credibility within the auto industry.

One of the benefits of working for a respected publication like the Red Book is that we are often recognized by automotive manufacturers. I’ve had the opportunity to go places, see things, and drive vehicles that I never would have without this job.

One of our latest test drives was the 2012 Ford Explorer and Ford Edge, both with the new 2.0-liter, turbocharged, direct-injected “EcoBoost” engine. Ford recently invited a co-worker and me to their home turf near Detroit, Mich., to get some quality time behind the wheel of their latest fuel-saving crossovers.

Now, we drove these vehicles back-to-back, but the Edge and the Explorer are somewhat different in their execution. The Explorer, of course, is a larger vehicle, called on to replace the famous (and sometimes infamous) Explorer SUV. And unlike the Edge, you can get third-row seating in the Explorer.

To be honest, I never really liked the Edge, at least in passing. This is pure personal opinion, of course, but it always looked too short, with too much grill, and too big of wheels. And I always thought sort of looked, well, girly. I can’t explain why—it just didn’t do anything for me.

However, when I was able to drive the Edge and the Explorer EcoBoosts back-to-back, my opinion changed somewhat.

The new Explorer is a looker. It’s actually built on the same platform as the Taurus sedan, and there is a strong family resemblance between the two. The first time I ever saw a new Explorer, I immediately thought, “big Taurus station wagon,” and everything from the electric razor grill, to the side contours in the body, to the overall design philosophy does nothing to change that impression. If you look at it from the outside, you see a tough, purposeful, good-looking vehicle.

The inside is nice, too. I think Ford is doing a good job on all their products lately with their blocky, well-rendered instrument panels, higher-quality materials, and ridiculous amounts of technology. Ford’s MyTouch system does everything short of make coffee, but it’ll tell you how to get to a place that does.

That being said, I had a couple of minor niggles. Being a crossover, the new Explorer drives very much like a car—which is a good thing. However, when I’m in a big vehicle like this, I want to feel big too. In other words, I like to “feel” like I’m in command, sitting high above all in my rich throne of leather. The Explorer engulfs you with its high dash and door sills. The windshield wipers are waaaay up there. It makes you feel like a little peanut.

The EcoBoost engine is only available in a front-wheel-drive Explorer, which right there would kill it for me. If I’m going to buy a vehicle like this, I think all-wheel-drive is essential. Furthermore, in spite of 240-hp and 270-lb-ft of torque, it still weighed some 4,500-lbs, and you could feel the girth. No doubt, an all-wheel-drive Explorer with this engine would struggle quite a bit. Of course, that’s the price you pay to drive a vehicle this big that still can achieve an EPA-estimated 20-mpg city/28-mpg highway.

But then, I tried out the Edge. And I must say, from a driving standpoint, I liked it much better. With the same engine, and 500-lbs less to drag around, this was more like it. My complaints about the seating position were all but eliminated in the Edge. And it was available with the most of the same accoutrements that dazzled and impressed in the Explorer. You even gain a couple of extra miles-per-gallon.

Again, the Edge with the EcoBoost is only available as a front-wheel-drive, so that’s a drawback. And like the Explorer, Ford doesn’t recommend that you try and tow anything with this setup.

And then, there’s the issue of price. This 2.0-liter, turbocharged EcoBoost is clearly more sophisticated and has more torque than the 3.5-liter V6, and it is obviously the winner in the fuel mileage wars. But it is short 50-hp, you can’t tow with it, you can’t get it in all-wheel-drive, and it costs nearly a grand more. Think about that--$1,000 more for a four-cylinder (albeit turbocharged) with less power, over a V6. I get why it is more money, but as someone who is admittedly still stuck in the “no replacement for displacement” mindset, it still does not completely compute.

The fact is, both the Explorer EcoBoost and the Edge EcoBoost are very nice rigs, and either one of them will serve their new owners quite nicely. At nearly (or in the case of the Edge, literally) 30-mpg on the highway, it’s hard to argue with such a recipe for utility mixed with economy. Personally, I’d rather have a truck or a real SUV, or maybe just a car, but I can certainly see why some people would want crossovers like these. My opinions are just that—opinions. The only way you’ll know if you want one for sure is to go try one out for yourself.

To see all the pictures from this ride and drive event, click this link.


  1. What's up with the wasp nest?

  2. That was in the door jamb of the Honda Pilot. I think Honda charges extra for that option. Or for the same price, you can get one with a possum family in the spare tire well.

  3. "sitting high above all in my rich throne of leather"
    Great comment.
    One of the main problems I have with almost all of the new cars is the high sill level. Visibility is not great, along with that "little kid in a bathtub" feeling. I'd bet a paycheck that it has to do with meeting government-mandated safety requirements. These requirements are also the reason the new cars are so heavy. There is a lot of gear in them that wasn't there fifteen years ago, and all those airbags, etc. require stronger chunks of steel to push against. Oh well, the manufacturers are trying.

  4. So the Honda Pilot has been sitting on the lot for sale long enough for a wasp to make a new home while the new Explorer is flying off the lots as soon as they are offloaded...