Vail Valley: Ford’s new EcoBoost motors deliver on promise of power, efficiency |

Vail Valley: Ford’s new EcoBoost motors deliver on promise of power, efficiency

Andy Stonehouse
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyWith the new EcoBoost V-6 under the hood, the Ford Flex is a family hauler that really hauls.

DEARBORN, Mich. – After so many months of universally dismal automotive news, it was quite the experience to be in the very heart of the Detroit-area beast recently and see a car company with broad smiles on the faces of every employee.

Ford invited the regular media horde to its Michigan headquarters for a national preview event, designed to highlight the company’s exceptionally aggressive strategy for revamping nearly every one of its now-miraculously profitable products.

And without a cent (at least as far as we can see) of federal bailout, FoMoCo has managed to induce a sense of vibrancy and, dare I say it, hope, to the otherwise awkward and floundering world of domestic auto production.

Many of the eggs in Ford’s basket have been placed in what the company is dubbing EcoBoost technology, a fancy and perhaps just a little too green-sounding name for what is essentially going to be an expanded range of twin-turbocharged engines, beginning with a 3.5-liter V6 available as an option on 2010 model year automobiles including the Flex crossover and the new Taurus.

Ford’s spin, which is mostly true, is that by incorporating the not-especially new technology of turbocharging, they’ll be able to replicate or even exceed V-8 power with a smaller, more fuel- and emissions-friendly V-6. Ditto for a powerful EcoBoost four-cylinder setup, scheduled to debut next year.

While myself and about 150 auto writers enjoyed the chance to smoke the tires on Ford’s various 2010 offerings (including a new Mustang GT) at the carmaker’s test track, I got a slightly more intimate look at the reality of EcoBoost as I piloted a new Flex from Denver to Phoenix just a couple of days earlier.

And with 900 or so miles of winding New Mexico and Arizona byways under my belt, I can honestly say that Ford has done some impressive things, not only with its new, seemingly rocket-powered engine, but an improved overall commitment to quality and design.

The Flex remains a suspiciously style-forward SUV/minivan/crossover thing, looking for all the world like a gigantic Mini Cooper/Scion xB/station wagon blend, but as I found before I hit the road, it will very comfortably, seat up to seven adults – and not just in the impossibly small (or impossibly hard-to-reach) fashion of most SUVs.

But with the new 355-horsepower V-6 under the hood, this 4,800-pound lead sled goes like a bat out of hell when you want it to. Despite its size, including 20-inch wheels, I started having an Audi experience during much of my ride. That is, you have to peek down at the speedometer to realize you’re rocking along at 85 miles an hour, as the boost really sneaks up on you.

Cruising is impressive enough, but nail it to the floor when trying to blow off some passive-aggressive Texans in a Tahoe who’ve been tailgating you up La Veta Pass, and … blammo, that baby flies up to 120 mph, almost scarily so.

Despite the whomp, the new engine very readily returned a little more than 22 miles per gallon on the highway. Which is, admittedly, the same mileage as the existing V-6, but with almost 100 extra horsepower, available at lower revs.

I can’t state, categorically, that this necessarily makes it super-green, but the intention is good and the torquey kick in the pants is great, especially if you need to haul a trailer up Vail Pass or roll around the Southwest with a car full of family.

Back in Dearborn the next day, the most important finding was that America’s lone, non-subsidized automaker seems to put a lot of pride into its work – which seems to be reflected in consumer confidence and some healthy recent sales. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how those things might be combined.

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