2012 Ford Explore with XD 803 Machine Black 20x9 wheels wrapped with 265/50/20 Nitto Terra Grappler
First Drive Review
2012 Ford Explorer 2.0L EcoBoost
Ford's EcoBoost cocktail proves not quite as tasty in the Explorer.
Ford has pledged to make its downsized, turbocharged, direct-injection EcoBoost motors available as options in 90 percent of its American product line by 2013. So far, the technology cocktail has been served up in the Taurus SHO and Flex, as well as the Lincoln MKT and MKS. EcoBoost pulled off perhaps its greatest upset in the F-150, with the mighty twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 being spec’d in 41 percent of all F-150s sold here at Ford’s last count. Now, the Edge and Explorer have bellied up to the EcoBoost bar. The two crossovers tie for the honor of being the first Blue Oval products in the U.S. to offer the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder—but only on models with front-wheel drive.
Four of One, Third-of-a-Dozen of the Other
As in the F-150, the EcoBoost engine in the Edge and Explorer is offered as a seemingly equal alternative to engines with two more gas-swilling cylinders. In this case, the EcoBoost option (which costs $995 in both models) is Ford’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder, producing a stout 240 hp at 5500 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 3000 revs. Compare that to the base 3.5-liter V-6 in the Explorer, which offers 290 hp but just 255 lb-ft of torque. Citing a fuel-economy advantage of about 3 mpg compared with the V-6 alternatives, Ford claims the new four-pot is “the ideal powertrain” for the Edge and Explorer.
We sort of agree with Ford regarding the Edge (click here to read our drive of the EcoBoost Edge), but not so much when it comes to the Explorer. That certainly isn’t because the engine is any worse; part for part and pony for pony, it is identical. Ditto the shared transmission, which features six gears but no manually selectable ratios beyond “D” and “L.”
So Close, But So Far Away
The culprit here is weight: With its seven seats and additional 12.9 inches of overall length, the 4550-pound 2012 Explorer with EcoBoost is saddled with a gluttonous 450 pounds or so more than the EcoBoost-powered Edge. The engine itself is as sweet as honey: turbo lag is pretty much nonexistent, and the four whirs along in utter silence unless the driver is really deep into the throttle. Off-the-line response is quite good, but all that weight makes the initial acceleration unsustainable. By the time the engine is midway up the rev range, sluggishness prevails.
We drove it solo as well as with four adults on board, on roads both flat and hilly. With just four aboard, performance suffered dramatically, so we shudder at the thought of filling all seven seats and/or pulling 2000 pounds of trailer (the max recommended for the EcoBoost Explorer). Ford has a policy of not providing performance estimates for most of its cars, but in a recent comparison test of three-row crossovers, we clocked a 0-to-60-mph time of 7.7 seconds in a 4747-pound, all-wheel-drive Explorer V-6. We expect a time of around 8.0 seconds for the Explorer with the four.
In other respects, the EcoBoosted example behaved much like other Explorers we have driven since the formerly body-on-frame model crossed into crossover-dom. The electrically assisted steering is too light but precise, and the brakes are strong. But, with its formidable width and outboard armrests that only an NBA player could reach, the Explorer imparts an inescapable feeling that one is driving more of a room than a car.
Yes, Even EcoBoost Has Its Limits
Ford readily admits that the four-cylinder Explorer is not ideal for crossover buyers who intend to tow. Rather, Ford says it is a better match for workaday tasks like shuttling the kids to school and grocery-getting—so, the stuff crossover buyers do. In most regards, the lighter, more enjoyable-to-drive Edge with EcoBoost could work equally well (and yield an additional mile or two per gallon while it’s at it) unless that third-row seat is absolutely necessary. The portly Explorer is just a bit too much Ford for four cylinders to handle—even with a turbo