Fuel Efficiency for SUVs

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2012 Ford Edge.

Americans have once again been hit with high fuel prices, a gallon of gasoline up above the $4 per gallon for the third time since 2008. Even with that, many Americans also still seem to want the features that a sport utility vehicle can offer.

Can expensive fuel and useful family vehicles exist in the same space? Yes, perhaps. I just spent some time in the 2012 Ford Edge with the EcoBoost engine package, and if driven right, it’s an amazing piece of technology.

Ford’s EcoBoost system is finding its way onto a variety of vehicles in the company’s lineup, and they’ll employ it in a more widespread way in the coming years. Essentially it’s a series of turbocharged engines that produce the power of larger ones.

The first applications were V6s that produced similar power to V8s, offered in large sedans like the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS, as well as the big Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT crossover SUVs. Ford even offers it in the F-150 pickup truck, where a V8 used to be the only choice for reasonable power.

Now, the next engine to get the EcoBoost treatment is a 2.0 liter four cylinder. Fitted with the turbo and other enhancements, the little four banger produces 240 very smooth horsepower. Drivability is amazing with this engine, as there’s virtually no delay in the power coming on when you push on the gas pedal.

It’s a $995 option on the Edge, where the 3.5 liter V6 is still the standard engine. That V6 in the two wheel drive Edge is rated at 19 miles per gallon city and 27 highway. The same vehicle with the EcoBoost four is rated at 21 and 30, an increase of a little over 10%. According to the EPA’s fueleconomy.gov web site, you’d save about $300 per year with the EcoBoost engine at current gas prices and typical Southern California driving.

Your mileage may vary, as the cautionary warning goes. In fact, mine did by quite a bit. A long freeway blast at somewhat excessive speeds and no regard for efficiency netted me only about 17.5 mpg, which looked like a huge failure.

But on the return trip I was a good boy, keeping the speedometer at right around 65 (and on this particular stretch of roadway made me an absolute slow-poke) as well as being smooth with the throttle on uphill grades. For that stint, I was able to beat the official highway estimates and clock over 34 mpg.

Yes, that’s the downside to smaller turbo engines. Make them work hard, and they will, but a hard working machine needs to be fed. The good news is that you really can have fuel efficiency if you choose to drive that way. A nice bonus to the EcoBoost engines is that they don’t require premium unleaded, which many turbocharged engines do.

As for the rest of the 2012 Edge, it’s essentially the same roomy crossover Ford’s offered for quite a few years now. Plenty of stretch-out room inside for adults, even in the back seat, though there is no option for a third row. (Ford has the Explorer and Flex with more seats if you need them.) And the cargo hold is huge as well, with handy pushbutton controls to make the seats flop forward in an instant.

My SEL grade test car also had the latest version of Ford’s MyTouch system, a one-touchscreen-does-it-all interface for your phone (including the reading or displaying of text messages), audio, climate, and navigation. It’s not as fussy as the earlier example that received complaints from the automotive press as well as customers.

Fuel prices are now at the level (again) where people are looking closely at the mpg numbers on the new cars they’re comparing. With Ford’s popular Edge, those numbers have gotten a bit of a bump, just in time.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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