Americans don’t buy SUVs because we need to navigate rutted dirt roads on the way to the grocery store or our kids’ soccer practice. If you strip away the mystique, most midsize SUV buyers sign on the dotted line for the ability to haul up to seven passengers plus cargo in relative comfort. Some tow with their SUVs, but most buyers who regularly tow heavy loads also own a pickup truck, and guess which one gets tasked with towing the boat to the lake?
Ford knows this, which is why the 2011 Explorer was a kinder, gentler truck than the one it replaced. Yes, the new Explorer gives up some towing capacity compared to the old one, and it also loses just a bit of off-road capability. Still, it’s all the truck that most SUV buyers need, and the V6 is even a bit of overkill for hauling the kids on their daily appointed rounds.
Enter the 2012 Ford Explorer EcoBoost, which swaps the base 3.5-liter V6 in favor of a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four cylinder. It’s got less horsepower than the V6 (the EcoBoost makes 240 horsepower, compared to 290 from the V6), but it makes more torque (270 ft-lb versus 255 ft-lb) and torque is what you feel when you mat the gas pedal.
And mat the gas pedal I did, during my recent time behind the wheel of an Explorer EcoBoost at Ford’s Michigan Proving Grounds and the surrounding environment. The verdict? Just as Ford’s V6 EcoBoost range drives like a V8, the 2.0-liter EcoBoost drives exactly the same as a V6. Mat the gas, and there’s wheelspin, with no evidence of turbo lag. Despite the Explorer’s bulk, the smaller EcoBoost engine does a good job of bringing the truck up to speed, and the engine is neither buzzy nor harsh under heavy acceleration. In a drag race, I’d still give the nod to the V6 Explorer, but not by a whole lot.
EcoBoost models will save an estimated 3 mpg city and 3 mpg highway compared to a V6 Explorer, and the cost for the EcoBoost upgrade is a reasonable $995. If you want a payback projection, it will take approximately 64,000 miles to recover the cost of the EcoBoost upgrade, based on today’s average gas price of $3.61 per gallon.
Are there drawbacks to the Explorer EcoBoost? Yes, and two come immediately to mind. You can only tow up to 2,000 pounds with it, compared to 5,000 pounds on the V6 Explorer, so if you use your truck for hauling a family-sized boat, the EcBoost won’t be up to the task. The other drawback is that the Explorer EcoBoost comes in FWD only, so if you live in snow country and want the peace-of-mind that AWD brings, this isn’t your truck. If you fit into the remainder of the SUV buying public, then you’ll want to take the 2012 Ford Explorer EcoBoost for a test drive.