EcoBoost:

Lincoln Continental – New for 2017

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2017 Lincoln Continental F342017 Lincoln Continental R78Lincoln Continental Concept Makes Splash at 2015 New York International Auto Show  Lincoln Motor Company has shown its new Lincoln Continental Concept at the 2015 New York International Auto Show.  Kept quiet until the week before the show, Lincoln clearly timed the release of the Continental Concept to coincide with the first public showing of the competing Cadillac CT6 sedan. Ford (Lincoln) used a similar tactic to take the wind out of the sails of the Acura NSX introduction at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show with its striking Ford GT.


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Ram Promaster City – MicroVan Workhorse

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First, it was the Ford Transit Connect van from Turkey that has been ubiquitous in Europe for years before being seen on American roads.  Small, styled with a brash quirkiness, tinny beyond imagination especially in taxi fleets, the Transit Connect caught on.  Then Ford replaced the original Transit Connect with a lower roof, more stylish van built in Spain that is actually fun to drive.  Nissan responded with the Nissan NV200 that is supposed to be the Taxi of Tomorrow for the New York City taxi fleet.  It is assembled in Mexico.  Not so fun to drive and assembled with more than a dollop of plastic.  Most recently is the launch of the Ram (FCA US LLC, aka FCAGroup, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Dodge Trucks) Promaster City.  How would I compare the three?

Ford Transit Connect Van

Ford Transit Connect Van

2015 Ram Promaster City

2015 Ram Promaster City

2014 Nissan NV200

2014 Nissan NV200

Transit Connect Most Minivan-Like  The Transit Connect ($22,330 – $29,185) is the most minivan-like.  It has a instrument panel that mimics that in the Ford Focus.  The seats are comfortable, but a choppy ride offsets the seat comfort.  Performance is adequate with its standard 2.5L 4-cylinder engine having 169-horsepower coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission.  Optionally, the Transit Connect has a 178-horsepower EcoBoost 4-cylinder.  Transit Connect is available in two wheelbases.

NV200 Spartan  The Nissan NV200 ($20,270-$24,435 in cargo van version) is the most Spartan of the three.  Its interior has been stripped bare of most ornamentation and the execution yields the most basic of transportation modules.  A passenger version of the NV200 is not available unless you get the taxicab version starting at $29,700).  Powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission), the NV200 is the most anemic of the three.  Like the original Transit Connect, the NV200 can be a rattletrap.  That brings me to the Ram Promaster City.

Promaster City Best Driving Feel  Built in Turkey, the Promaster City ($23,130 for van version and $24,130 for the passenger version – maximum $29,275) probably falls between the Transit Connect and NV200 overall.  It does, however, have the best driving feel of the three.  The Promaster City is powered by the Fiat Tigershark 2.4L 4-cylinder engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission.  Sounds like the Dodge Dart or Jeep Cherokee.  With much of the North American development work being done in the pothole-filled environs of Auburn Hills, Michigan, the Promaster City suspension has been beefed up and given more travel.  Promaster City also has a fully independent rear suspension.  The result is the ride comfort in the Promaster City is more comfortable in most conditions than the Transit Connect or the NV200.2015 Promaster City R342015 Promaster City Cockpit

The Battle for BIC – Best In Class:  Transit Connect and Promaster City are vying for Best In Class claims.  Promaster City claims best in class horsepower at 178-horsepower.  This is correct for base engines, but if you consider Ford’s EcoBoost at 178-horsepower you have a tie.  Promaster City has a fuel economy rating of 21mpg city/29mpg highway.  Transit Connect is 20/28mpg.  Promaster City claims the largest cargo volume at 132 cubic feet – Ford has 129 cubic feet in its long wheelbase van.  Promaster City claims the highest payload at 1883 pounds – Ford has 1620.  Its 48.4-inches between the rear wheelhouses allows you to put 4-foot wide materials flat on the rear load floor.  The 72-inch load floor length does not allow a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood to be transported enclosed, however.  So, Promaster City wins the brochure war and its base Tigershark engine and 9-speed automatic transmission edges out the Transit Connect, but it is very close.


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2015 Ford F-150 Is the Game-Changer We’ve Expected

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2015 Ford F-150The Ford half-ton pickup, the F-150, is the top selling vehicle in the USA – car or truck.  For the 2015 model year, Ford launches an all new F-150.  And it is literally ALL NEW.  In most model changes, there are numerous parts carried over from previous generations.  The 2015 Ford F-150 is so completely re-done that there are probably no common part numbers with the 2014 model.  The body is all aluminum with the exception of a “quiet steel” dash panel (between the engine compartment and the passenger compartment).  You can lift the military grade front fender with one finger.  The aluminum panels are not welded as in steel bodied vehicles they are riveted and glued.  The result is a stiffer vehicle that feels even more robust than its predecessor. Ford says the use of aluminum has yielded a reduction in weight by up to 700 pounds.2015 Ford F-150 F342015 Ford F-150 R34

The interior width in the cab is two inches wider than before.  The aluminum structure allows the pillars to be smaller while meeting or exceeding all relevant safety standards.  With thinner pillars, driver’s visibility is improved.  The belt line has been dropped by an inch increasing downward visibility as well.

The 2015 Ford F-150 is available with a Regular Cab (2-door), SuperCab (extended cab with rear access doors) and SuperCrew (4-doors) cab style.  There are three box lengths:  5 1/2, 6 1/2 and 8 feet.

Feature Laden:  All those gee whiz things we have been seeing on luxury cars recently, you know, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot information system, active park assist, rear view camera, reverse sensing system, 360-degree cameras, LED accent lights, LED everything lights, information screen in the instrument cluster and MyFord Touch in the center display, are available on the 2015 Ford F-150.  The lighting strategy for the truck is probably the best in the industry.  When all the boxes are checked, there are LED accents for the headlamps and taillamps that communicate the F-150’s DNA. There are LED headlamps available.  There are LED lamps in the bed to improve nighttime visibility.  Of course, there are puddle lamps below the outside rear view mirrors, but there are also LED spot lamps on the top corners of the mirrors to allow the area beside the vehicle to be illuminated (now, if these could be used to blast the car beside you, the good ol’ boys in Texas driving with their open bottles could have a hoot).2015 Ford F-150 Cockpit

The Interior:  In the lower models of the 2015 Ford F-150 you get what you expect from a base truck.  Lots of plastic, cloth seats (comfortable), minimal equipment.  There are five basic trim levels: XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum.  By the time you get up to King Ranch or Platinum you could be riding in a Lincoln.

Wide Powertrain Lineup:  While the 2015 Ford F-150 does not offer a diesel, it does have four gasoline engines.  The base engine is a 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 with 283-horsepower and 255 lb. ft. of torque.  The first step up and expected to be the highest volume powerplant is a 325HP 2.7L EcoBoost V6 with 375 lb. ft. of torque.  This is about the power of a small displacement V8 in half the size.  There are two top-of-the line engines based on what you want to do with the truck.  The 365HP 3.5L EcoBoost V6 has 420 lb. ft of torque.  The sole V8 in the line-up is the 385HP 5.0L V8 with 387 lb. ft of torque.  The 3.5L EcoBoost has the highest trailer towing rating of 12,200 lbs.


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2015 Ford Transit – Conquerer of the White Van Market

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Once upon a time, I was the design engineer for the advanced vehicle package of the Ford Nantucket program.  Nantucket was the code name of what would become the 1975 Ford Econoline full size van that was to continue in production with moderate updates through 2014 – about 39 years!.  So, it was particularly meaningful to me to accept an invitation by Ford to attend the press preview for the Econoline’s (now “E-Series”) replacement in Kansas City, Missouri – the Ford Transit.2015 Ford Transit Group Shot

Hugely Complex Program –  Lots of Choice  Ford’s One Ford strategy dictates that vehicles be as common as possible around the world.  While the E-Series has been the top selling large van in the USA for years, it was basically a North America only product.  The European Transit van was completely different.  Also, the American E-Series never had the breadth of product choices that the European Transit had.  Now that has changed with the American-made Transit about as complex as the European model.2015 Ford Transit Wagon F34

America has been introduced to the European white van offerings with the European Mercedes-Benz/Freightliner Sprinter van and the Ram Promaster (from Fiat).  So the 2015 Ford Transit may not take the American eye by surprise, but its complexity is near mind blowing.  The 2015 Ford Transit is available in two wheelbases, three roof heights in both cargo van and passenger wagon configurations.  There is even a chassis cab and cutaway available.  What this means is that you can have an empty box, or a high-roof wagon that can seat up to 15 people.  Ford affectionately calls this one the “Jumbo”.2015 Ford Transit Jumbo SV

(General Motors has the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans that are sorely in need of updating.  At present, The General has no vehicles in the USA facing these Euro-style competitors).

Initially, Transit is available with a sliding door on the passenger side of the vehicle.  Later the van version will be available with a sliding door on the driver’s side as well.  Because the second row seat would have to be narrowed to be two passengers only, the passenger version – the Transit wagon – is only available with a passenger side slider.

Maneuverable  The Transit is very easy to drive with outstanding forward visibility through what has to be about the largest windshield in the industry.  Europe-like turning radius makes the Transit very maneuverable in tight spaces.  A tight slow-speed gymkhana course in a Kansas City parking lot helped demonstrate how nimble even the Jumbo was through narrow cone alleys.2015 Ford Transit Cockpit

Wide Powertrain Selection  Power comes from a 275HP/260 lb-ft of torque 3.7L V6, a 310HP/400 lb-ft of torque 3.5L EcoBoost V6, or a 185HP/350 lb-ft of torque 3.2L I5 Power Stroke diesel.  Of the three engines, the EcoBoost V6 has the most punch and is the most fun to drive – as if that is a major attribute a van buyer is looking for.  All engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.  The powertrains in the 2015 Ford Transit get much better fuel economy than the outgoing E-Series; a substantial operating cost savings commercial van operators are looking for.

Can Transit Be Rattle Free?  We have all ridden in vans and shuttles that are consummate rattle traps.  Of course, they probably have a couple hundred thousand miles on them and have been abused for their entire time in service.  And, of course, the vans Ford provided for the press preview had been thoroughly prepped.  The remarkable thing about these vans was how quiet and rattle-free they were.  They were very tight and solid feeling.  It will be interesting to experience one when it hits 100,000 miles.

Navigation Screen Snafu  Okay, I can understand Ford’s rationale that few commercial fleet operators would spring for an in-vehicle navigation system when most of their drivers are equipped with GPS enabled smart phones with Google Maps, but the Transit solution to navigation is Sync with MyFord Touch and a relatively small screen.  Other Ford vehicles have an 8-inch screen and the Transit loses out in comparison.  I know, its a nit-pick, but worthy of mention.

E-Series Continues in Chassis Cab Versions  Probably until the end of the decade, the old Econoline/E-Series will still be available in chassis cab configurations likely for airport shuttle use.  They are built at Ford’s Loraine, Ohio plant.


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2015 Lincoln MKC – 2nd Volume Entry for Lincoln

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The 2015 Lincoln MKC hit Lincoln dealerships in June 2014 and promises to be the 2nd volume entry for Ford’s premium brand after the award-winning Lincoln MKZ.  Lincoln is the top brand in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research and the MKZ and MKZ Hybrid are the winners of their product categories.  The MKC (getting confused with the alphanumeric nomenclature yet?) is joining a booming market for smaller crossover SUVs and, based on our brief drive of the vehicle, the MKC should do very well in AutoPacific’s 2015 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.2015 Lincoln MKC F342015 Lincoln MKC R34

Excellent Package  The MKC is a “small” crossover SUV, but it does not feel small from the driver’s seat.  The front seating package is spacious.  Visibility forward is excellent.  Ergonomics are good.  Transmission shifting is through push buttons on the left hand side of the center stack.  The MyLincoln Touch system is more intuitive (but reading the channel numbers for SiriusXM is almost impossible because of tiny font sizes) and stable.  Losing the shifter in the center console is an excellent idea for many reasons.  It allows for more storage in the console and also allows the console to be narrower giving the front seat passengers more seat width.  The MKC is a persuasive package that will appeal to buyers across all age ranges.2015 Lincoln MKC Cockpit

Neat Features Abound on MKC  For those buyers who want the latest technology, MKC offers a lot.  Of course, there is MyLincoln Touch that sets the stage in the center stack.  There is Approach Detection where the vehicle reacts to the key fob approaching the vehicle at night and the headlamp accents, taillamp accents, door handle pockets and interior all light up.  There is even a Lincoln logo projected onto the pavement from the outside rear view mirror puddle lights.  Then there is Drive Control that includes continuously adjusting shock absorbers to provide a comfortable ride under all conditions.  Electric Power Steering and Active Noise Control are standard features that complement the Drive Control System.  Active Park Assist not only can park the MKC, but includes Park Out Assist to help the driver maneuver the vehicle out of a tight parking space.  As with many newly introduced vehicles there is a suite of electronic driver assist technologies:  lane-keeping system, driver alert system (checks driver alertness), adaptive cruise control, collision warning system with brake support, blind spot information system, and cross traffic alert.  These features may sound like overkill, but once you have used them, they become a necessity rather than a luxury.

Highly Differentiated from Escape – All EcoBoost Engines   The MKC is derived from the Ford Escape but shares no body panels or interior trim bits.  Without looking under the skin, the relationship is invisible.  The 2015 Lincoln MKC comes standard with a 240HP 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine.  Optional is a 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder with 285-horsepower (with 93 octane gasoline – in California the top spec gas octane is 91 octane so the output for the 2.3L would be about 280HP).  The base vehicle is front wheel drive with all wheel drive available as an option.

Outstanding Dynamics  Starting in Santa Barbara and driving across the Los Padres National Forest to the Tejon Ranch , the MKC proves to be nimble and athletic on the twisty roads more suited to a sports car than a X-SUV.  With the 2.3L EcoBoost and AWD, the MKC is quick and solid over all road surfaces.

Price and Competition  The base price of the MKC is $33,995, but the versions Lincoln provided for the drive evaluation were all in the $50,000 range equipped with the full suite of electronic features and the big engine.  The size and price of the MKC puts it in the competitive set with the Cadillac SRX, Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X1, Infiniti QX50 (i.e. EX), Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC60.  As if that isn’t enough competition, there is more to come:  Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Porsche Macan.  Clearly, buyers will have a tremendous challenge sorting out which of these smaller XSUVs to select.

Now for the Nit-Picks  Ford (Lincoln) can be depended on to make mistakes in feature availability.  For a company that touts “democratization of technology” (meaning the neat electronic features found on the top of the line will be available in a Focus, for instance) the base MKC cannot be had with an in-vehicle navigation system.  Since MyLincoln Touch is standard and each vehicle has a center stack screen, and the navigation system is via an SD card, navigation should be available on all models.

Brand Challenge  The only thing standing in the way of the MKC being a whopping success may the Lincoln brand.  While AutoPacific’s research shows Lincoln is doing a great job satisfying its customers, the brand has languished and is only now starting to re-assert itself.  The MKC is an outstanding addition to the Lincoln portfolio.  Now the challenge is to get buyers into the dealerships to drive and buy the MKC.  It will be interesting to watch how Lincoln markets the vehicle in the coming months and to monitor its sales performance.


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2013 Taurus SEL – Veiling Glare Disaster

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The setting is a brightly sunny day in Southern California with a new 2013 Ford Taurus SEL.  The Taurus has a tilted center screen and bright instrument panel applique in front of the passenger seat.  Additionally, there is a bright “racetrack” around the instrument cluster in front of the driver.  Frankly, in high ambient light load conditions, this is a disaster of veiling glare.  This is when the interior materials reflect the sunlight and either distract the driver or temporarily blind them.

Ford’s MyFordTouch system uses a touchscreen center screen.  This is good, but it shows finger prints and with the way the screen is situated in the Taurus it is particularly objectionable.  When reversing and trying to use the back-up camera, the sun washed out the backup image and the fingerprints further obscured the view.

In Googling “Veiling Glare”, I found an SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) paper titled “Fundamental Issues of Automotive Veiling Glare” written by Ford Engineers in conjunction with the University of Florida back in 1997.  Clearly, they understand the issue, but did not use their own institutional knowledge when launching this model of the Taurus SEL.

Veiling glare is a situation mostly missed by European manufacturers developing cars in gloomy, overcast conditions.  American manufacturers, even those developing their products in the Mid-West, usually don’t miss this. 

Smaller EcoBoost 4-Cylinder Transforms Taurus into a Much More Nimble Product While glare is more than a nitpick issue with the SEL, the car powered by the 2.0L gasoline direct injection turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with EcoBoost giving 240HP and 270 lb-ft of torque was very nimble.  Much moreso than the Taurus with the 3.5L V6 – even in 3.5L V6 EcoBoost form.  The car still suffers from an interior too small for the exterior size of the car, but it is good looking and well-appointed.


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Mid-Size Powertrain Wars – Ford Fusion

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“I can’t underestimate how important the Fusion is to Ford,” — Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, to workers at Flat Rock, Michigan assembly plant.

The mid-size car segment is filled with able competitors and most are either new or recently updated. The oldest, Hyundai Sonata, is a 2011 model and each new model is being launched with a wider range of features than ever before. Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Chevrolet Malibu and next year’s Mazda6 represent the best collection of mid-size cars ever available in the United Sates.

What makes this competition interesting is the different approach that each manufacturer is taking. The Nissan Altima enters the race with a cost conscious four-cylinder engine with no turbo or direction injection. Despite this, the Altima has superior fuel economy and excellent power. Add in attractive styling cues from the Maxima, and you get a pretty compelling offering at a great price.

The Ford Fusion takes a different tack with six powertrains, including two hybrids. We got a chance to drive four of them in Santa Monica this week. Our impressions are positive, but we wonder a bit about the complexity of all these offerings.

2.5-liter inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: This might be the best combination of price and attributes of the four we drove. While not as powerful as the EcoBoost options, it works well for a vehicle in a segment where dynamics are less important than price.

1.6-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed manual: While Ford won’t sell a lot of manual transmission Fusions, this vehicle clearly has a European feel and would be our choice for fun. You clearly feel the small size of the 1.6, but pushing it hard and gliding through the gears with the smooth shifter makes this a fun ride.

2.0-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: More fun than the 2.5 liter four, but will buyers in this segment buy-in? Ours had the stand-alone start-stop feature, which worked better than other executions we’ve seen. It’s a good glimpse into the positive future of start-stop fuel saving technology.

2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline four-cylinder with an electric motor: As fun to drive as a hybrid! The hybrid version has received an EPA certified 47 miles per gallon for both city and highway driving, giving the vehicle the highest fuel-efficiency of any hybrid in its class. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry Hybrid LE gets 43 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway, according to Toyota.

Building a hybrid can get you to about $38,000. A Titanium All Wheel Drive can get to you to $39,000. Start saving now.


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Ford Flex Most Ideal 2012 Large Crossover SUV

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AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) recognizes the vehicle that best hits the target its buyers demand.  Winning an IVA shows the product planners, engineers and designers of the manufacturer understood what their target customers want and have made the vehicle to meet their demands.

The 2012 Ford Flex comes closest to the ideal of any Large Crossover SUV scoring a close win over the Chevrolet Traverse.  Eighty-percent or more of Flex owners find these characteristics ideal:  exterior size, exterior styling, passenger roominess, seat comfort, ride and handling, tires and wheels, ease of getting in and out and safety features.

EcoBoost Gives Flex a Substantial Performance Advantage, but Only 15% of Flex Owners Bought It: About 25% of Flex V6 owners want more power and acceleration, but only 6% who opted for the 355HP EcoBoost 3.5L V6 want more.  Clearly, EcoBoost provides surprising power without a fuel economy disadvantage.  About 11% of all Flex owners would give up power and acceleration for better fuel economy. So, when it comes to Flex, performance and fuel economy, twice as many owners would take more power and acceleration than would trade off power for fuel economy.

More/Better Technology Wanted: The 2012 Flex is available with SYNC and SYNC with navigation, but not Ford’s new MyFord Touch system.  About a quarter of Flex owners want more/better technology than their vehicle has now.

You can find an Autobytel review of this IVA award winner at  http://www.autobytel.com/auto-news/awards/ideal-suvs-pickups-rated-by-owners-in-2012-iva-awards-112117/

For a complete summary of all AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Award results contact karin.turner@vehiclevoice.com and title your email “IVA Results”.  A copy of the results will be emailed to you within 48-hours.


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2012 Ford F-150 Most Satisfying Full Size Pickup

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Best In Class 2012 Full Size Pickup:  Ford F-150

2012 Ford F-150 Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

Owners of the 2012 Ford F-150 Full Size Pickup give the truck top ratings in seventeen of forty-eight characteristics measured in AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.  The F-150 gets top marks for Driver’s Seat Comfort, Interior Styling, Feel of Interior Fabrics and Materials, Braking, Handling, Ride, Quietness, Control Feel and Quality, Instrument Layout, Brand of Audio System, Visibility, Tire Brand/Size Appearance, Environmental Friendliness, Infotainment Technology, Advanced Powertrain Technology (new engines and availability of EcoBoost), Collision Avoidance Technology and Range.  With a possible high score of 5.0 satisfaction rating points for each attribute, a rating of 4.6 or higher can be considered to be very good.  F-150 owners rate the truck at 4.6 or higher in:  Overall Satisfaction, Seating Capacity, Vehicle’s Reputation, Brand’s Reputation, Power and Acceleration, Braking, Handling, Reliable/Dependable, Ride, and Feeling Safe While Driving.  Owners rate the F-150 below 4.0 satisfaction rating attributes in:  Fuel Economy, Range, Environmental Friendliness, Price, Recyclability and Warranty.


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2011 F-150 EcoBoost: Raising the Bar…Again

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I need to give you full disclosure:  I love engines with forced induction.  Turbos and superchargers make me smile, well, most of the time.  My father had a Lincoln MKT EcoBoost when they first came out and I appreciated the idea of a turbo V6 but wasn’t particularly impressed with the the package.  The front-wheel biased all-wheel drive torque steer and transmission calibration never seemed to be as polished as I had hoped for in a vehicle of that price point.  It could use a dose of that torque vectoring system from the Focus to balance out the massive amount of power.  My opinion of the V6 EcoBoost from Ford was basically “meh”, as I never felt like the refinement was all there.  A stint in a Taurus SHO confirmed this fact for me.  Sure, it’s a stupid powerful powertrain but it was missing the harmony that made the engine mate up to the car like peanut butter and jelly.  


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