Ford has rolled out its star of the USA’s biggest motor show a week early. It’s a car that promises to reform the American SUV as we know it: meet the Ford Explorer America concept, a proper yankee ‘truck’, but with a lightweight body and 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine.
Explorer America: ‘bubye’ to the big V8
The Explorer America will be shown at the Detroit motor show, which opens its doors to the press this Sunday. A full-sized 4x4, it has been designed to bring the concept of the traditional American ‘ute’ up-to-date, and in doing so, moves beyond two ingredients that have defined the ‘yank tank’ up until now: the separate, ladder frame chassis and the big, thirsty V8 engine.The Explorer America weighs 70kg less than the current V8-engined Explorer, thanks to some lightweight body and chassis materials. It’s also the first Ford to use a family of engine technologies that it's calling EcoBoost.Broadly speaking, EcoBoost engines are downsized in capacity, and use both direct injection and either one or two turbochargers to produce as much or more power as a bigger, atmospheric engine, but use much less fuel, and emit much less carbon dioxide.In the Explorer America’s case, a V8 engine has been shunned. Instead, the ‘premium’ model runs a twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 engine with 340bhp and 340lb ft of torque. The latter figure is more than Ford’s current 4.6-litre V8 produces, and yet the V6 goes two miles further on every gallon of petrol than the V8, and emits 15 per cent less carbon dioxide.For those wanting an even more fuel-efficient SUV, there’s also a 2.0-litre four-pot engine under the Explorer America's bonnet (yes, you did read that correctly). Producing 271bhp and 280lb ft of torque, this would be up to 30 per cent more fuel efficient than today’s V6 Explorer, and yet no less powerful.Also on the Explorer America you’ll find electric power steering, as well as aerodynamic and other parasitic improvements that add 10 per cent to the car’s overall fuel-efficiency.
Asymmetric body, glass roof, six seats
Ford has released only a few specifics about the Explorer America ahead of its unveiling on Sunday, but what's evident from the early photos is that it's a full six-seater with three rows of chairs, has a full length glass sunroof which floods the cabin with light, and an unsual asymmetric body.Have a look at the passenger side of the car in our gallery and you'll notice that the rear door-handle is nearest the B-pillar, which suggests a suicide rear door on what would be the nearside for US drivers, granting easier access to the cabin from the roadside. This isn't reapeated on the driver's side.
Half-a-million ‘EcoBoosted’ cars a year by 2013
Ford sees EcoBoost as the easiest short-term solution to bringing the CO2 emissions of America’s new cars down. “Compared with the current cost of diesel and hybrid technologies, customers in North America can expect to recoup their initial investment in a four-cylinder EcoBoost engine through fuel savings in approximately 30 months,” said Ford product development boss Derrick Kuzak. “By comparison, a diesel in North America will take an average of seven-and-a-half years to pay for itself, and a hybrid nearly 12 years, given equivalent mileage and fuel costs.”The 2009 Lincoln MKS will be the first of Ford's US production cars to use the EcoBoost technology, but by 2013 it expects to be making more than half-a-million downsized, turbocharged models a year. Judging by this unveiling, examples of the next Ford Explorer SUV will be among them. In the longer term, Ford was quick to point out that it would continue to develop plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles. However, it’s EcoBoost engine technology that will take centre stage in Detroit’s Cobo Centre next week, setting up an interesting dichotomy with both Chrysler and GM, who are both expected to major on plug-in hybrids.