The Little EcoBoost That Could
By and large, we’re pretty big fans of Ford‘s EcoBoost engines. The small turbocharged engines don’t always deliver on the fuel economy front, but we’ve always found them powerful enough to put smiles on our faces. That is with one notable exception: the half-baked 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4-powered Ford Explorer. With customers not biting on the 2.0-liter engine, either, Ford ditched it for a Mustang-sourced EcoBoost 2.3-liter turbocharged engine for the crossover’s mid-cycle refresh, and we recently had a chance to sample a 2016 Ford Explorer Limited 2.3L EcoBoost AWD to see if the new turbo engine fixes all that was wrong with the old.
We’re pretty smitten by the Explorer Sport’s EcoBoost 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6’s 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. The old 2.0-liter engine, however, left much to be desired in a 4,500-pound crossover. The old 2.0-liter engine made 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque and was only available with front-wheel drive, and that lack of grunt and all-wheel drive explains why only 3 percent of Explorer customers opted for the downsized engine. The new 2.3-liter engine offers up a significant power increase, comes paired with a six-speed automatic, and is available with all-wheel drive. It makes 310 hp in the Mustang EcoBoost (and likely 350 hp in the upcoming Focus RS) and produces 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque in Explorer duty. The Explorer’s base 3.5-liter V-6 (by far most popular engine) makes 290 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque.
At the test track, the new 2016 Explorer’s 2.3-liter EcoBoost provides a significant performance improvement over the engine it replaces. Our all-wheel-drive Explorer Limited tester hustled from 0 to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds and completed the quarter mile in 16.3 seconds at 84.5 mph. The best run we ever saw from a 2.0-liter-powered Explorer was a 9.2-second run to 60 mph and a 16.9-second quarter mile at 82.9 mph. The Explorer’s base 3.5-liter V-6 will likely shed an additional 0.2 second off both 0-60 and quarter-mile times. (The last Explorer V-6 AWD we tested did 0-60 in 8.0 and the quarter in 16.1.) Our Explorer needed 123 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph and 27.7 seconds to finish our figure eight, averaging 0.63 g in the process.
Out on the road, the 2.3-liter engine performs worlds better than the version it replaces. The engine has good power, and its six-speed auto is geared well to make the most of the EcoBoost’s output. Passing maneuvers will still take some planning, though, as the 45-65 mph pass took 4.5 seconds. Once at speed, the Explorer has a quiet, smooth ride and feels right at home. Technical director Frank Markus took the Explorer on a little off-road loop and found the small engine and all-wheel-drive combo to be satisfactory, “I am favorably impressed with the performance of the 2.3-liter engine both climbing the hill and accelerating onto the freeway.” Although it’s adequate to get the Explorer up and going, neither of us are sure if real-world fuel economy benefits will justify the performance hit the small EcoBoost mill takes versus the base 3.5-liter V-6. According to the EPA, our 2.3-equipped Explorer Limited AWD is rated at 18/26/21 mpg (13.1/9/11.2 L/100km) city/highway/combined; the naturally aspirated V-6 is rated at 16/23/19 mpg (14.7/10.2/12.4 L/100km).
Adding the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine to an Explorer is ultimately a cheap addition—it’s only a $995 USD option on base, XLT, and Limited models. Our tester, however, was anything but cheap. With a $42,245 USD starting price, our Explorer was fit with all-wheel drive for $2,000 USD; option pack 301A, which includes features such as active park assist and lane departure warning, for $3,000 USD; a $1,595 USD moon roof; the EcoBoost engine; and a handful of other options. The total sticker price came to $52,215 USD. A similarly equipped Dodge Durango Limited—our most recent Big Test winner in the segment—could be had for around $46,000 USD.
The refreshed Explorer is ultimately a massive improvement, but it only now, four years into its lifecycle, feels like the SUV it should’ve been right out of the gate. Buyers who decide to bite the bullet on the little EcoBoost engine can do so knowing that they’re finally getting a finished product.
|2016 Ford Explorer Limited 2.3L EcoBoost AWD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$52,165|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.3L/280-hp/310-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,525 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||198.3 x 78.9 x 71.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.3 sec @ 84.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||123 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.7 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||18/26/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||187/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.93 lb/mile|
Additional photos of the 2016 Ford Explorer: