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  • 2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid SE

    Five-passenger hybrid focuses on versatility and value

    By Nina Russin

    Ford C-Max

    Ford C-Max

    There was a time when the premium cost of hybrid cars outweighed any cost benefits owners might get at the fuel pump. Then Ford introduced the C-Max and everything changed. Priced from $24,170, the C-Max offers buyers more space than the competing Prius liftback, with some compelling features for buyers with active lifestyles.

    Because the lithium-ion battery is packaged under the floor, second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. A hands-free liftgate makes it much easier to load up large cargo such as bicycles and kayaks. The door opens when the driver makes a gentle kicking motion under the back bumper with the key fob in his pocket.

    A 110-volt outlet comes in handy for weekends off the grid, to plug in a computer or exterior lighting. Ground clearance is about 5-1/2 inches: not enough for serious off-road trails but adequate for the occasional graded dirt road.

    Fuel economy lags behind the smaller Prius at 43 mpg, but it’s still a very good number: enough to produce a 550-mile driving range between fill-ups.

    But the best reason to take a look at the C-Max is its performance. On that one, Ford hit the ball out of the park. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Ford EcoBoost Challenge

    Automaker invites consumers to sample fuel-efficient cars

    By Nina Russin

    Photo by Randall Bohl

    Photo by Randall Bohl

    Two years before gas prices spiked in the summer of 2008, Ford’s newly appointed CEO, Alan Mulally, announced plans to shift the company’s focus from big trucks to small cars. At the time, it was a bold move. Not only was Mulally ahead of the curve; he was battling a record-breaking drop in sales.

    Mulally has the type of vision few men do; it had made him a success at Boeing, and enabled him to bring Ford back to profitability within three years. Under his leadership, the former Michigan truck plant became an assembly facility for small cars. Ford led the way in eco-driving education programs throughout the United States, and developed a group of relevant technologies called EcoBoost, intended to enhance the fuel efficiency of traditional gasoline engines.

    EcoBoost isn’t a magic bullet. Rather, it’s a series of enhancements that together make what is an inherently inefficient machine run better. When I attended mechanic’s school in the mid-1980s, we were taught that the internal combustion engine was at best 40 percent efficient.

    Photo By Randall Bohl

    Photo By Randall Bohl

    Although on-board computer controls have raised that number, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Turbocharging, variable valve timing, active grille shutters and work in the wind tunnel can stretch fuel economy on a traditional gasoline-powered car up to 40 miles-per-gallon on the highway. Back in the era of the mechanical carburetor, such a feat would have been impossible.

    In addition, Ford has developed a family of hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles including the Fusion midsized sedan, C-Max compact crossover and Escape compact sport-utility vehicle as well as an electric version of the Focus.

    In order to familiarize the public with its green car technology, Ford recently launched the EcoBoost challenge: a series of weekend ride-and-drive events throughout the US that give consumers the chance to drive both Fords and competitive products on closed courses.

    The program kicked off on April 12 in Phoenix, Arizona- location of Ford’s hot weather proving grounds. It travels to eleven more cities, including Charlotte, Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, Houston, Columbus, Chicago, San Francisco and Indianapolis. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

    Compact crossover packs a big punch

    By Nina Russin

    Ford Escape

    Ford Escape

    Although the 2014 Ford Escape Titanium is one of the pricier compact crossovers on the market, its high level of safety, comfort and infotainment features makes it a great value. Clever technology such as the hands-free liftgate, active park assist and MyKey that allows parents to control speed and audio volume when their children have the car sets the Escape apart from the ever-expanding sea of competitors.

    This year, buyers can combine the hands-free liftgate and towing prep package features, enabling the Escape to tow up to 3500 pounds. Engineers used video game technology in designing the liftgate that opens when the driver makes a kicking motion under the back bumper.

    Active park assist performs parallel parking maneuvers automatically: a boon for drivers living in congested urban areas.

    Pricing for the upscale Titanium model with four-wheel drive begins at $30,850, excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring, high intensity discharge headlamps, , 19-inch alloy wheels, navigation and the two-liter EcoBoost engine, bringing the final MSRP to $36,085. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Ford Flex Limited

    A quirky wagon ready for adventure

    By Bob Golfen

    2013 Ford Flex

    Ford Flex is long, low and boxy, a stylish wagon for active people who want roomy practicality for such things as bikes, skis and camping gear but don’t want to be stuck with a bland SUV or minivan.

    With its fun, head-turning looks, Flex evokes visions of road trips under summer skies, and it seems to attract those who have a more adventurous outlook.

    Flex got a facelift for 2013 with some significant styling refinements, including a designer front end that looks like it came straight from an auto-show concept car. The boxy wagon shape has been softened slightly with rounded-off edges around the hood. It goes into the 2014 model year essentially unchanged.

    People seem to like Flex’s quirky appearance, as well as its versatility and refined drivability, but sales response to this unique vehicle has been slower than expected. Part of the resistance could be the very thing that sets Flex apart; its distinctive styling has proven polarizing. Not everybody wants to stand out in the crowd.

    Yet there is something reassuringly retro about the shape and feel of Flex. From behind the wheel, its broad, flat hood reminded me favorably of trucks from long ago.

    Another factor is Flex’s price tag, which is fairly steep, starting around $30,000 for the base front-wheel-drive model and climbing above $40,000 for the decked-out versions. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Ford Expands Electrification Efforts

    C-Max, Fusion and Focus lineups include hybrids/ pure electric powertrains

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

    Ford’s green car offerings for the 2013 model year include hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the C-Max crossover, compact Focus and midsized Fusion sedans. At a recent event in Tempe, Arizona, I had the opportunity to jump behind the wheel of Ford’s newest green cars and learn a little more about the automaker’s hybrid and electric vehicle technology.

    In order to contain manufacturing costs, Ford is utilizes flexible assembly lines at its Wayne, Michigan plant. The plant produces the C-Max and Focus gasoline, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric models. Since the cars share chassis components, it’s easier to modify production plans according to buyer demand.

    Ford positions the C-Max between two members of the Toyota Prius family: the liftback and the larger Prius V. The C-Max hybrid utilizes a lithium-ion battery pack positioned between the second-row seats and cargo area together with a two-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine to average 47 miles-per-gallon according to the EPA. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Ambidextrous

    Orthopaedic surgeon is a hot rodder at heart

    By Nina Russin

    Dr. Richard Shindell and His ’32 Ford

    When Dr. Richard Shindell was growing up in Phoenix in the 1960s, he and his buddies couldn’t wait for September, when area car dealerships would roll out the new models. Shindell’s father owned a sheet metal shop, so working with his hands came naturally. While in high school, he owned a 1953 MG TD, a ’59 Ford with a police package, and a 1960 Bugeye Sprite he restored himself.

    Shindell entered ASU as a biomedical engineering major, and finished with a degree in art. But he also had an interest in medicine, dating back to his eighth grade science class, where he enjoyed rendering parts of the human body.

    After undergraduate school, Shindell ran dormitories at ASU, which carried the benefit of being able to attend classes at no cost. A combination of the financial realities of raising a family and his long-time interest in the field drew him back to medicine.

    After completing his med school prerequisites at ASU, Shindell and his wife moved to Wisconsin where he attended medical school, eventually settling on pediatric orthopaedics. Read the rest of this entry »

  • New Ford Technologies Enhance Connectivity

    Automaker increases SYNC AppLink availability, enhances safety features

    By Nina Russin

    Ford launches SYC AppLink for 2012 Mustang

    Dateline: Dearborn, Michigan. Ford announced today that it is expanding availability of its SYC AppLink to ten models for 2012, including the F-150, Fusion, Fusion Hybrid, Fiesta, Expedition and Mustang. By enabling drivers to utilize SYNC’s voice controls, Ford is making the use of apps while driving less distracting.

    A Nationwide Mutual insurance 2010 study indicates that one-in-four Americans who download smartphone apps use them while driving. Neilsen research shows that smartphones will outnumber feature phones by the end of the year, pointing to an increase in the number of app users.

    Ford’s app developer has received 2500 submissions for new SYNC Applinks, including personalized entertainment, information, news, location-based services such as navigation, traffic and business searches, scheduling and planning.

    Current SYNC-enabled apps include Pandora, Stitcher and OpenBeak. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 Coupe

    GT engine gives Ford’s pony car some serious bite

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Ford Shelby GT500 Coupe

    There’s horsepower and then there’s horsepower. On paper, all numbers look pretty much the same. But when it comes to actual performance, engine dynamometer statistics can overstate the power reaching the car’s drive wheels.

    The 5.4-liter aluminum block in the 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 is the same one Ford used in the GT supercar. Making the supercar engine perform properly in a four-door sport coupe required some serious retuning of both the engine and Mustang chassis. Because Ford engineers took the time to adapt the GT engine to its new chassis, the resulting product is one that truly delivers on its promise.

    They began by taking 100 pounds out of the engine itself, improving the Mustang’s front-to-rear weight balance and enhancing the power-to-weight ratio.

    Larger exhaust pipes enhance airflow through the engine, improving both fuel efficiency and power. A new plasma cylinder liner coating in the engine replaces cast iron, dispersing heat better for enhanced high-speed performance.

    The 2011 Shelby GT is stiffer than last year’s model: engineers beefed up the existing structure and added a front Z brace. They also lowered the ride height by 11 millimeters in front and 8 millimeters in the rear to reduce aerodynamic drag.

    An optional performance package adds a higher rear axle ratio and stiffer springs, to give the car better launch characteristics and enhanced steering feedback at speed.

    Nineteen-inch aluminum wheels and high-performance tires provide large contact patches for quick starts, while Brembo brakes enhance the GT’s stopping power. Large cooling ducts prevent the brakes from overheating and fading.

    Supercharged engines have the advantage of developing peak torque early, and maintaining it through a wide range of engine speeds. In short, the Shelby GT can and will deliver all of its horsepower to the drive wheels. Chassis refinements help the driver to get the most of his time behind the wheel, be it on the racetrack, or a deserted two-lane byway. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Ford Edge Limited FWD

    Five-passenger crossover offers new safety and infotainment features

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Ford Edge

    The Ford Edge is the on-road counterpart to the off-road Explorer. With seating for up to five passengers, the Edge is a good option for active families needing a versatile cargo bay.

    This year, the automaker updates the Edge and Edge Sport to include My Ford Touch: a computer-based interface which gives drivers easier access to vehicle information and infotainment functions.

    Although the Edge lacks the Explorer’s terrain management system, available all-wheel drive enhances the crossover’s performance in rain and snow. Buyers can choose between a turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine and 3.5-liter V-6. The Edge Sport comes with a 3.7-liter engine which produces 20 more horsepower than the 3.5-liter block.

    The 285-horsepower V-6 in the test car is mated to a six–speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection. There are three grades: a base front-wheel drive model, SEL and upscale Limited (tested).

    Engineers equipped the SEL and Limited grades with standard 18-inch wheels as opposed to 17-inch rims on outgoing models. The Sport comes with 20-inch wheels.

    Base price for the front-wheel drive Limited is $34,220, not including a $775 destination charge. Blind spot monitoring adds $395, while navigation costs $795, bringing the price as tested to $36,185. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD

    Ford puts on its game face for a new generation of active buyers

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Ford Explorer

    The biggest challenge an automaker can face is to overhaul a core model. The Ford Explorer which defined the sport-utility segment back in the early 1990s is a perfect example.

    When I first drove the outgoing version, I was disappointed. There was nothing particularly wrong with the car except that it hadn’t evolved. In contrast, the all-new 2011 model meets the needs of millennial buyers, and in some ways, raises their expectations.

    The newest Explorer does everything former generations did, only more efficiently. A 3.5-liter V-6 engine develops peak torque, 255 foot-pounds, at 4000 rpm for performance similar to the former eight-cylinder block, while an EcoBoost inline four-cylinder engine replaces the former V-6.

    With three rows of seating, four-wheel drive and towing up to 5000 pounds, the 2011 Explorer meets the diverse needs of active families, yet averages 23 mpg on the highway for the V-6 version. Engineers were able to make the new unibody chassis durable enough to withstand the rigors of off-road driving and towing, but with more refined road manners than former body-on frame models.

    Ford leveraged technologies from its partnerships with Volvo and Land Rover to give the new Explorer premium safety and performance features. Blind spot monitoring, developed in conjunction with Volvo illuminates LEDs in the side mirrors to warn them about vehicles in the Explorer’s blind spots. Terrain management, a system which debuted on the Land Rover LR3, modifies the throttle, suspension steering and brakes according to the driving surface. Read the rest of this entry »