Ford Motor Company is traveling the nation bringing the EcoBoost Challenge to the people and I recently had the chance to take the challenge myself during a private press demonstration held the day before the gates opened to the public. The folks from Ford who produced the event were gracious hosts, enduring all our questions and turning a blind eye as I sent their Mustang a little hard into a corner and sent a cone or two flying. The event was great fun, but also quite impressive with their new crop of vehicles. The new Ford vehicle lineup is light-years beyond what they produced even a decade ago. After a brief speech from some of the suits at Ford about the EcoBoost Challenge and their enthusiastic embrace of the EcoBoost technology, we were free to set about the challenge. There were four events, a reaction challenge, side-by-side comparison, Mustang Challenge, and the Shift Phobia manual transmission education event. Starting with the side-by-side comparison we set out to haul some ass and test some vehicles.
Ford typically uses a Toyota Highlander and Honda CRV as the test vehicles in other areas of the country for the EcoBoost Challenge but they came to our neck of the woods bearing a 2015 Subaru Forester XT and Outback 3.6R Limited. Clearly they had done their research, as an infinite parade of Subaru wagons cruise the highways of the Pacific Northwest. Parked before the start of the course were three sets of vehicles to compare. An F-150 v. Silverado, an Edge v. Outback and Escape v. Forester. Each vehicle was equally decked out with all the latest options and gadgets and leather galore. The course set out fast with a good sized straight section to nail the throttle, and then a tight corner leading to a rough section of track intended to simulate rough roads. Following the bumps were a slalom course and a few sweeping curves as the track wound back to the starting line.
I started the day in the all-new 2015 F-150. The new truck is clad in a high strength aluminum body; the reduced mass has allowed for greater efficiency and payload capabilities. The interior has also been reworked, and the designers who crafted this cabin have truly outdone themselves. The Ford is simply stunning inside, tasteful wood and chrome accents are sprinkled throughout and handsome leather covers the seating surfaces. Even better, it was quick and nimble on the track. Nail the throttle on the 2.7L EcoBoost and the placid rear end springs to life as the truck pulls hard and teases the limits of traction. You can feel all 325 horses pull instantly as the EcoBoost unleashes a surge of power. There’s a whopping 375ft. lbs. of torque available nearly instantly. Through the slalom, the F-150 responds to steering input with wonderful tactile feedback. The new F-150 is a marked improvement in a series of trucks that spans 67 years.
The Chevrolet Silverado sent to battle the F-150 is also vastly improved over any previous generation of Silverado. The new interior of the Chevy is well styled but lacks the tactile feel of truly quality build feel on the interior panels. Even so, the interior is quite handsome and the cabin of this truck would not be a bad place to spend some time. The Chevy is packing a 5.3L EcoTec3 V8 that produces 355hp and an impressive 383ft. lbs. of torque. It was certainly responsive under wide open throttle, but the V8 felt slower to rev and build speed whereas the 2.7L EcoBoost F-150 launched with an animal like tenacity, clawing the tarmac for traction. I would hesitate to denigrate the Chevy too far though as it’s clear their engineers are bringing a vastly improved product to market. For me though, the overall feel of the F-150 is superior to the Silverado.
Next up were the 2015 Ford Escape SE and the 2015 Subaru Forester XT. In the Ford waited a 2.0L EcoBoost engine making 240hp and 270ft lbs. of torque; in the Subaru sat a horizontally opposed Boxer 2.0L making 250 horsepower and 258ft lbs. of torque. All Subaru vehicles feature AWD or all wheel drive (except the BRZ). AWD was also offered on this Escape SE Titanium. Each vehicle sports fresh bodywork and inside they were both well appointed with the laundry list of options offered on the premium CUVs.
My biggest complaint with the Escape is that my left knee banged violently into the door during the slalom course. Of course, if you aren’t driving like a race car wannabe’ in a borrowed car, I doubt this will be much of an issue. The Forester XT’s seats were quite comfortable with adequate bolstering. I prefer the driving position of the Forester XT to the Escape, as in the Escape the low hood drops away to an expansive, if a bit ungainly view of the road.
However, the Escape absolutely destroyed the Forester XT in my non-scientific butt-dyno test of mashing the gas-pedal to the floor until the last minute then standing on the brakes. Copied by hoons the world over, the beginning of the test basically equaled a mad sprint from red light to red light. The Ford revs freely and builds speed quickly where as the Forester was slower to motivate down the track. The Forester XT’s turbo engine is not the Subaru’s biggest downfall however. The Forester is equipped with a CVT, or continuously variable transmission. There are brilliant examples of this type of transmission and the Forester is definitely not among them. The CVT buzzes loudly and seems to bind up all the power. By comparison the Escape’s 6-speed automatic felt nimble and responsive to throttle input making the turns of the course much more fun.
The final pair for the comparison test drive was a Ford Edge and the Subaru Outback. Fully decked out in top of the line trim packages, the vehicles were swaddled in leather and fully equipped with options. In the Edge waited a 2.7L EcoBoost capable of making 315hp and 350ft lbs. of torque. The Subaru bore a 3.6L making 256hp and 246ft lbs. of torque. Clearly the Edge has the advantage on paper over the Subaru in the power department. The Outback is freshly styled and the new body is a vast improvement over the outgoing body, which bore a striking resemblance to an athletic shoe with all the boxy black cladding. The Edge is also freshly styled and here too, a great improvement over the outgoing model.
The large crossovers both performed handsomely in the challenge. The Edge has more power to give, but the Subaru takes it all back with it’s stellar handling. If you need space to haul the dogs, a few friends and their gear you’d do well with the Edge or the Outback. Each vehicle brings unique advantages though; the Subaru with it’s ground clearance and perfected AWD capabilities may be better suited to the outdoor warrior where the Edge and it’s stellar interior comfort, ride handling, power and sexy new body are perfectly matched to a weekend road trip to the wine county of Eastern WA, or parked out front the trendy new club.
The most exciting part of the day was the Mustang Challenge. Ford had laid out a coned-out route in a huge parking lot with long straight sections and plenty of curves with a slalom course at the end. The stable of Mustangs being offered for the demonstration bore a choice of manual or automatic transmission, each decked out with an extensive list of options. Beneath the hood laid Ford’s hot new 2.3-L EcoBoost engine, cranking out a tire shredding 310hp and 320ft lbs. of torque while delivering up to 28mpg on the highway. Of course, these cars weren’t here for fuel economy, today it was all about performance!
I opted for the 6-speed manual to tackle the course and mated to the powerful EcoBoost 2.3, the Mustang was a delight to drive. The EcoBoost revs quickly with virtually zero lag as it spools up unload a torrent of torque. The all-new independent rear suspension is a big change for the new Mustang, and the result is a very compliant suspension that offers a much-improved ride over rough roads without sacrificing performance. I had an absolute blast flitting the rear end of the car around the corners on the track, there was just enough slip to be fun and more than enough control to correct and continue on.
Tearing up the track, or parked in front of the club, the 2015 Mustang is truly a beautiful car to behold inside and out. Unlike any previous Mustang yet instantly familiar, this car is well executed inside and out. The dashboard layout is reminiscent of the classic style with the center stack falling away to an impressive arsenal of technology and comfort. The seats, wrapped in thickly stitched leather felt comfortable and well bolstered, especially through the slalom course Ford laid out for us.
If you are looking for a hot new coupe and demand style and performance, look closely at the new Ford Mustang. You’ll find a beautifully styled exterior, aggressive and bold without looking brash and unrefined like its Detroit kin, Chevrolet’s Camaro and the Dodge Challenger. Inside the cockpit you’ll find a gauge cluster that is sophisticated and elegant; nestled between the sweeping tachometer and speedometer dials sits a crisp display to deliver information about the vehicle’s status, navigation, entertainment, and driver connectivity systems. The fit and finish of both exterior and interior panels is on par with the Audi A5. The Ford beats the Audi on performance by a long shot however; the German coupe’s 2.0L’s 220hp is downright tepid compared to the 310hp EcoBoost 2.3L.
The Shift Challenge is the only event that I didn’t try as I already know and prefer a manual gearbox, but the setup was really cool. First they sit you down in a simulated drivers seat, with pedal and shift simulators where the real thing would be. They explain the mechanics of how the clutch works, and then unleash you on a nearby Ford Focus to test your new skills. It’s great to see something like this, as working the clutch is a dying skill with most new vehicles and their quickly evolving automatic 8-speed wonderboxes. There is just something special about rowing through the gears; it’s a direct connection to the machine that is mostly lost with an automatic.
The final event was a reaction challenge, with two drivers lining up to a starting line with a “Christmas tree” style setup to count down time until the green light signals to GO! The goal is to start moving as quickly as the green light comes on. The faster your reaction time, the better you’ll do at the challenge. They outfitted us with a pair of ST kitted Fiesta and Focus sedans. The ST stands for Sport Technology, and they were fitted with the appropriate go-fast bits. In this event, the Focus really won me over. The manual gearbox was excellent with its crisp clean throws and felt nicelyweighted in the hand. The 256hp EcoBoost 2.0L had more than enough grunt to spins the tires off the line. The seats in the Focus ST are the real treat though, the leather Recaro racing seats cradle your body in a way that makes other car seats feel downright primitive. The Fiesta ST was also quite peppy, the 197hp 1.6L EcoBoost responded nicely to wide open throttle, giving a bit of wheel spin of it’s own in the process. It’s a shame the reaction challenge event was so short, as I’d welcome more time in the Focus ST, especially on the track!
Now for the Feature Presentation – Seattle Gay Scene Contributor, Ary Den Otter, puts the new Mustang to the test on the track. Gays Driving Fast!
And, just for the hell of it, and because we’re geeks, the Official Trailer for Gays Driving Fast.