Back when I was a kid, my friend Peter's mother bought a four-cylinder Taurus. We used to marvel at the idea that this dirigible of a car could have such an undersized engine; even by the anemic standards of the day, the Taurus' acceleration was glacial. I went a lot of places with Peter and his family, but as far as I can remember, we never went anywhere in his mother's Taurus -- I assume because it didn't have enough power to back out of the driveway.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, the four-cylinder Taurus is back, except this time the car is bigger and heavier and the engine is even smaller. But this is the EcoBoost engine, with direct fuel injection and a turbocharger, which Ford sees as its magic formula to meet new, stricter EPA fuel economy standards.
Proven idea, new application
The idea of replacing a V6 with a turbo four is not new -- Hyundai did it in the mid-size Sonata, Kia did it in the Optima and Sportage, and even Buick got in on the act with the Regal and Regal GS. Ditto for the new Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion. The difference is that the Taurus is one of the first vehicles where the V6 isn't a nice-to-have -- as Peter's mom's car proved, a boat like this needs 200+ hp to get out of it's own way. Equipped with a turbo and direct injection, Ford's 2-liter puts out 240 horsepower 48 shy of the 3.5 liter V6 that usually does the job. But with a big, heavy car, it's the torque that is important -- and the 4-cylinder actually out-torques the V6, 270 lb-ft to 254.
So how does it work? Better than expected. The 2.0T isn't merely adequate -- it's the perfect substitute for a V6, to the point that Ford ought to do its own version of those old Folger's Coffee commercials. ("We've secretly replaced the V6 in this couple's Ford Taurus with an EcoBoost turbocharged 4-cylinder. Let's see if they notice the difference." Husband: "Hey, this car is really quick." Voice-over: "It's an EcoBoost 4-cylinder." Husband: "No kidding, is it really? I thought -- hey, wait, who the hell are you and what are you doing in my car?") The four-cylinder doesn't leap off the line the way the V6 does, and the full-throttle engine note is leaves no doubt as to the number of cylinders, but as far as mid-range acceleration, freeway merging, and passing power are concerned, the 2.0T does the job every bit as well as the V6.
Concept vs. reality
The idea behind subbing a small turbo 4 from a big V6 is to save fuel. Now, a turbocharged engine doesn't magically produce a lot more horsepower from a lot less gasoline. For those unfamiliar, a turbo packs more air into the cylinder, which allows it to burn more fuel and produce a bigger bang. At the risk of playing fast and loose with the math, you're basically making a 2-liter engine do the work of a 3-liter engine. And that, in and of itself, does not save fuel. (I once hammered a 2.0 liter Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution on the Top Secret Curvy Test Road, and got 9 MPG. Nine.) It's what happens when you are not on the power that makes a difference: The turbo isn't packing in that much extra air, and the engine consumes fuel like a two-liter. In theory, it's a bit like displacement-on-demand -- the turbo four acts like a big engine when you need one, and a small engine when you don't.
How does that play out in numbers? According to the EPA, the Ford Taurus EcoBoost is rated at 22 MPG city and 32 MPG highway, while a V6-powered Taurus is rated at 19/29. I averaged 21.1 MPG, which I found a bit disappointing -- maybe I was dipping into the turbo boost a bit too much. But then I looked back into the About.com Cars archives. I've never done a week-long test of the new-shape Taurus, but I did spend a week with a 2008 Taurus with the old 3.5 liter V6, rated at 18 city/28 highway, and I averaged 18.5. Two-and-a-half MPG improvement? Yeah, I'll take that.
Wave of the future?
So is the Taurus 2.0T the future of big cars? I'm thinking not. While it's a good proof of concept, there are still the problems that I outlined in my 2010 Taurus review: For such a big car, the back seat is too cramped -- a point illustrated nicely when my 6'2" friend clonked his head while getting into the back seat. (Sorry, Jason, next time you visit, I'll book a bigger car.) The Taurus' trunk is still the best thing this size of a pickup truck, but for passenger space and comfort, I'll take one of the roomy mid-sizers like the Honda Accord, Volkswagen Passat, or Ford's new Fusion -- which, by the way, offers many of the Taurus's coolest features, including SYNC and the self-parking system (which I f'ing love). The engine is great, but the Taurus itself needs a redesign that takes better advantage of its size.
I have to credit Ford for not limiting the new fuel-efficient engine to entry-level models. My test car was a Limited model fitted with just about every available option (all it was missing was a sunroof, an ashtray, and active-motion seats), and it carried a $37,675 price tag.
So while the Taurus may not be the best big car, the 2-liter EcoBoost is the best engine for it. Who knows -- maybe even Peter's mom will get one. Although we'll probably need to tow the old one out of the driveway. -- Aaron Gold
What I liked about the 2013 Ford Taurus 2.0 EcoBoost:
- Four-cylinder engine does the job of a V6
- Top-of-the-line models can be had with the more fuel-efficient engine
- Trunk as big as a closet
What I didn't like:
- Back seat is too cramped for the Taurus' size
- Fuel economy, while impressive, still is well below mid-size sedans