September 16, 2011

F150 Ecoboost

At least the truck looks good...

Everyone loves cars that don’t belong to them.  I just spent two weeks with an F-150 XLT Supercrew that arrived at my house with a “manufacturer” tag.  The truck was also wrapped in some impressive signage advertising the Ford Ecoboost Challenge.  This challenge was eight drivers in eight cities trying to maximize the mpgs of the 3.5L twin turbo V6 Ecoboost engine.  This challenge was intriguing, so I had to participate, plus it put me in an F-150 for two weeks, instead of the hour long test drive that is the usual.
                Having a truck “dropped off” at your house does add to the mystique of the test drive.  Especially when it comes on a fully-enclosed auto transport, which means that it comes off the truck like a NASCAR or F1 car arriving at the track.  It was awesome.

                When you first step in the F-150 Supercrew, you will immediately notice the space.  I drove a ’97 GMC Sierra for a couple of years, plus a Yukon XL now.  Space is almost always at a premium in truck cabs; lots of storage, but not a lot of comfort.  There is a trend to a more comfortable style of truck.  Dodge even sells a Ram with a heated steering wheel.  The other manufacturers have mocked this in TV ads, but there are days every winter, when I wish I had one.  Instead I use the seat-heater and rotate my hands to keep them warm.

The legroom is impressive. Andre the Giant would be comfortable in here.

                The floor of the rear seat is flat.  There is no hump in the middle caused by the driveshaft heading to the back wheels.  The rear seats also fold up creating a large storage that can rival the cargo volume of some SUV’s.  The rear legroom was noticeable when I installed both the car seats for the boys.  The 3 year old could no longer rest his legs on the back of the driver’s seat and spent the first ten minutes in the car asking to be “scooted up.”  The space in the back also allowed me, at 6’4”, to move through the seat hunched over, but able to move freely.  The rear legroom is listed at 43.5 inches and the front legroom is also over 41 inches.  In the driver position, normally the floorboard comes up to limit legroom for the left leg.  In the Supercrew, this was not an issue.  I spent time trying to find all the different driving positions and was amazed at some of the position the roomy interior allowed (think Hot Yoga in a truck, I was driving with no A/C).  The roomy interior even allowed for changing clothes with little to no fuss.  I would normally have hit an elbow, shin, or forehead on a piece of hard plastic, but that wasn’t the case here. 

That is my neighbor's brand new F-150 in the background!

                The information center on the instrument panel was easy on the eyes.  Every time you start the F-150, the “Built Ford Tough” logo crashes down onto some virtual concrete and dust abounds.  It looks like it’s HD quality.  For this trim level there were a couple of trip counters, mpg gauge, temperature sensors, an overall checklist, and an off-road menu.  I liked the off-road menu, but it felt unnecessary on a two wheel drive pickup.  The off-road menu gave the degrees that the front wheels were turned and the degrees the truck was angle up/down & side to side.
                I did plug in my iPod to the Sync system.  I used the voice activated controls to play different artists from my catalogue.  Once you pick an artist you can use a button to skip through that artist’s songs.  I’m a fan of turning on “shuffle” and just skipping through songs till I find one that fits the mood (Hippie… Or hippy…  Depends on where you’re from.).  This was hard to figure out in the Sync system and in fact, I never figured it out.  I just unplug, put the headphones back in, and skipped to my heart’s content.  The nice thing about the USB port was that I could use it to charge my cell phone which I’m too cheap to buy a car charger for…  I never Sync’ed my phone.  Just didn’t have time and I’m more worried about driving than fiddling with buttons and technology.
                This truck also came equipped with the rearview camera.  The monitor was in the rearview mirror and was very helpful.  It amazing how fast you can become reliant on technology.  There were also parking assist sensors that beep louder as you get closer to whatever you’re about to hit.  Between the sensors and the camera, reversing the F-150 was quick and simple.
                The driver’s side mirror has a blind spot mirror in the upper left corner.  I quickly came to utilize it for lane changes and clearing the blind spot.  It was helpful and didn’t ruin the picture for the rest of the mirror, plus all the mirrors auto-dimmed for night driving.  No more reaching up to tilt the rearview mirror or tilting the side mirrors down to keep the lights out of your eyes.  Again, small features that were noticed quickly.

All the competing models’ lower range engines are around 300 horsepower.  The 3.5L Ecoboost V6 is turning out 365 horsepower and doesn’t have a redline on the tachometer.  The horsepower feels ready to go all the time.  Since I’ve given back the F-150, I’ve come to miss the power.  Even the 3.7L V6, which is just the regular V6, turns out 302 horsepower.  Dodge is using a 4.7L V8 that turns 310 horsepower, Chevy is using a 4.8L V8 that turns 302hp, Toyota Tundra is 4.6L V8 with 310hp, and the Nissan Titan is 5.6L V8 with 317hp.  You can easily see Ford’s sales pitch here, right?  More power, better fuel efficiency, more fun = more sales.  Sometimes I think advertising would be a really easy job.  “Buy a Ford, it’s better, don’t be an idiot…”  Can you get a job in marketing without a college degree?  I don’t know, but this engine is a really easy sale.  Ford recently announced that the Ecoboost engine is going to be available for almost all model lines.
The twin turbo V6 is supposed to average 16mpg in the city and 22 on the highway.  Those are the numbers that Ford and the EPA have decided on.  I achieved some very non-typical results that don’t seem all that unreal.  While driving extremely carefully to really make the mpg’s soar, I was able to keep the mpgs up over 26 miles per gallon.  Then again driving in the city and really driving it, the numbers were closer to 16 mpg.  When I say, “really driving it”, I’m basically flooring the accelerator until I get to the generally accepted 5 mph over the speed limit every time I needed to accelerate.  Either way, I was pleasantly surprised.  The ’03 company Denali averages between 13 and 16 depending on the conditions.
The amount of torque that is available is impressive.  The Ecoboost has the F-150 ready to roll as soon as you take your foot off the brake.  This actually caused some concern at first because I almost rear-ended a minivan at a stoplight because the Denali would have just stayed in place (It’s so heavy), but the Ford’s idle acts as a launching gear.  In the 0 to 60 tests that we ran it through, which aren’t the most scientific, the Ecoboost was getting 6.5 seconds.  That’s as fast as small hatchbacks that don’t weigh nearly as much.  Intriguing, yes?  Now imagine this engine in a Mustang.  That would be the same amount of power in a car that is 1500lbs lighter.
The acceleration and power were very nice, but weren’t jaw dropping.  My favorite part of an airline flight is the feeling of being crammed back into my seat as the plane takes off.  If I’m buying a car with over the top power, I’m trying to replicate that crammed into seat feeling.  This F-150 was shocking at times, but it never caused “pucker time.”  If you need that last statement explained, it does involve sphincter muscles (If you’re embarrassed, don’t worry, I am too…).
The traction control was easily turned off by a button on the dash.  I did turn it off and perform a couple of burn-outs (not my tires…).  There was one episode in rush hour traffic, when I attempted to pull out into traffic in a hole that the AWD Denali would have made; no problem.  I punched the F-150 pretty hard and immediately found myself turning into a fishtail…  The traction control was on, but the right rear tire was still spinning.  Pick-ups are known for being a little light in the back and this was apparent here.  The power made it incredibly easy to power-brake and smoke the tires.  After the mini-spin, I took more care to accelerate hard only in a straight line. 
One thing I enjoyed, since I wasn’t buying the next set of tires for this truck, was chirping the tires at speed.  While rolling along at 25 to 35 mph, I would just drop the accelerator to the floor and listen to the tires.  Every time it was a short single note that let me know they had got the message about going faster, until the engine would drown them out.  The engine noise wasn’t bad, but flooring it in a tunnel makes it sounds great.  It doesn’t have the grumble that the Denali has at idle, but this F-150 would get it in a 0 to 60 race.

It was sad to see it go...

Overall, this was a really fun and functional truck.  The amount of space in the back seat is jaw dropping.  The power was readily available and curtailed just enough to not feel out-of-control scary.  When changing lanes on the highway and applying power to accelerate away from frustrating slow cars, the F-150 excelled.  It was a fun two weeks.  My main complaint is that it didn’t fit in my garage. 
I placed 4th in the Ecoboost Challenge.  Short of towing the truck there wasn’t much more I could have done to amplify the miles per gallon.  The Community Service side of the competition went well and overall my team and I collected 150 disaster kits (50 provided by Ford).  I felt like we represented KC in an appropriate fashion.  If you heard about my site through the Ecoboost Challenge and are just now checking us out, “Welcome.”  Our team needs all the followers we can get.  Thank you for your support!

September 10, 2011

"Love the Beast"

Drive comes out this month and we are really excited for it's arrival.  We are always looking for TV and car movies that don't have "Fast" or "Furious" in the title.  Eric Bana's Love the Beast was suggested on Netflix and it did not disappoint.  Turns out Bana's a huge car nut.  He's a fan of motor racing and cars in general, but he has a special relationship with his '74 Ford Falcon XB coupe.  Bana has owned the Falcon since he was a teenager and has continued the relationship to the present.  Jay Leno, Jeremy Calrkson, and Dr. Phil (I can't make this stuff up, people.) all add their two cents about cars, passion, and being in the "zone."  It was an interesting look into another gear-head's passion and what drives him.  The documentary introduces you to Bana's family, friends, and how cars have come to be Eric's passion. 

If this alone doesn't sell you on our recommendation, almost everyone in the movie (except Dr. Phil & Leno) speaks with an accent; either Aussie or English (in Clarkson's case).  After a while, the Aussie version of "car" starts to sound like someone from Boston.  Weird, huh? 

Give it a look.  If you enjoy it, cool, if not make sure to let us know your alive and let us know what horrible taste we have.


P.S. Mr. Bana, please don't sue us, but we got the pictures off the Internet...

September 8, 2011

Chevy Cruze Eco

When we first saw the Cruze, our reaction was not one we’re proud of…  We thought it looked silly and our opinion took a turn for the worse when we saw it promoted on CBS’s Hawaii 5.0.  Sometimes you just have to get your hands on the car to find out if it lives up to the reputation you created in your head. 

P.S. We were so wrong about this car… (Gulp)

                The interior was amazing.  For a small economy sedan we felt like we were in a car worth at least $10,000 more.  Then again we were comparing it to the Maxima interior, which we still maintain is over-priced. 
                The seats were cloth.  In fact, you can only have cloth seats; there is no leather option on the Eco model.  The LTZ and 2LT models have leather options, but the cloth seats were comfortable on a really warm day.
                The AC unit on this Cruze was FANtastic (Get it!  fan  These are the jokes, people…).  It was 96F on the morning of our test drive day.  The AC unit kept the interior comfortably cool and we even had to turn it down a little because we were getting chilly.  The best part was with the AC on full the Cruze’s drive train was still peppy and upbeat, like a Smurf on a sugar rush.
                The media center was easy to use.  There wasn’t a plethora of buttons, just enough to get the job done and a display that wasn’t cramped and hard to navigate.  Someone from the dealership had even preset the local radio stations to the favorite’s buttons already (It’s the little things that matter.). 
                The plastics on the interior did not feel as cheap as most we’ve run into lately.  The gear shift is fluid and firm, while the turn signals were a too firm for our taste.  The window switches are brilliant.  All four of them are auto down with the driver’s being auto down/up!
                The steering wheel was tilt and telescopic.  Overall driver comfort was 8 out of 10.  We would have gone higher here, but we needed just a little more lumbar support.  Leg room was plentiful in the front seats, but almost non-existent behind Chris while he was driving.  Someone without legs would have fit comfortably behind him, but not many others would. 
                There was some road noise due to the low profile tires.  It wasn’t terrible, but we did notice it.  If you’re jamming (Yes, we’re old, we know no one “jams” anymore) to your iWhatever you won’t hear the road noise at all.

                The Cruze comes in eight colors, but only six are available for the LS (cheapest) model.  The LS comes with the largest engine (1.8L), but does not get the turbo that the Eco and LTZ models do. 
                The overall look of the Cruze has grown on us.  When we first saw it advertised on Hawaii 5.0, we thought it looked a little like an overweight teenager, one that might someday slim down and fill out to eventually become a Malibu. 
                The front end is better looking than we initially thought and the back end looks that way to make the trunk bigger.  It isn’t as smashed in the back as we thought either.  Overall this car looks better than the Corolla and Elantra (ugly step sisters of the Cruze) combined.
                The safety ratings on the Cruze are 5 stars on frontal, side, and rollover for every passenger in the car.  With the new stricter ratings, this is very comforting to know that everyone is protected to the best of the government’s standards.

Now the truly shocking part of this car!  The Cruze Eco comes equipped with a 1.4L turbo-charged four cylinder engine turning out 138 horsepower.  This is deceptively quick.  The car itself feels fast and light.  The steering could be a little tighter, but this is an economy model. 
                We drove this little car hard; wrapping a tachometer that redlines at 6 and ¼ to 5,000 rpms repeatedly.  Most of the torque could be found between 3,000 and 5,000 rpms.  This car is designed to get great mileage and it will.
                Even when we were jumping away from traffic lights or down-shifting to really pull us through some tight corners this car was averaging great fuel economy.  It the short time we had our Cruze we averaged 27.2mpg.  We were driving this Cruze like it could be a pace car for Formula 1.  We probably were not reaching the speeds needed to make that analogy work, but it felt like we were. 
                The only place we were a little disappointed was sixth gear.  Sixth gear is colored green on the gear shift.  It’s there for the purpose of saving mpgs and that purpose alone.  There is very little acceleration in sixth.  The car will lose a couple of mph if you are going up a slight incline with the cruise control on.  This cruise control was very easy to use and the digital display between the tach and speedo made it easy to know what you set it at.
Peninsulas suck!
                The turbo caused the Cruze to sound great.  It made us reminiscent of the Mini’s guttural chug.  Not quite that deep, but definitely didn’t sound like an economy car that could average 42mpg on the highway.  That isn’t a typo!  42mpg out of a turbo-charged Chevy!  Who knew?!?!  We didn’t and we’re assuming most of America hasn’t figured it out yet either.  Heck, Europe should put in an order for this car!  It’s spacious without being over the top.  It has plentiful trunk space and can get your groceries home before the ice cream melts.
                Lastly, we almost found ourselves stranded in this car and it wasn’t the car’s fault.  We pulled out onto a peninsula at the local lake.  The park around the lake has some great twisty roads.  We hadn’t been out on this particular road yet…  We should have figured out how to reverse the car before we went out on a road surrounded by water on three sides.  The gear shift was compressed repeatedly, we slammed the tranny (hehe) into 1st often hoping to go backwards, and even put it in neutral and rolled backward at least 4 feet.  The trick is a circular ring on the gear shift that is pulled up and allows the stick to find reverse.  If you don’t pull the ring, then you always find 1st. 
                There were some moments of pep talk. “We are smarter than this car.  We are smarter than this car.”  As soon as we figured it out, we felt less smart.  It’s nice to be humbled by a machine.  While it humbles you, at least it doesn’t judge you. 

                We’ve already suggested this car to a couple of friends who were starting car searches.  This Cruze surprised us again and again.  The interior, the ride, the performance, and the mileage; were all great aspects of this car, but the mileage was unreal.  If you drive a lot of highway miles, this car is getting close to Prius numbers, but five to seven grand less in price.  Sometimes it’s really nice to be surprised…