2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD Review

Tuesday March 1st, 2016 at 10:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

By David Colman

Hypes: Lovely engine/gearbox combo, All windows one touch up/down
Gripes: Heated steering wheel would be nice

Ford’s Escape moves into 2016 largely unchanged. If you are savvy, you will order your Escape with the most powerful engine available in the model range, the 2.0 liter EcoBoost motor, which makes 240hp and a whopping 270lb.-ft. of torque thanks to direct fuel injection and a turbocharger. This optional engine will set you back an extra $1,115, and it’s worth that much and more. Coupled to a 6 speed automatic transmission, with real gears instead of the CVT belts so often found in entry level SUVs these days, the diminutive Escape proves a very lively performer. In a solid week of driving, the EcoBoost motor always responded instantly to power demands with a satisfying thrust that belies its excellent fuel economy of 22 MPG City and 28 MPG Highway.

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

If you also check the order form for the Titanium 4WD model, you will find yourself paying a premium of $4,085 over the less expensive SE 4WD model. But the extra four thousand dollars buys you a raft of worthy improvements including exterior rear view mirrors with built-in turn signals, remote trunk release and power lift back, premium sound system, HD radio, 10-way power leather front seats, mirror and seat memory, keyless start, leather steering wheel, multi-zone climate control and A/C, heated front seats with lumbar adjustment, and rear parking alert with cross-traffic warning. All of these features integrate seamlessly into the make-up of the Titanium Escape, upping your enjoyment of the vehicle without breaking the bank.

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

In addition, Ford supplied our test Escape with a couple of pricey extras you could probably eliminate without discomfort. The $1,514 “Equipment Group 301A” improves headlight efficiency with HID units (versus standard Halogens), and also adds blind spot detection sensors to warn you of invisible obstacles. It also upgrades parking beepers to “Parking Assist” status front and rear. A navigation system boosts the bottom line a reasonable $694, and is unusual in that Ford makes it available as a stand-alone option. Finally, you’ll definitely want to invest in very handsome and useful 19 inch alloy “Luster Nickel Wheels” which are also bargain priced at just $607. If you opted for aftermarket 19 inch alloys, you would pay double this amount and they would never look this good. The intricately cast wheels are wrapped in Continental ContiProContact rubber (235/45R19) which proved tenacious in wet weather grip. Escape’s 4WD traction keeps these Continentals pointed in the right direction at all times.

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

The Escape has come a long way since its introduction. Originally, this model looked prosaic, lacked flair and performed without distinction. But Ford has reworked the Escape to the point that it has become a legitimate contender in a tough SUV class containing such standouts as VW’s Tiguan, BMW’s new X1, and Subaru’s Forester. In this elevated company, the Escape now stands its ground, but only if equipped with the Titanium niceties, 19 inch wheels, and EcoBoost motor of our test model. In that guise, if you compare it to any other small SUV, you’ll discover Escape matches up so well you can save thousands of dollars buying the Ford.

We especially loved it for its 5 stage heated front seats, which permits more comfortable temperature adjustment than almost any similar product on the market today. The elevated seating position in the front row promotes excellent sight lines in all directions. Even though our test vehicle lacked the optional ($1,305) Panorama Roof, we never missed it because the interior is always bathed in light thanks to tall side windows, and a fishbowl of a windshield.

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

Also, the optional blind spot warning devices provided by package 301A are much less obtrusive than those of most competitors. Instead of needing to shut them off at the start of each trip, we let them tweet their occasional alarm without ever feeling harassed. This minor feat of engineering accomplishment is characteristic of the Escape Titanium as a whole. Ford has achieved a commendable balance here between price, performance and livability. You would be hard pressed to improve on the Escape by looking elsewhere.

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, direct injection turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 270lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,655
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch Review

Monday January 25th, 2016 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

By David Colman

Hypes: Massive Power Band, Hauling Capacity
Gripes: Still a Few Sharp Edges

This is not your daily driver. Let’s start with its length of 247 inches, which you would be hard pressed to park in a diagonal slot let alone parallel park. Then there’s the curb weight of 7,745 pounds, close to four tons. How about its cab height of 80 inches? Even with illuminated running boards and grab handles, it’s still a chore to climb aboard. And its width of 80 inches matches its height, so you won’t have an easy time trying to locate the distance of your wheels to the curb when parking this behemoth rig.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

Of course, once ensconced in the elevated driver’s throne, the view of the surrounding roadside is unparalleled. You’re pretty much on eyeball height with 18 wheel operators. And with the King Ranch model (a $6,970 premium over Lariat grade), the interior is done up Wild West style with fancy tooled leather everywhere you look. All the floor mats bear the King Ranch’s distinctive “w” brand, even the chrome hubs of the 20 inch “premium cast aluminum wheels” ($1,172) carry the logo. Wrapped around those splendid rims are Michelin LTX A/T tires measuring 275/65R20, carrying white side letters which add to the visual medley.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

The large center console between the front seats displays a recessed cordovan leather “w” which contrasts with the handsome adobe interior. The Gay 90s feel of the cab makes you feel like a ranch hand on a cattle drive. But there are a few flies on the cows. For example, the first time I went to release the emergency brake, my fingers discovered a knife edge sharp protrusion under the dash, located right next to the brake release pull. It’s a design flaw that should never have passed muster. Also, a section of lower dash fascia had separated itself from the upper dash panel. In its defense, this truck had accumulated a lot of hard miles (23,000) by the time it reached me.

This “one ton” Ford is designed for two primary chores in life. The first is toting heavy loads in its gaping cargo bed, which is rated to carry 2,080 pounds (hence the one ton tag). The second is towing a trailer. For 2015, Ford upped the F350′s trailer rating from a mere 23,200 pounds to 26,500 pounds. The Super Duty model we drove is good for the full rating because it’s equipped with the optional ($7,229) 6.7 liter “Power Stroke Diesel” B20 engine, turbocharged to make 440hp. Despite the Ford’s 4 ton weight, this torque monster of an engine, driving its 3.55:1 electronic locking rear axle through a 6 speed automatic transmission, will make short work of any acceleration need, no matter what you’re towing. When you floor the diesel’s throttle, the instant infusion of torque transfers 800 lb.-ft. of honking grunt to all 4 Michelin contact patches simultaneously. The F350 launches forward with such a wallop that you’d think it was a half ton pickup with a muscle car motor.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

Ford takes good care of you with a bevy of informative gages spread out across the instrument panel to monitor every facet of the diesel’s behavior. In a world more where old fashioned instrumentation has been relegated to the scrap heap of history, Ford persists in keeping you apprised of this truck’s operational life signs: turbo boost, oil temp, water temp and fuel level are always on view, with no need to resort to any menu-driven nonsense. If you’re serious about pulling a trailer, this rig affords standard trailer brake controller and sway controller, plus a reverse camera to help you position your hitch. It’s also equipped with a “fifth wheel prep package” so if your Airstream is destined for the F350′s bed mount, you’ll find all the fixings already present.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

Of course, in order to accommodate 26,500 pounds of baggage, Ford suspended this Sumo F with the stiffest springs in the parts bin. Unloaded, the truck tends to pitch over road imperfections like the mechanical bull at Gilley’s roadhouse. The ride here is anything but compliant, though the plush seating surfaces do make amends of their own. But Ford designed this package with a laser focus. Thus, it equipped the dash panel with no less than 4 auxiliary switches for possible items you may install, like a winch, overhead light bar, or big rig running lights. Whatever you choose, the pre-wiring and switchgear has already been thoughtfully installed. The possibilities are endless. If you can put up with the Kink Kong climb in and the harsh ride, this Ford will take you and your portable house anywhere you care to go. A buy-in price of sixty-seven grand seems like pocket change for the infinite travel possibilities this brute promises.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

  • Engine: 6.7 liter Power Stroke V8 Diesel Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 440hp
  • Torque: 800lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $67,868
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

Tuesday October 13th, 2015 at 3:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

By David Colman

Hypes: Eco Boost Motor is a Keeper, Stellar Exterior Redo
Gripes: Needs Rear Wiper, Closer 2nd-3rd Gear Ratios

Back in the first 1960s heyday of the Mustang, if you saw a button on the dash marked “Shaker” you knew that the ram intake on your hood would open when you pressed that magic button. More cold air meant more horsepower. Because the induction scoop was mounted on the engine and was not part of the hood, it would vibrate in synch with the engine, earning it the name Shaker. The 2015 Mustang has a “Shaker” button on the dash, but this one has nothing at all to do with increasing air intake. Rather, it refers to an optional $1,795 “Shaker Pro Audio System” which includes 12 speakers. The button simply enhances the rush of hot air through those dozen speakers, not the rush of cold air into your motor.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

Once I got over the initial disappointment of that generational descriptive shift, I discovered that the latest Mustang has lost nothing of its rambunctious nature, active hood scoop or not. Our Ingot Silver Metallic test bullet fully lives up to the brand’s storied reputation. Without question, this is the best Mustang Ford has ever built. Three engine options are available this year, with the V6 model being the most affordable at a base price of $23,600. The subject of this test is the EcoBoost Premium Fastback, with a turbocharged 2.4 liter inline 4, and a Base Price of $29,300. The least expensive V8 Mustang is the GT Fastback, which carries a Base Price of $32,100. It’s been quite awhile since Ford sold a 4 cylinder Mustang, so we were curious to see whether such a fuel efficient power source (25 MPG Combined City/Highway) could cut it in the performance department. With its output of 310hp @ 5500rpm and 320lb.-ft. of torque @ 3000rpm, the answer is an unqualified yes. Even when coupled to the 6-speed “Select Shift” automatic transmission ($1,195), the turbo Mustang was always up to the task of rapid mobilization.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

The Select Shift gearbox can be slotted into a Sport setting marked “S” on the floor console. Once you’ve selected that quadrant, the small paddle shifts behind the steering wheel can be used for all up and down gear changes. The only drawback to the automatic gearbox is its big gap between 2nd and 3rd gears. Most of the time, you will lose 1500rpm when shifting up, which puts the small displacement four banger at an acceleration disadvantage. I would much prefer to see these two most frequently used gear ratios closer together for back road work.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

Other than that shortcoming, the turbo 4 Mustang runs back roads like a scalded snake. The optional “Eco Boost Performance Package” ($1,995) is a must if your drives have more curves than straights. Ford engineering’s absolute stroke of genius is to equip the Performance Package enhanced Mustang with whopping fat Pirelli P Zero tires (255/40ZR19) at each corner, mounted on tastefully understated Ebony Black Painted aluminum wheels. The final flourish to this bargain priced package is inclusion of a 3.55:1 Limited Slip rear axle that insures your Mustang instant forward bite when you tromp the throttle.

Almost every time I started the Mustang, I made sure to engage my “Drive Mode” of choice. This is accomplished by flipping a chrome plated switch on the lower face of the central console to the setting marked with a helmet for “Track.” This configures the suspension for sport driving and reallocates the shift points to maximize thrust. Next to that switch is an identical toggle for steering feedback, which I always set to “Sport.” With these preparations made, the Mustang hunkered down over its Pirellis and absolutely refused to slide or deviate in any way from my selected line through switchback turns.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

On the window sticker, Ford identifies the Mustang as a “”4-Passenger Sports Car.” After spending a week behind the wheel, I would never quibble with that description, though I must admit to a preference for the front seat rather than the limited vision back seat. If you do carry passengers in back, you’ll want to provide them with air sickness bags because the latest Mustang is a true g-Force generator second to none.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

  • Engine: 2.3 Liter inline 4, DOHC, Direct Injection, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 310hp @ 5500rpm
  • Torque: 320lb.-ft.@3000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 21MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $37,790
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Ford F-150 4×4 Supercab

Thursday August 6th, 2015 at 11:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

By David Colman

Hypes: Aluminum Saves 700 LBS, Sweet EcoBoost Motor
Gripes: No Tailgate Damper, Manual Seat Back Control

Although Ford’s latest F-150 may look familiar, its what you can’t see that distinguishes it from its predecessors. At just 5,000lb, it’s remarkably light for such a large truck. The substitution of aluminum for steel in the cab and body structure has pared curb weight by 700 pounds. As a result, you no longer need a gas swigging V8 under the hood to provide enough punch for acceptable performance. Our test F-150 utilized a V-6 engine displacing just 2.7 liters. Using such a small engine would have been unthinkable in previous three ton versions of the F-150, but thanks to the use of aluminum, the small displacement engine is perfectly adequate to all needs, including towing up to 11,000 pounds.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

The secret to the success of the 2.7 liter V6 is the fact that it’s equipped with twin turbochargers (“EcoBoost” in Ford parlance) which allow the diminutive mill to make 325hp and 375lb-ft. of torque. When you stomp the loud pedal in this rig, you’ll have no performance complaints about its V6 replacing a V8. The only irksome note is struck by Ford’s Auto-Start-Stop regimen, which automatically kills the engine at stoplights, then re-fires it when you touch the gas pedal. Although this protocol does save fuel, the F-150 shudders when shutting down, then shakes like an awakened Frankenstein when re-firing. You can, however, manually override Auto-Start-Stop with a button on the dash console. Trouble is, you have to reactivate your deletion choice each time you re-start the truck. In any event, at refueling time, you’ll be pleased to learn that the EcoBoost motor averages 20MPG in overall driving. The 5.0 liter V8, which is still available in the F-150, will return just 17MPG in overall driving, while making 360hp and 380lb.-ft. of torque.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

Since our test F-150 arrived during a week when we were building and furnishing a small utility shed, we put the behemoth Ford to good use all week long. After visiting a builder’s emporium in Petaluma, we loaded the Ford’s 6 foot long bed with multiple 4′x8′ sheets of Thermoply wallboard and Insulfoam rigid insulation. At first, the Ford’s 6′ short bed seemed problematic, but leaning the load against the closed tailgate forced the extra 2′ lengths to curl upwards while remaining inside the gate. Had we transported plywood, however, the 6′ bed would have prevented us from using this trick. The morale is that if you truly need a work truck, you may not want to opt for the Supercab configuration which limits bed size to 6′ in length.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

The bed of our test truck featured 8 different tie-down hooks, which we utilized to attach bungee cords to stabilize the load. Our test truck featured a couple of options that vastly improved its load carrying ability. The first was a $475 Spray-In Bed Liner, which provides you with a non-slip surface for your load. It also protects the bed from scratches, so we were able to transport a trio of 20″x20″ very heavy paving stones without leaving a mark on the bed floor. The other brilliant innovation is the $375 Tailgate Step, which proved invaluable when climbing into the bed to arrange loads. This device features a single step ladder which deploys from the dropped tailgate. It also features a handrail which extends to let you get a grip while climbing aboard.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

Since my wife and I drive close to 50 different new vehicles each year, it would be easy for us to become a bit blasé about their various virtues. But when my wife returned home after yet another transport mission, she exclaimed as she walked in the door, “I just love driving this truck!” Without question, there’s a certain exhilaration every time you climb onto the running board, hoist yourself into the luxurious cab, and survey the highway world from a perspective superior to that available in any car. The F-150 provides a sense of mastery before you ever flick the key to start. Its sheer size (232″ length, 77″ height) makes it tower over traffic, affording a stellar view of your surroundings. And its bulk is undeniably intimidating to other drivers, especially the boors normally predisposed to usurp your right of way. Given the go-anywhere capacity of the all-wheel-drive system, the epoxy-like traction generated by Goodyear’s best Wranglers (275/65R18), the decisive punch of the EcoBoost motor, and the commanding perspective from the glassy cab, the F-150 has all the bases covered when it comes to staking your claim in the traffic pattern. This is not a vehicle to be trifled with, and if you value the safety of you and your family, you might want to consider the F150 as your main means of transport – even if you never drop so much as a brick into that vast pickup bed.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

2015 Ford F-150 4×4 Supercab

  • Engine: 2.7 liter V-6 EcoBoost Turbo
  • Horsepower: 325hp
  • Torque: 375lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,480
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

Wednesday October 15th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Solid Power Team, Efficient Use of Space
Gripes: Vague Steering Feel, Ergonomic Cabin Issues

Through the first third of 2014, Ford has sold 72,746 Fusions. That accomplishment places the Fusion fourth in the mid size market segment, behind Nissan’s third place Altima, Toyota’s second place Camry and sales leader Honda’s 112,100 Accord sales. The Fusion may lag the imports, but it is a rousing success compared to other domestic brands like Chevrolet’s Malibu (43,101 sales), Dodge’s Avenger (25,068) and Chrysler’s aging 200 (21,648). The reason for Fusion’s strong showing lies in its appearance, value, and diversity of models. Let’s start with looks, because that’s the first sales hook you’ll encounter. Ford blatantly emulated the grill silhouette of Aston Martin’s $300,000 DB-9 to distinguish the Fusion from anything else in the mid size segment. The Ford’s high belt line also mimics the Aston’s tall side/squat greenhouse proportions. The result is a very handsome product from Ford that rings the styling bell with cues borrowed from Aston’s James Bond closet.

The value facet of Fusion ownership manifests itself in the wide variety of affordable combinations Ford offers. No fewer than 9 different models are available for 2014, ranging in price from the FWD S at $21,900 to the Titanium Energi at $40,500. You choose from 4 different engine options, FWD or AWD, plus 2 plug-in hybrids designated SE and Titanium. The Energi (Hybrid) SE that is the subject of this review carries a base price of $36,700. With the addition of a $295 Reverse Sensing System and a $795 Navigation System, this Fusion SE’s delivered price is $40,585.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

If you choose a Hybrid Fusion, you will lose considerable trunk space compared to a gas powered model. The high energy battery pack occupies a substantial section of the trunk floor, leaving you just a little flat storage area before the floor steps up sharply to house the battery and electric motor components. Note that although your warranty will cover all Energi system bits for 15 years or 150,000 miles, the high energy battery warranty is limited to 10 years or 150,000 miles. Since this Hybrid is only capable of covering 21 miles before its battery charge expires, the trunk space trade-off would seem to pose a considerable deterrent to selecting a Hybrid Fusion. An SE with gas motor only retails for just $23,855, and comes with an unobstructed and spacious trunk.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

But the beauty of this Hybrid lies in its virtually undetectable transfer from electric to gasoline mode when underway. Whereas most such combo cars let you know quite clearly and noisily when switching from electric to gas power, the Fusion transfers energy source quietly and seamlessly. Under full electric power, it proved so quiet that we were able to sneak up on a bobcat hunting in the wild without alarming the cat. An idling gas engine would have instantly driven this cat into the bushes. So there are unanticipated blessings when running silently on electricity. Another Hybrid virtue is the shot of thrust the electric motor provides when you flatten the throttle. The 2.0 liter gas engine which normally provides 141hp and 129 pound-feet of torque, links up with the electric power source which adds 118hp and 117 pounds of its own torque. That’s more than enough surge to spring past slower traffic on two lane roads, or slot into a 70mph freeway pattern without worry. Best of all, you’ll do so while averaging 43 MPG in overall driving. If you restrict your Fusion outings to electric power only, you’ll register 100MPGe. As far as the Energi’s Greenhouse Gas Rating, it scores a perfect 10 out of 10 on the EPA/DOT barometer, and a 7 out of 10 on the Smog Rating scale.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

Unfortunately, Ford equips the Energi SE with rock hard (Treadwear Rating: 430) Michelin Energy tires (225/50R17), that lose grip at the least provocation on twisty back roads. Because this sedan is otherwise so well balanced and sensitive to steering input, the Michelins detract from an otherwise pleasant handling package. If you replace them with something stickier, you might sacrifice a few MPG in favor of improved adhesion. It’s a move well worth making.

Learning to love the Fusion is easy because the interior is so well designed. In SE trim, the driver’s seat is heated and offers 10 power adjustments as well as 3 memory positions. The other front seat is also heated, with 4 power position controls. The rear seat is surprisingly comfortable for long trips. I spent several hours in back, comforted by a large center armrest containing 2 drink holders, and a pair of small, floor-mounted AC vents with adjustable nozzles. the only rear seat demerit stems from the Fusion’s high beltline and small windows, which tend to induce claustrophobia and motion sickness if you enjoy reading while riding.

Ford’s Fusion is leading domestic mid size sales because it looks good, rides well and offers a wide variety of combinations and price points. The Energi SE is one of a handful of Hybrids that’s not only economical to run, but also fun to drive.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-I, plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 270hp
  • Torque: 280lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,875
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

Tuesday August 26th, 2014 at 4:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

By David Colman

Hypes: Plug-In Convenience with Mainstream Attributes
Gripes: Overly ‘Helpful’ Steering, E-Motor Performance Marginal

If you relish having the most expensive house on the block, then the Fusion Energi is definitely the Ford you’ll want to own. You can buy an entry level Fusion S for just $21,900. An upgraded SE is $23,855. A top level Titanium series Fusion costs $30,500, with incremental jumps to $32,500 for either the Hybrid or the all-wheel-drive version. At the very top of the pyramid stands our plug-in Hybrid Titanium test car, with its base price of $40,500, and its as delivered sticker of $45,310. You can partially justify the extra cost by proclaiming the plug-in feature will save you bucks in terms of fuel cost. But it will take you just short of forever to recover your initial expenditure, which is more than double the cost of a base Fusion.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

This is not to say that the Energi is a sedan without merit. It’s nice to roll into your driveway and plug this Fusion in for its night time battery recharge. With a special 240V outlet, you can refresh the 300 pound lithium pack in just 2.5 hours. The Energi, however, runs out of electric energy at just 20 miles. If that range meshes with you daily drive, then you’ll never need to visit a gas station again. But for most of us, 20 miles will get us where we’re going, not back home again. To cover the shortfall, Ford has provided a 4 cylinder in-line, 2 liter gas motor which kicks in when needed with 141hp and 129lb.-ft. of torque. The electric motor alone is good for 118hp and 117 pounds of torque. If you have battery reserve, you can combine the two sources of motivation by depressing a button on the steering wheel. Those quick bursts are enough to make passing slower cars possible, a feat not necessarily feasible on electric power alone. With both sources of propulsion in use, the Fusion Hybrid Energi will cut a 0-60mph run of 8.6 seconds and top out at 104mph.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

Ford has elevated the interior of the Fusion, in Titanium guise, to top level status. The seats are excellent, with special accolades going to their enveloping and adjustable lower back support. The steering wheel contains so many control buttons for cruise, stereo, and incidental information, that you will find it difficult to keep your hands focused on driving rather than programming. The instrument binnacle contains two vertical bar graphs, with the left side dedicated to electric charge information, and the right side providing fuel tank status.

The constant velocity transmission (CVT) offers little in the way of help when you suddenly need more oomph from your drive train. Your choices are restricted to D (Drive) or L (for additional downhill braking), with no paddles connected to the steering wheel for manual shifting. When you’re in full electric mode, dependant on just 118hp to motivate this two ton sedan, you will be a full time occupant of the slow lane. Braking is regenerative, with the heat of brake application being diverted back into the electric energy supply chain. Although the Fusion’s brakes at first seem slightly mushy, they never change their engagement point on successive applications. This will come as a welcome benefit to those who have sampled regenerative brakes that behave inconsistently.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

The steering effort on our Energi, however, displayed seemingly erratic behavior. At times it felt like the wheel was difficult to turn, at other times it kicked back subtly for no apparent reason. After experiencing this disconcerting behavior for a day or so, I belatedly realized such feedback was intentional. Thanks to the $1,140 Driver Assist Package, the Fusion’s steering is designed to tighten whenever you chain lanes without signaling first. Not only does the steering stiffen, but it also vibrates as it resists your input, even guiding your Fusion back into the lane you’re in. Personally. I would pay $1,140 extra to delete this annoying “feature.”

Steering anomalies aside, the Fusion Energi is one of the best plug-in Hybrids you can own. It tops the list because it makes so few concessions to its special status as a plug-in. Its brakes are dependable and consistent. Its power flow is acceptable in EV mode but better in tandem power mode. It’s a full size four door family sedan, though you do lose significant trunk space to battery storage needs. Its exterior and interior design reveal the same flare and finesse that characterizes the entire Fusion line. If you want to go green, and can afford to spend liberally upfront to save in the long run, the Fusion Energi is a good Hybrid choice.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

  • Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC inline 4 cylinder plus AC Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 141hp (gasoline)/ 118hp (electric)
  • Torque: 129lb.-ft.(gasoline)/117lb.-ft. (electric)
  • Fuel Consumption: 43 MPG (gasoline)/100 MPGe (electric)
  • Price as Tested: $45,310
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Tuesday June 10th, 2014 at 11:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

By David Colman

Hypes: Porsche Performance at Motorbike Price
Gripes: Why Carp?

Drivers who still consider a car to be a precision tool rather than a blunt appliance will rejoice that Ford is into the second year of production for the sublimely satisfying Fiesta ST. With its affordable base price of just $21,400, this five door, five passenger hatchback is a slam dunk choice for any automotive enthusiast needing more than two seats. Few competitors in this price range come close to matching the sheer joy of driving the ST on a winding back road. VW’s soon to be introduced seventh generation GTI, the hot hatch that started the whole craze back in 1984, will carry a window sticker of $24,395. For that kind of money, you can afford to upgrade the Fiesta ST with the $1,995 optional Recaro seats and still beat the bottom line of VW’s standard bearer by a hundred bucks. The other main contender in this sporting market niche is Honda’s Civic Si, with a base price of $22,405 and a 201hp engine that overpowers the front wheel drive system.

Despite the fact that the Fiesta ST’s turbo motor makes 197hp, you rarely encounter torque steer. This is a beautifully balanced platform designed to handle the instant shove provided by the turbo four’s 202 pound-feet of torque. Although you have 6 gears to select in either manual or automatic gearbox form, the ST’s turbo spools up so fast that gear choice is almost irrelevant. Still, it is a pleasure to stir the cogs with a slick, short throw linkage that facilitates travel from gate to gate. The manual transmission is finely tailored to enhance the driving experience. Just as finely tailored are the optional and expensive Recaro front seats, which afford full upper torso support unmatched by any other economy sedan. Strap into these ribbed cloth beauties and you’ll feel like you’re about to take the starting flag at Le Mans.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

While this hot hatch’s race breeding might leave you starry eyed, don’t overlook the fact that the ST is still a Fiesta, with all of that car’s innate useful virtues. For example, you’ve got 4 doors to ease entry to all 5 seating positions. You’ve got more green house glass than the Crystal Palace, so visibility in all directions is superb. Ford even throws in a rear window wiper at no extra cost and contributes heated front seats for the same price (free). Our test sample boasted a negligibly expensive ($795) navigation system with rather rudimentary graphics. But there’s nothing basic about the Sony premium audio system that’s standard ST fare, or the similarly standard automatic temperature control that lets you dial cabin comfort without taking your eyes off the road. Try pricing these niceties on some of the German competition, and you’ll quickly realize what a cozy financial package the ST represents.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Back in the 1960s, Chrysler Corporation was notorious for devising unforgettably named muscle car colors like Plum Crazy. Ford has happily extended that playful tradition with our Fiesta ST’s jarring shade of ($595 optional) Envy Green. Imagine a fresh lime dissolving in a sea of amber Corona beer and you get the idea of Green with Envy. Few cars in any price range own such visual bragging rights. And in the sub $30,000 category, blatant eye currency is virtually unattainable. But Envy Green just laughs at such preconceived expectations.

Better yet, this turbo terror’s performance exceeds even the vaunted promise of its flamboyant appearance. No bend is too tight to devour, no straight too short to gobble. Equipped with summer-use-only Bridgestone RE 050A Potenza rubber (205/40R17), the ST will slither through a slalom as fast as you can crank its fat rimmed steering wheel from lock to lock. And between those corner apexes, the turbo lights its afterburner so quick that you’ll find yourself dealing with the next apex Right Now. Although the ST masquerades well as a family conveyance, with all of those doors and seats, storage and conveniences, its true merit lies in its exceptional handling. If you’re looking for a practical hatchback but secretly hanker for something to autocross or time trial at track days, look no further than the Fiesta ST.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

  • Engine: 1.6 liter GTDI inline 4, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 197hp
  • Torque: 202lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26 MPG City/36 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,580
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Focus 4-Door Titanium

Monday June 2nd, 2014 at 8:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Directional Stability in Rain
Gripes: Tight Rear Seat

Ford has mastered the art of building a cheap car that doesn’t feel cheap. You won’t find any telltale signs of penny pinching when you drive a Focus. The charcoal leather trimmed front seats envelop you so hospitably that three hour sittings pass without complaint. Standard five stage seat heaters ease the journey at no extra expense. Ford has crammed the standard issue Focus with such thoughtful addenda as a tilt/telescope steering wheel, one touch drop of the driver’s window, remote fob lock and unlock, and push button start. Sony provides the excellent audio components, while Ford adds its own navigation unit for $795 extra. A rear view camera which displays its image on the large navigation screen is standard equipment. You’ll be pleased to discover that Ford provides easily modulated dual zone climate control at no extra charge, as well as power operated and heated exterior rear view mirrors complete with wide angle inserts and built-in puddle lamps.

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

Yet this extensive portfolio of goodies costs just $25,500, navigation upgrade included. The cabin of the Focus Titanium is so competently organized that you could easily drive this 2,995 lb. compact hatchback across the USA without hesitation or discomfort. Especially compelling are the 17 inch Cooper Zeon RS3-A mud and snow rated tires (215/50R17) which offer a premium combination of ride comfort and responsive handling. They especially earned their stripes during a scary torrential downpour on US 101 near Gilroy where they never lost their grip on the flooded pavement.

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

While the 160hp output of the Focus’ inline four cylinder motor may seem paltry on paper, in practice it’s more than adequate for zippy but economical forays. We were able to complete a week of Bay Area commutes plus a 120 mile jaunt from San Rafael to Monterey before refilling with a paltry 9 gallons of standard grade gas. Despite this remarkable fuel efficiency (overall EPA rating of 31 MPG), the Focus never felt underpowered. Ford has achieved a rewarding balance between economic operation and responsive engine performance.

If 160hp is not enough to light your wick, consider the Focus ST, which Ford turbocharges to produce 252hp – more than enough to spin the front tires off the rims. The ST Focus is available only with a 6-speed manual transmission. Our Titanium test car eased city driving with its 6-speed automatic gearbox which includes a “Sport” mode gate. When you slot the lever into “S,” you’re able to control up shifts and down shifts via a rocker switch inconveniently located on the shift knob. Although this method of gear override is fairly compliant with your wishes, it occasionally decides to up shift on its own with no provocation from you. This idiosyncrasy can prove inconvenient during passing maneuvers.

While Ford offers a 5-door hatchback Focus, we spent the week driving the conventional 4-door sedan version that combines a huge trunk with a 60/40 split-fold down rear seat that gives you almost as much storage space as the hatchback but with the added benefit of more privacy for your valuables. The amount of luggage the Focus trunk swallowed without protest was a real eye opener: 2 hard shell cabin trolleys, two large soft sided duffel bags, a hard shell large plastic storage bin, and numerous paper sacks stuffed here and there. No matter what we threw at the Focus, it obligingly accepted. All this despite the fact the Ford has positioned a large, space grabbing Sony sub-woofer along the right side flank of the trunk.

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

Although the rear seats are tight for adults, the Focus sedan would make an ideal companion for families with two sub teen children. For that quintessential foursome, the Focus offers just the right combination of interior space, ample hidden trunk storage, and economic propulsion to make it a prime candidate for the prime American garage.

2014 Ford Focus 4-Door Titanium

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter Inline 4 with Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 160hp
  • Torque: 146 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/37 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,500
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta SE

Monday May 26th, 2014 at 8:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Sporting Tendencies, Practical Interior, Gas Genie
Gripes: Lacks Rear Seat Legroom, Distracting Rear View “Spotter” Mirrors

The latest Fiesta is an undeniably handsome design, with its ground hugging snoot, upturned tail, and primly pursed Aston Martin copy grill imbuing it with unexpected flair. The only discordant note in the stylistic aria is struck by the 15 inch SE standard alloy wheels, which are visually swamped by spaciously flared wheel wells. It’s been a long time – 40 years to be exact – since a 185/60R15 tire was considered to be the hot setup in street rubber. It’s not that these Hankook Optimo H426 tires perform without merit, rather that they just don’t look the part on this otherwise up to date styling exercise. The only thing you’ll really appreciate about these tires is their cheap price when it comes time to replace them with new ones. But if this were my Fiesta, I’d upgrade it with Plus 1 (16″) or Plus 2 (17″) tire and wheel packages, either through Ford, which offers both, or via an aftermarket supplier. In either event, the new Fiesta will look more like something from the 21st century than an artifact from the groovy Sixties.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

In addition to its cleanly sculpted body, the SE Fiesta offers the impecunious buyer a host of other, more practical advantages. Topping the list is its negligible purchase price of just $15,450. You can hardly buy a decent motorcycle these days for that amount. Our test SE’s electric “Blue Candy” tint added a negligible $395 to the bottom line. Its “Power Shift” 6 speed automatic transmission, a $1,095 extra, bumped the bottom line to $16,940, still a sensational deal in the automotive scheme of things today. I would forego the optional transmission in favor of the standard 5-speed manual, which is such a pleasure to operate that it makes the lightweight (2,665 lbs.) Fiesta feel even sportier than it really is. The manual gearbox facilitates ratio choice, a job which is rather a chore with the automatic, which lacks paddles, and requires use of a minute, stick-located toggle switch to swap ratios.

You won’t be overwhelmed by the passing power of the Fiesta’s 120hp, 1.6 liter four, which makes just 112 pounds of torque. On the other hand, you’ll love how long it takes to drain this Ford’s 12 gallon fuel tank. We zipped all over the Bay Area for a solid week before stopping to refuel, because the range on a single tank is nearly 400 miles at 32 MPG overall. On highway trips, you can run close to 470 miles before a recharge, since the Fiesta is good for 39 MPG on the freeway. Of course, your butt might give out before your fuel supply, because the cloth seats of the SE are pretty much entry level in terms of adjustability and comfort. Fore and aft travel is manual, as is seatback rake, which is inconveniently controlled by a lever shrouded by the shoulder harness. Steering wheel angle is also manually adjustable, but there is no provision for altering reach.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

The rear seats are useless unless your Fiesta is full of occupants no taller than 5 feet. Even then, your rear passengers will have to duck their heads to climb aboard. Anyone 5’8″ tall will find a dearth of knee room back there, and just 1 inch to spare in headroom. On the other hand, the Fiesta is perfect for packing 2 adults up front and a pair of kids in back. Ford even provides seatbelts and headrest for a 3rd, center mounted victim in the rear seat. Even with a full load of 4 or 5, the sedan leaves you with a surprisingly spacious trunk of 12.8 cubic feet. If your cargo requirements call for more storage length, the rear seats flip down in a 60/40 split pattern, though you’ll need to remove the rear headrests prior to flattening the seats.

Because the Fiesta is so small and nimble, it’s unexpectedly fun to drive. Even in this mildest state of tune, the SE offers immediate throttle response when you’ve dialed up the proper gear ratio. The steering is refreshingly accurate, and you can really boogie on back roads in spite of the Hankook’s modest adhesion limits. If your interests tend more to sporty driving than basic transportation needs, Ford’s Fiesta product line includes the turbocharged ST with 17 inch rims and 197hp. But for most occasions, the base engine is more than adequate. It may be hard to believe, but for the price of an entry level Harley Davidson bike, you can buy a genuinely useful, economic and good looking little sedan that exudes value and versatility.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

  • Engine: 1.6 liter DOHC Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 120hp
  • Torque: 112 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/39 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $17,735
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Escape SE FWD

Thursday March 20th, 2014 at 2:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious Cargo Hold, Remote Keyless Entry, Precise Handling
Gripes: Tiny Info Screen, Poor Seat Bolstering, Finger Twisting Rear Hatch Handhold

For such a small SUV (106 in. wheelbase, 178 in. length), the Escape scores reassuringly high on safety institute (IIHS) crash tests, with “Good” ratings in the all four categories (frontal offset, side and rear impact and roof strength). From the US government, the Escape rates 5 stars in front and rear seat side crashes, and four stars in all the rest (frontal crash- both sides, and rollover). These ratings are due in large measure to Ford’s inclusion of a driver’s knee airbag, front seat-side mounted airbags, and a “safety canopy” overhead bag. Adding to the security blanket for 2014 is a rear view camera, now standard on all models. This proves especially helpful when backing up the Escape, because visibility to the rear is not great. All these passive safety measures work in consort with such active safety strengths as responsive handling, respectable acceleration, and pinpoint steering control.

The Escape model line includes 3 engine choices this year: a 2.5 liter 4 (168hp), 1.6 liter turbo 4 (173hp) or 2.0 liter turbo 4 (231hp). Ford’s press pool vehicle paired the 1.6 liter turbo 4 with a 6-speed “Selectshift” automatic transmission. The Selectshift moniker is something of a misnomer, as the system depends on a shift lever mounted button to swap gears that is both hard to locate and inefficient in use. Better to supply paddles on the steering wheel, or a tip-stick method for gear choice. The 1.6 liter 4 returns admirable gas mileage figures (23 MPG City, 32 MPG Highway, 26 MPG overall), while still providing enough torque (184 lb.-ft.) to tow 3,500 pounds. In normal part throttle use, this drive train provides quiet, ample power. However, when prodded hard, the little turbo tends to shriek louder than tennis vampire Maria Sharapova.

The Escape handles better than its seats handle you. There’s no lack of cornering bite from the Continental Pro Contact tires, which are quite sizeable (235/55R17) for an SUV of such modest proportions (curb weight: 3,675 lbs.). In fact, the abundant cornering power generated by the Escape tends to chuck you off your cushions in the SE’s front seats because they have no side bolsters and they are upholstered in grip less charcoal black cloth. The optional leather seats available in the Titanium Escape, are better contoured to counteract this SUV’s ability to dislodge you. The interior of the Escape is impressively large. If you flop the split (60/40) rear bench seatbacks forward, you can even slip a full size bike through the rear hatch and lay it flat in the cargo hold. You can equip your Escape with an optional self-opening rear door for 2014 triggered automatically when you kick your foot under the back bumper. Our test SE, unfortunately, was not supplied with this latest automotive parlor trick.

The steering wheel of the Escape is festooned with so many knobs and buttons that it will make your head spin. Not a great idea when you’re tasked with concentration on driving. A couple of times, we inadvertently triggered a voice that impatiently awaited commands we were unprepared to issue. The over abundance of minute controls and menu-driven operations is emblematic of Ford’s continued reliance on its Microsoft-derived operating system called MyFordTouch. MFT is as baffling as Windows, and much more dangerous to operate in a driving environment than Windows is at your desk. By diverting your attention from driving, MFT’s opaque methodology tends to undercut the passive safety measures Ford has incorporated into the Escape’s basic architecture.

Notwithstanding ergonomic gripes, the front-wheel-drive Escape is a solid, practical mini-SUV offering handling, tow capacity and storage space that belie its humble size and mechanical specification. At a base price of just $25,550, the SE presents the potential buyer with enough virtue to make it a contender in the final round of consideration.

2014 Ford Escape SE FWD

  • Engine: 1.6 Liter Inline 4, Turbocharged (Ecoboost) with Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 173hp
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,840
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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