2011 Ford Explorer Burns Less Gas Using Hybrid Tech Tricks

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2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

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According to Ford, the main reason that car buyers don't choose traditional sport utility vehicles is gas mileage. So for the new 2011 Ford Explorer, Ford is pulling out all the stops to improve fuel efficiency anywhere it can.

Its signature engine is the 237-horsepower, direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost aluminum four--whose torque equals that of its predecessor's 4.0-liter V-6. Ford is aggressively expanding its efficient EcoBoost engines across more of its vehicle lines.

But the 2011 Explorer also steals several technical tricks from Ford's hybrid vehicles. In a briefing last week, Jim Holland, Ford's chief engineer, described a few modifications from the company's hybrids that his team was able to apply to the Explorer's EcoBoost engine.

"Mild Atkinson cycle"

First, the vehicle uses what he calls "mild Atkinson Cycle" combustion, which simulates a compression stroke that's shorter than the power stroke by leaving valves open during part of that stroke. This slightly reduces the power needed to pump air, improving its efficiency.

The Atkinson Cycle engines fitted to full hybrids run very efficiently at high speeds, at the cost of producing very little torque at low speeds. The hybrid's electric motor, which produces maximum torque from 0 rpm, neatly complements this.

Without an electric motor, the 2011 Explorer's engine can't run a full Atkinson cycle, but even shaving fractions from its pumping losses raises the power it generates from the gasoline it burns.

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

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Internal EGR

Second, the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four's ability to vary its valve overlap depending on power demand allows a kind of "internal exhaust-gas recirculation," feeding exhaust gases into the combustion cycle to provide a slight increase in power under certain loads.

Scott Makowski, Ford's North American inline-four design manager, notes that this alone boosts fuel economy by 3 percent and power by 10 percent over the same engine without the ability to vary its valve timing independently.

The Ford Escape Hybrid is manufactured alongside its Mercury Mariner Hybrid sibling at Ford’s Kansas City plant

The Ford Escape Hybrid is manufactured alongside its Mercury Mariner Hybrid sibling at Ford’s Kansas City plant

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Aggressive fuel shutoff

Third, the 2011 Explorer engine has "aggressive" fuel shutoff on deceleration, depending on its speed and the torque it needs to provide. Holland again pointed to hybrids' role in pioneering engine shutdown as those vehicles came to a halt.

The Explorer system could be viewed as the on-the-road version of a stop-start system; the engine continues to rotate, but fuel isn't switched on again until more power is required.

All of these design tricks, incidentally, are also used on the 2011 Ford Edge crossover that's fitted with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four as well.

2011 Ford Edge Sport

2011 Ford Edge Sport

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Waiting for EPA ratings

While official EPA gas-mileage ratings for the 2011 Ford Explorer haven't yet been released, Ford claims the vehicle will be "30 percent more fuel efficient" than its 2010 predecessor.

Perhaps more impressive, Ford also says the 2011 Explorer will deliver "better highway mileage than the Toyota Highlander Hybrid." For the record, the 2010 Highlander Hybrid is rated at 25 mpg on the EPA's highway cycle.

Ford provided airfare and lodging so that High Gear Media reporters could bring you these details of the 2011 Ford Explorer.

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Comments (6)
  1. Well the 2010 Ford Edge gets 18/25 MPG and the 2011 version gets 19/27. So 1 or 2 MPG more. Not that much.
    On the other hand, the 2010 Ford Explorer gets 15/21 MPG so the 2011 is surely going to be a lot more fuel efficient.

  2. Why buy into Ford "talking points" here. The Toyota Highlander get 27 MPG in the CITY. Let's see if the Ford Explorer can even come close to that.
    Also, how many people will be using this vehicle to go to the grocery store and buy a gallon of mile? This is a task much better suited to a 51 MPG Prius rather than a 20 MPG Ford Explorer.

  3. Sorry, 4 cylinder or 12, you're still moving a 5000lb SUV around (heavier than a Pilot, might I add, despite being a "lightweight" chassis as Ford claims) and you still need an X amount of energy to move it, which is directly proportional to the energy in one gallon of gasoline. The engine rotational losses and overall engine efficiency be damned... 5000# is 5000#.
    I have a feeling, based on driving many of the same SUVs with both 4-cyl and 6-cyl versions, that the gas mileage on the 4-cyl won't be much better than the V6 in everyday driving. Furthermore, the 4-cyl will sacrifice smoothness and refinement.

  4. Heh, see latest post, where I go out on a limb and make some predictions: http://www.greencarreports.com/blog/1047531_2011-ford-explorer-building-better-gas-mileage-into-an-suv

  5. This is a good move by Ford, not only is it a 237 horsepower car, but the SUV look superb and its a hybrid. Great design concept

  6. Do not know why Ford did not use the hybrid technology available. Our 08 Mercury Mariner hybrid delivers 33 mpgs on the highway and 32 in the city. The technology is there, has amply been proven, so why not use it? Could it be higher profits per vehicle for Ford while sticking the customer with a lower mpgs vehicle? You decide, OK?

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