According to Frank Davis, Ford executive director of North American Engineering, the company is on a program the likes of which he’s never seen before during his 28 years with the company: between 2011 and 2016 Ford will have a product refresh rate—as in updating existing products, bringing out new versions of existing products, or bringing new products to market—of 152%. While Hyundai has been on a tear over the past couple years in its product development cadence, Davis puts the number for that company at about 124% for the same period. Toyota will be at 101%.
All of which is to say: Any company that isn’t exceedingly serious about their product development portfolio is a company that can look to find itself in the financial obituaries sooner rather than later.
Recently, Ford rolled out with a triumvirate of refreshed products, 2013 versions of the Flex, Taurus and Mustang. This is not simply a case of adding a new fascia here and a bit of fancier trim there: in all three cases there is significant work done under the hood, inside the cars, and in the suspension.
Arguably, the seven-passenger Flex, although designated a “crossover,” has a design that still remains unique in the industry, with its overall rectangular shape and car-like seating position. The exterior design for 2013 is still unmistakably Flex, although there is a new front fascia for the car that has a greater machine aesthetic. Whereas the original Flex, of which this is a refresh, has the Ford blue oval logo front and center, the 2013 has the car’s name in large applied type across the base on the hood. Around the back of the car dual exhausts are now standard. There are new wheel styles—six in all—of which three are 20-in. As regards the paint, there is still the opportunity to have either a body-colored roof or one that is white, silver, or black.
Inside, there are new clusters and electronic finish panels, driven in many ways by the increased functionality of the MyFord Touch with SYNC infotainment system. There is a new steering wheel. There are also seat improvements, both foam and trim.
Probably the biggest change is found under the hood, where a 3.5-liter Ti-VCT V6 engine is now standard. Ti-VCT stands for “twin independent variable camshaft timing.” This engine produces 287 hp, up 25 from the engine it replaces, and 254 lb-ft of torque. Although it is more powerful, the fuel economy is actually increased by 1 mpg; the numbers are 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway.
The optional engine is the 3.5-liter EcoBoost; it produces 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque.
Both powertrains are mated to a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission.
The Flex now offers electric power-assisted steering. The system has a hard-mounted steering rack and quicker steering ratio. Thanks to the use of the electric motor-driven steering system rather than the traditional hydraulic pump-powered steering, there is a fuel economy improvement of about 4%.
Another new feature for the Flex is Torque Vectoring Control and Curve Control. The former uses the car’s brakes to balance the distribution of engine torque between the front wheels during cornering, mimicking, in effect, a limited slip differential. The system monitors the vehicle 100 times per second. By making slight braking correction, things like understeer and wheel spin can be addressed. Curve Control if the driver has gone into a curve too quickly and applies braking to help the driver follow the intended path; torque is reduced and brake pressure is increased. Vehicle speed can be reduced by 10 mph within one second.
The Flex is manufactured at the Oakville Assembly Complex in Ontario, Canada.
With the absence of the Crown Victoria, the Taurus is Ford’s flagship sedan. The standard engine is the same 3.5-liter Ti-VCT V6 available in the Flex. Because this is a two-row sedan and not a three-row crossover, the fuel efficiency numbers are better: 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway. They’ve even deployed active grille shutters to improve the aero of the vehicle, and thereby aid the fuel efficiency. In addition to which, there is ADFSO—aggressive deceleration fuel shutoff: when the car is slowing, the fuel supply is shutoff, thereby saving fuel. The transmission is a six-speed automatic. There are Torque Vectoring Control and Curve Control.
An interesting development for Taurus is the availability of a new 2.0-liter EcoBoost for the Taurus—a four-cylinder engine for this full-size sedan. This engine produces 240 hp @ 5,500 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000 rpm. It is estimated that it will provide 31 mpg on the highway.
Then, of course, there is the Taurus SHO. This has a new mesh grille to help identify it from the other Taurus models in the lineup. And whereas all-wheel-drive is otherwise optional, for the SHO it is standard. In keeping with the Super High Output approach that is characteristic of the SHO, the engine is a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 that produces 365 hp @ 5,500 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 to 5,000 rpm. And while this is a car that is targeted toward enthusiasts, they, too, may be interested in achieving good fuel economy; the SHO returns 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, which is more than reasonable for a car of this type.
Ford builds the Taurus at the Chicago Assembly Plant.
“The most iconic car in Ford’s history.” That’s Ford’s Dave Pericak. He’s talking about the Mustang. He’s more than a little biased in his perception of the storied pony car: he’s the chief engineer.
What’s interesting to note is that with the 2010 being a new Mustang, the company has continually been providing additions and improvements to the car. 2011 saw two new powertrains, a 305-hp V6 and a 412-hp V8. For 2012 it was the introduction of the Boss 302.
And for 2013, there are new front and rear fascias and other improvements for the Mustang, and Pericak states, “It’s not just about aesthetics. Anytime we do something on Mustang, we do it for functionality.” So, for example, there are heat extractors on the hood of the GT model, and rather than being appliqués that are meant to add a bit of visual interest to the surface, they actually help move hot air out of the engine compartment.
What is notable about this string of developments is that the 2014 Mustang will be the 50th-anniversary car, so there is a real effort underway to create what will undoubtedly be a transformative, signature vehicle. Yet here they are, continuing to enhance the existing model.
In order to make sure that the Mustang continues to be distinctive, the designers utilized lighting developments front and rear to provide strong visual cues. On both the GT and V6 models there are high-intensity discharge headlamps that are flanked by two horizontal light-emitting diode (LED) bars. Around the back, there are three LED bars used for each taillamp.
And one available light—while functional—is either going to be perceived as exceedingly cool or well over-the-top. There is a puddle light that is activated when the doors are unlocked: it shines the Mustang pony logo onto the ground.
An under-the-hood development for ’13 is an improved 5.0-liter engine. The powertrain engineers took what they learned in developing the engine for the 444-hp engine for the Boss 302 and applied it to the 5.0-liter. It doesn’t produce 444-hp, but a highly respectable 420 hp @ 6,500 rpm, or 84 hp/liter.
The available six-speed SelectShift Automatic transmission is calibrated to that when it is in manual, a gear is held right up to redline; there isn’t an early override shift as is typical with other such systems.
Like the other cars in the lineup, there is an emphasis on electronics, such as a 4.2-in. LCD screen in the center of the gauge cluster. While it provides information on such things as fuel economy, there is a development that is notable inasmuch as it is providing technology to what many Mustang owners buy their cars for. It’s called “Track Apps,” and unlike other vehicle applications that provide Stitcher or Pandora, this is all about the performance of the car, as in providing information on G-forces, brake performance, and there is even a Christmas-tree drag-racing-like countdown counter. It clearly states “Track Use Only” in red on the screen. Sure.—GSV