Consumer Reports: Turbocharged Engines Underdeliver on MPG Promises
My stepfather is looking for a new car now that the lease on his Mazda3 is almost up, and last weekend we went car shopping. Although I do my best to dissuade people from volume sellers, I logically know that a midsize sedan is his best bet. Knowing the back seat wouldn’t be used too much, I pushed for the Ford Fusion, whose sloping roofline cuts into passenger headroom and is thus not as practical as, say, a Camry. After momentarily considering which model to test drive, we chose the 1.6L turbo-4, because I thought I had read the naturally aspirated 2.5L was not the engine to get when considering the Fusion.
The turbo commanded a $795 premium over the NA, but on the numbers sheet, the engines were nearly identical. Power-wise, the turbo only makes 3hp and 9lb-ft of torque more than the 2.5L, while fuel economy improved 1-2MPG city/highway. The turbo is available with a six-speed manual that improves fuel economy further, but the salesman told us Ford dealers don’t get them unless a customer specially orders one. Truth be told, we really should have tested the 2.5L, because it seems auto journalists were all given both turbocharged engines as testers and the base engine was not reviewed when the 2013 Fusion was first sampled. The NA engine is a carryover from the previous generation mid-cycle refresh Fusion, however, so notes are abundant.
Car and Driver calls the engine, “willing, revvy, and smooth,” and in the last Fusion, it went from 0-60mph in 8.9 seconds, the same time it takes the 1.6L. So what is the practical benefit of choosing the smaller turbocharged unit over the larger naturally aspirated one? Ford expects the turbo to be the volume option, but how will they convince buyers to opt for the more expensive choice when the benefits (namely, MPG) are so minimal?
Actually, the 1.6L turbo may not even have that, says Consumer Reports in a new study published today. CR compared cars with turbocharged 4-cylinder units against similarly-sized cars with conventional free-breathing ones. What they found was surprising. With few exceptions, even though the turbocharged engines were smaller (and in some cases, less 2 cylinders), in the Consumer Reports tests, they achieved similar or worse gas mileage than the larger naturally aspirated ones.
Let’s take the Fusion, for example. Unfortunately, CR did not have a Fusion powered by the base engine, but they did have two with the 1.6L and 2.0L Ecoboost mills. The 1.6L, although rated by the EPA to have a combined fuel economy of 28mpg, actually achieved 25 in the test. Its competitors, all equipped with naturally aspirated engines, were all faster from 0-60mph, had lower EPA fuel consumption estimates, and achieved better MPG numbers in the CR test. In the next bracket, although they all had worse EPA numbers, the V6-powered Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Nissan Altima posted better numbers than the turbocharged 4-cylinder Fusion, Kia Optima, and Hyundai Sonata. And for all the money Ford is spending on branding the Ecoboost V6 as superior to the 5.0 V8 in the Ford F150, fuel consumption numbers are identical, despite the Ecoboost’s $1,095 premium. The only cars whose smaller turbocharged units actually beat their naturally aspirated counterparts in terms of fuel economy were the Dodge Dart and BMW X3.
It must be said that this is all based on tests done by Consumer Reports, although the ones conducted by the EPA largely take place in a controlled studio with specialized rollers and fans measuring theoretical consumption in these conditions. Going forward, it will be interesting to see which wins out: the marketing teams of the large auto companies or research done by consumers to find out which engine is right for them. Remember too that most turbocharged engines require premium fuel, and the benefits for springing for a higher priced model dwindles further.
The full Consumer Reports guide can be found here.
As an addendum, we also drove the Scion FR-S (it really is as good as everyone says) as well as a Focus, Honda Civic, and Honda Accord. My stepfather is going with the Accord Sport model with the six-speed manual transmission. 60mph comes in only 6.6 seconds, and a revised suspension, engine bay strut brace, and quicker steering make it pretty decent in the corners, too. It’s not as fun to toss as my GTI, but concessions must be made for practicality…