Optimization has taken on increased importance as automakers look for ways to eke out fuel efficiency gains from existing and future vehicle programs. Ford’s ’09 Escape and Mercury Mariner are proof that attention to the smallest details can provide marked benefits when it comes to MPG ratings. As Eric Loeffler, chief engineer for the SUVs, explains: “When we did the ’08 model we thought we had optimized it, but we wanted to go back into the wind tunnel and look at all the elements and see what we could do to further optimize aero.” The team focused on redesigning the chin spoiler, along with adding a small shield at the back of the rocker panel to reduce drag. The changes result in a fuel economy improvement of ¾ MPG at a running speed of 70 MPH. “We had to get the design studio working with the aerodynamicists to perfect the shape from an appearance and performance perspective. They decided to add a scallop so that the spoiler wouldn’t look like an add on,” Loeffler said.
Besides the aero changes, the Escape and Mariner receive major upgrades to their powertrain offerings. A new base engine—2.5-liter 4-cylinder producing 171 hp @ 6,000 rpm—replaces the 2.3-liter, while the optional 3-liter V6 gets a 40 hp boost to 240 hp @ 6,500 rpm. Both engines are now available with Ford’s new 6F-mid-range 6-speed automatic transmission, which helps boost fuel economy up to 6% over the 4-speed found on the ‘08 model. What’s more, there have been suspension modifications, including the addition of a new rear stabilizer bar and revised tuning: “The rear stabilizer opened up a lot of tuning variables so there will be a noticeable reduction in body roll, which makes the driver feel more confident,” says Loeffler.—KMK