First Drive: 2013 Ford Taurus 2.0L EcoBoost

Ford has been on a fuel economy mission the past few years. It has led the pack in downsizing and turbocharging engines across its line to achieve better mileage without sacrificing performance. In this vein, Ford has added a third powertrain option to the Taurus for 2013: a 2.0-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder.

The 2013 Taurus is the first Ford sedan to receive the new 2.0-liter I-4, after the 2013 Explorer, Edge, and Escape SUVs. In all four applications, the engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and is rated at 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. (Starting this fall, the 2013 Fusion will also offer the 2.0-liter, but Ford estimates its power rating will come in at 237 hp and 250 lb-ft.) Unlike the V-6-equipped Tauruses, the 2.0-liter EcoBoost will be available only with front-wheel drive.

Compared to the naturally aspirated and twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 engines available on the Taurus, the 2.0-liter turbo-four may be the engine best matched to this large sedan. From behind the wheel, the Taurus feels sprightlier and much less nose-heavy than the V-6 models. While the 2.0-liter helps even weight distribution to 55/45 front/rear (from 57/43 with the base V-6), the curb weight drops by only five pounds. Even so, the Taurus handled better when compared to the naturally-aspirated V-6. The six-speed automatic does a good job of keeping the small mill right in the heart of its power band (peak horsepower comes at 5500 rpm and peak torque at 3000 lb-ft), However, to do so, it will often shuffle between gears to keep the car moving, but it shifts smoothly and unobtrusively.

Another benefit of the four-cylinder -- and its raison d'etre -- is better fuel economy. While the 3.5-liter V-6 Taurus comes in mid-pack with its 19/29 mpg city/highway EPA rating, the new 2.0-liter I-4 offers a class-leading 22/32 mpg. The closest competitors are the 2012 Chrysler 300 and 2012 Dodge Charger, which achieve 19/31 mpg with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission. Compared even to the smaller offerings in the midsize class, the 2.0-liter Taurus barely falls shy of the four-cylinder-powered 2012 Toyota Camry (25/35 mpg) and the 2012 Honda Accord (23/34) while besting them on power by 70 and 63 hp, respectively. However, the downsized powerplant doesn't come without its own faults -- it sounds raspy under heavy throttle and a little rough at idle.

Unsurprisingly, the 2.0-liter does not solve the Taurus' biggest problem: poor packaging caused by its nearly-20-year-old underpinnings, Ford's D3 platform that started life as Volvo's P2 architecture for the first-generation S80. The Taurus is a large car -- 202.9 inches long and 76.2 inches wide -- but its interior is cramped thanks to undersized seats and an oversized center tunnel. Maybe the interior would be more comfortable if the seat bottoms were longer; as they are now, they barely come up to mid-thigh. The addition of the 2.0-liter doesn't include any changes to the chassis setup: steering is still one-finger light and feels overboosted and the ride is still floaty on the straightaways and sloppy in hard corners.

The 2013 Taurus will be available with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost starting this summer on all trim levels, save the performance-oriented SHO, of course. The 2.0-liter will be a standalone $995 option.

SPECS

2013 Ford Taurus 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4
On sale: Summer 2012
Base price: $28,390 (including $795 destination charge)
Price as tested: $40,975
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, 240 hp, 270 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel
Fuel ecomony: 22/32/26 mpg (city/highway/combined)
Curb weight: 3964 lbs

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