DETROIT — With rising fuel prices and upgraded powertrains for the 2009 model year, Ford Motor Co. executives expect more Ford Escape buyers to choose four-cylinder engines.
About 42 percent of Escape crossovers are sold with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. Ford expects the four-cylinder take rate to increase to nearly 50 percent with the introduction of 2009 models in July, said Eric Loeffler, Escape chief engineer.
For 2009, Ford increased the size of the Escape's base engine to a 2.5-liter four-cylinder producing 171 hp. That's an 11 percent increase from the outgoing model. Despite the larger engine, the four-cylinder model gets a 1 mpg boost in fuel economy — crucial in a market where gasoline is hovering at $4 per gallon.
"We anticipate with the better performance on the I-4 that we'll probably get another 5 to 7 percent" on the take rate, Loeffler said. "We've never provided an I-4 that is that capable, so maybe with fuel prices the way they are we may see a mix that exceeds our anticipation."
Ford also tuned the Escape's 3.0-liter V-6 for 2009. It now produces 240 hp, a 20 percent improvement from the outgoing model. The V-6 model also gained 1 mpg in fuel economy, even with the 40-hp increase.
Ford estimates the front-wheel-drive 2009 four-cylinder model will get 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Ford estimates the fwd V-6 model will get 19/25 mpg. Fuel economy on the hybrid model remains at 34/30 mpg.
Another major powertrain addition — a six-speed automatic transmission replacing a four-speed auto — helps deliver that fuel economy gain. Ford engineers also credit improvements in aerodynamics and new low-rolling-resistance tires.
The upgrades are effective on the 2009 Escape and its sister vehicle, the Mercury Mariner. In addition to the new powertrains, Ford made tweaks to improve ride and handling and reduce noise.
The 2009 Ford Escape goes on sale in July at a base price of $20,410, including shipping. That's up $575 from the outgoing model.
Sales of the Ford Escape are up 9.6 percent through April. Ford says it is running its Escape and Mariner assembly plant in suburban Kansas City, Mo., at full capacity.