One of the most successful cars in modern drag racing has been the reborn Mustang Cobra Jet produced by Ford Racing. These purpose-built drag cars have set records and chalked up wins across the nation. Along the way these drag stars have smoothly transition from GT500-based 5.4 powerplants to variations on the current Coyote and RoadRunner engines in GTs and Bosses.
"When a new generation of Cobra Jets arrived four decades later, they immediately began winning with a modern, fuel-injected 5.4-liter V-8 topped with a belt-driven supercharger," recalled Jesse Kershaw, Ford drag racing competition manager. "Over the past four years, the Cobra Jet has gone on to become both a fan and competitor favorite, the most successful late-model vehicle in drag racing."
The next possible iteration in Cobra Jet propulsion burst into the spotlight at last year's Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can see our coverage in this issue, but if you know anything about this show, it's most decidedly not a racing show. That made the reveal of the Twin-Turbo Cobra Jet Concept all the more intriguing.
It was impossible to ignore the obvious foreshadowing, but the basic engine remains quite similar to the supercharged Cobra Jet 5.0 in the current car. "Despite its smaller displacement, the improved breathing of the 5.0-liter—with its twin independent variable camshaft timing and Boss 302 cylinder heads—provided comparable performance, while showcasing the high technology available in street Mustangs today," said Rob Deneweth, the late Cobra Jet powertrain development engineer.
Moving to turbos in racing requires using production-based parts, so the Ford Racing team dipped in the Focus ST parts bin for a pair of turbos. "To overcome the biggest perceived drawback of turbocharging—the lag—we've selected the smallest possible turbos that will give us the airflow we need," Robert added. "We've also got some other enhancements to help improve the responsiveness—we have low inertia and low internal friction."
"For every Cobra Jet model we release, every powertrain goes through hundreds of hours of dyno testing and a minimum of 50 runs on the dragstrip before we'll sign off on the durability and capability of that engine and car," Jesse added. "Like Ford vehicles for the street, we want to provide our racing customers with cars that are best-in-class, affordable, and reliable."
We'll be paying close attention to see if this one jumps from concept to racetrack and, perhaps, the street in the future.
Ford gave us an unexpected treat at a recent product review when we hopped into a 2013 Explorer Sport. The Explorer has always been a touch too large for our everyday tastes—the Edge seems more appropriate for urban drudgery—but as a household's single answer to commuting, kid schlepping, vacations, dirt road... uh, exploring, towing. and just about anything else you might not want to do in your Mustang, it's a great platform.
The Sport model gets the usual tarting up with 20-inch wheels and a gray grille, but the real news is the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 under the hood. Now that we've sampled EcoBoost engines from the 1.0-liter three-cylinder to the 3.5 V-6, we've come to view the latter as Ford's big-block of Eco-engines. It dishes big torque immediately—just the stuff to propel the current crop of paunchy street machines. We matted the gas in the big Sport and it lunged unexpectedly—and kept at it until we ran out of road and nerve.
It's satisfyingly quick. Standard all-wheel-drive doesn't hurt the launch, and with the tight, quiet chassis and tons of standard features, the Sport is a comfortable daily driver. The suspension tuning is a little tauter, but nothing Mom would object to.
In the real world, the EcoBoost V-6 delivers big power or good fuel economy, but not both at the same time. It's rated at 16 City and 22 Highway, and we assure you that like the Taurus SHO or F-150 pickup it shares its engine with, the Sport's twin-turbo terror will definitely suck up the fuel if you keep hammering on it, but it will also eek out its rated highway mileage if you calm down to econo mode. It's a great combo, as it allows you to decide which is more important at the moment.
If you're looking for a family truckster with beans, the Explorer Sport has the muscle if you've got the $40,720 starting price. —Tom Wilson
Stop & Start
Before long, it might be normal to brake your Mustang to a stop and have the engine die. It's called Stop/Start and has debuted as an option on the 2013 Fusion with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-banger, which we just sampled.
The idea is to save fuel by not idling at stoplights, and the system works. On the little four-cylinder, it adds 2 mpg City, 1 mpg Highway, and the standalone option only costs $295, so it pays for itself pretty quickly (unlike that $10,000-plus upgrade for the diesel in your Super Duty hauler).
Available only with automatic transmissions, the system automatically stops the engine when the car isn't moving and restarts it the instant you lift off the brake pedal. Ford figures the starter motor sees about five times the action it normally would and has beefed it up with a heavier starter drive spring, hardened teeth on the flexplate's ring gear, and fitted an AGM battery for better deep-cycling.
It's not required, but as Birgit Sorgenfrie, the Stop/Start Program manager explained, EcoBoost is an aid to Start/Stop because the direct fuel injection can put a squirt of gas right in the cylinder to aid starting.
Normally the system keeps the engine off until the brake pedal rises, but if the air conditioning or battery voltage require the alternator to come on-line, the engine will start on its own. As it is, the HVAC fan speed slows down when the engine shuts off, so you'll notice the reduced A/C flow, perhaps, and definitely a lower sound level in the cabin when the engine dies.
In an hour of driving the system in heavy Los Angeles traffic, we found it just on the line between obtrusive and nice. We'll admit to enjoying the vibration-free experience at lights, but there's just enough shudder to announce the engine's coming and going. We think we'd get used to it quickly, and likely not even notice it after a couple of days. It isn't as if rockets go off every time the starter hits. Also, it's sort of odd to sit in a driveway, looking at fast traffic whiz by and trying to spot a hole to pull into while the engine is off. But we quickly acclimated to that, too.
All said, we'd get the option and save the fuel. And we're betting we'll have the choice in the next Mustang.—Tom Wilson
Quick Spin 2013 Focus ST
As many of you know, your editor has a soft spot for Ford's sporty compact known as the Focus. For a brief time, we even produced a short-lived magazine dedicated to these cars.
Some things are way ahead of their time, but one thing that wasn't was how long it took to get behind the wheel of Ford's latest hot hatch—the 2013 Focus ST. Just getting the chance to wheel the Ecoboosted Focus was great news, but when I was offered the opportunity to road-trip one from Ann Arbor, Michigan, back down to our Florida world-domination headquarters, I simply couldn't turn it down.
Of course, before I could head off on a turbocharged road trip, I attended a traditional drive program, which put us on some interesting Michigan roads. When piloted exuberantly through the twisties, the Focus ST shone bright. It transitioned smoothly with just a bit of bodyroll, and only at the razor's edge was a noticeable notchiness in the traction control's torque vectoring apparent.
While the 247 horsepower and 282 lb-ft of torque at the feet generated by the turbo 2.0-liter proved potent on that drive, I gained a much greater appreciation for the power on tap. Sure, the brief bursts of overboost at WOT will bring a smile to your face. The quick-spooling turbo offered sufficient grunt in high gear to pass on the highway without downshifting. That's a nice trait in a fuel-efficient four-cylinder.
On the long trip, the fuel efficiency was nice. Despite random bouts of spirited driving, our economy bounced around between 26 and 29-plus mpg. With more self control, I might have seen 32 mpg, but what's the fun in that?
What was fun was driving in the ST's well-appointed and modern cockpit. This example was equipped with the optional Recaros and navigation, and both were welcome companions. The snug-fitting seats not only kept the driver in place to do his thing, but they were quite comfortable for extended stays behind the wheel.
Naturally, the nav got me home safely and the Sync kept me entertained. The car's insides are craftily designed, but also offered up a couple targets for my modest nitpicking. The additional gauges—boost, oil pressure, oil temp—looked tacked on. I'd have preferred to see them handled like the Track Apps in the Mustang, inside the gauge-cluster display. Likewise, the rear hatch area in the modern Focus has given up ground in the name of rear-seat leg room, but I prefer a more utilitarian hatch.
All told, the Focus ST is a great car for a reasonable price—ranging from $26,000 to $29,000. It's a lot of little car for that price, but start checking off options like I would and you're nearing Mustang GT territory, which makes for a tough choice for our readership. Still, if you're looking for a sporting daily driver, it doesn't get much better than the new Focus ST.
Upshifts: • Power • Handling • Interior
Downshifts • Price • Gauges • Cargo
Pleading His 'Case
I am a longtime subscriber to your fine Weather Forecasting Guide, but I must say I find many of your articles difficult to read, as you fail to use a vocabulary consistent with the meteorology community... Seriously guys, you provided a great response to the jackass' Mailbag letter in the Dec. '12 issue—I was literally laughing out loud.
Also, would you/could you find a bit of room in the Showcase section for my ride, a local '04 Mach 1? Its current mods include a Magnaflow X, a Magnapack after-cat exhaust, Eibach springs; a Maximum Motorsports strut-tower brace, K-member brace, and C/C plates; a Pro-5.0 shifter; an FRPP aluminum driveshaft; UPR control arms; Cobra 10th anniversary knock-offs (bronze in color); Nitto NT05 tires, Steeda UDPs; a K&N Filtercharger CAI; FRPP 4.10 gears; an SCT SF3 tuner; and a Pioneer AVH-P4400BH stereo head unit.
Interestingly, this is my second Mach 1. My first car, at age 17 back in 1985, was a 1973 Mach 1. Please let me know if you want/need additional photos (of either car).
We really appreciate your support, Chris. Glad you enjoyed the response. Hey, wait a minute—you're just saying nice things so we'll run your car in Showcase! We're onto your scam!
Seriously, even though your motives aren't completely pure, it's enjoyable to occasionally receive positive feedback. The faceless magazine makes an easy target, but some people really take it too seriously. Anyway, I forwarded your email to Michael Johnson. He writes Showcase. If you want to butter him up, just crack a few Editor Turner jokes. He'll get you right in.
The NMRA Ford Nationals increased contingency payments for Nitto Tire Factory Stock and Strange Engineering Coyote Stock. Event winners will now be eligible for payments of $300 per product, while runners-up could earn $150 per product and decal. "The bump in contingency payments will put more money back into the racers' pockets," said Charlie Harmon, director of NMRA events.