Drive Type: rwd
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, United States
Last week, in the midst of Detroit's first days seeking relief in Chapter 9 of the bankruptcy code, Automotive News contributor Larry P. Vellequette penned an editorial suggesting that American car companies raise the white flag on dual clutch transmissions and give up on trying to persuade Americans to buy cars fitted with them. Why? Because, Vellequette says, like CVT transmissions, they "just don't sound right or feel right to American drivers." (Note: In the article, it's not clear if Vellequette is arguing against wet-clutch and dry-clutch DCTs or just dry-clutch DCTs, which is what Ford and Chrysler use.) The article goes on to state that Ford and Chrysler have experimented with DCTs and that both consumers and the automotive press haven't exactly given them glowing reviews, despite their quicker shifts and increased fuel efficiency potential compared to torque-converter automatic transmissions.
Autoblog staffers who weighed in on the relevance of DCTs in American cars generally disagreed with the blanket nature of Vellequette's statement that they don't sound or feel right, but admit that their lack of refinement compared to traditional automatics can be an issue for consumers. That's particularly true in workaday cars like the Ford Focus and Dodge Dart, both of which have come in for criticism in reviews and owner surveys. From where we sit, the higher-performance orientation of such transmissions doesn't always meld as well with the marching orders of everyday commuters (particularly if drivers haven't been educated as to the transmission's benefits and tradeoffs), and in models not fitted with paddle shifters, it's particularly hard for drivers to use a DCT to its best advantage.
Finally, we also note that DCT tuning is very much an evolving science. For instance, Autoblog editors who objected to dual-clutch tuning in the Dart have more recently found the technology agreeable in the Fiat 500L. Practice makes perfect - or at least more acceptable.
If you want to see a Ford racing prototype, you need look no further than the United SportsCar Championship, where the Blue Oval fields two Daytona Prototypes powered by an EcoBoost-branded 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6. But according to the latest rumors, that may not be enough for Ford, which has as much brand to promote overseas as it does back home.
That could be why Racer magazine is reporting that Ford may be poised to return to Le Mans in the coming years. As we all know, Ford competed at Le Mans in the mid-through-late '60s, bringing home four consecutive overall wins with the legendary GT40. The new program would not, according to Racer, seek to relive those glory days, but would instead compete for class wins in the LMP2 category.
Currently, LMP2 regulations are somewhat split between the United SportsCar Championship in North America on the one hand and ACO-sanctioned series like the European Le Mans Series, Asian Le Mans Series and FIA World Endurance Championship on the other, but plans are underway for the regulations to be unified in time for the 2017 season. That could be when Ford is targeting its return, allowing it to compete on both sides of the Atlantic to maximize its exposure.
Speeders beware, the police are going to be getting quite a bit faster. Ford has just announced that it will be offering its 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged, EcoBoost V6 in the Explorer Police Interceptor. The new engine will be joining the existing 3.7-liter V6. The 365-horsepower, 350-pound-foot mill should be familiar to consumers as the powerplant that's found in the Ford Taurus SHO (and its LEO equivalent, the Taurus Police Interceptor) and the Ford Explorer Sport. It should also provide quite a kick in the pants to officers used to the naturally aspirated 3.7 and its 304 ponies and 279 pound-feet of torque.
The move to the more potent powerplant was born out of all the equipment officers need to carry on a day-to-day basis. These days, there's so much stuff that police need on a regular basis, that there's a genuine market for a faster Police Interceptor Utility, as it's known officially. The Explorer-based cruiser has already accounted for 68 percent of Ford's LEO sales in 2013, and that's with just the 3.7, and we'd only expect that number to increase once the twin-turbo, 3.5-liter V6 is available. Ford won't offer up any indication of what the take rate will be on the new engine, but we're guessing it'll be fairly high.
The success of the Explorer PI couldn't have come at a better time for Ford. The decision to end Crown Victoria production was not a popular one with police, and combined with Chevrolet and Dodge diving into the LEO market feet first, Ford hasn't been performing as well as it's wanted to. The Explorer has been helping it turn around, though. And with the inclusion of the EcoBoost, Ford also has a legit competitor for the Chevrolet Tahoe on the big utility side of the police market.