Small Engines, Big Power

In this product image provided by the Ford Motor Co., the 2013 Ford Taurus SHO is displayed. The SHO offers 365 hp, a broad torque band, all-wheel drive, while delivering 25 EPA-rated highway mpg. (AP Photo/Ford Motor Co.) In this product image provided by the Ford Motor Co., the 2013 Ford Taurus SHO is displayed. The SHO offers 365 hp, a broad torque band, all-wheel drive, while delivering 25 EPA-rated highway mpg. (AP Photo/Ford Motor Co.)

Ford Motor Company recently announced a fresh Taurus for the 2013 model year. What caught my attention was that it would be the first full-size car with a four-cylinder 2.0 liter engine that is expected to dish out 31 mpg on the highway, a considerable increase over the 2011 Taurus with a standard 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers 28 mpg.

I remember my Ford Taurus company car in the 1990s, with its underpowered four-cylinder engine, mustering a mere 90 horsepower. Our company car coordinator said we used four-cylinder cars because they got good mileage and were cheaper to insure. The new Taurus sports a fuel-efficient EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, but doesn’t sacrifice power. Ford estimates that with the help of a turbo charger, the car will generate 237 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque, on par with some of Ford’s normally aspirated V6s.

General Motors has a similar game plan to boost mileage without sacrificing horsepower. It will equip its LaCrosse vehicles (a bit smaller than the Taurus) with a turbo charged four banger, as well.  Both Ford and GM mate these tiny engines to six-speed automatic transmissions to maximize acceleration.

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Diesels are power players in the power plant challenge, as well. BMW, VW, and Mercedes all offer single rail, direct-injection diesels that will change your mind about these types of engines. These new machines are very fast and very quiet.  

These new cars make me wonder: Are we underwriting these vehicles properly? Many companies look at engine displacement or offer discounts on diesels, as they have always been modest performers in the past. But with turbo chargers—and in the case of diesels, direct injections paired with a turbo—these cars can produce impressive horsepower. Combine that with fuel prices being so high, and the attraction of a diesel or a four-cylinder power plant is clear.

Because it has been so overused in the business world, I hesitate to use the phrase “paradigm shift,” but I believe this adequately describes a change of thinking that must occur here. We need to evaluate not only horsepower but also how these power plants with advanced transmissions can produce acceleration better than some muscle cars of the 1960s. I think the time has come to re-evaluate underwriting of these advanced vehicles.

Statements and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author.  They are not offered as and do not constitute legal advice or opinion of Mitchell International, Inc.

About the Author
Greg Horn

Greg Horn

Greg Horn is vice president of industry relations for Mitchell International. Previously, he served as vice president of material damage claims at GMAC Insurance, where he was responsible for all aspects of the physical damage claims process and the implementation of a unique vehicle replacement program. Prior to GMAC, he served as director of material damage processes for National Grange Mutual. He can be reached at greg.horn@mitchell.com, www.mitchell.com.

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