The Ford EcoBoost Challenges are a series of events in which drivers can try out several models of Ford vehicles in various scenarios and compare popular models with their closest competitors.
I attended the Ford EcoBoost Challenge over the weekend in Arcadia at the classic horse race track, Santa Anita Park. I didn’t know what to expect and now wish I had more time to spend. The close to 94° heat slowed the people down but not the Fords.
Before the event, you sign up online for a one hour time slot. An hour is not enough time, the whole event can fill an entire afternoon or morning. Tents and test areas are set up for five different challenges. At the beginning of each challenge a Ford rep explains the challenge, rules and features of the Ford vehicles. At no time did anyone try to sell me anything, which made for a more relaxed environment.
The main thrust of the EcoBoost Challenge is to show how the EcoBoost motor gives more vroom-vroom and verve to lighter cars with smaller engines, making you feel like you are moving faster and having more fun. According to Ford, “EcoBoost uses smaller overall engine size combined with turbocharging, gasoline direct injection and variable valve timing for the power customers want and the fuel economy they need.”
The EcoBoost Challenge is set up like an amusement park under each tent there are poles with cords for waiting lines for the cars or challenges. Due to the heat, I didn’t have to wait longer than 15 or 20 minutes and I chose to driver whatever car was available to avoid waiting for a certain model.
As you enter a car your badge is punched, you are only allowed one or two rides per challenge.
Dare to Compare Models Competing Models
The most interesting aspect of the event is to drive competing models of cars outside of the dealer. There were two courses one for cross-overs/SUVs and another for trucks. The truck route had rubber speed bumps to go over (rough road) and a four-gate slalom. At the start of the course a Ford rep helps you adjust the seat and ready the vehicle. You are on your own during the course.
In the extreme heat all the vehicles were nicely cooled with blasting air conditioning. The air conditioning was so loud it made it hard to hear what the engine sounded like. Here’s where it became really important that there was a dedicated fan knob or button clearly marked to show the A/C. In vehicles without a clearly marked fan knob or button it took longer to get the vehicle ready to drive. Each ride on the comparison route is a few minutes. If you want to remember your ride, it may be a good idea to bring a friend and take notes. I also suggest you take a photos of the cars inside/outside and signs to look at later.
Ford Edge vs Toyota Highlander(Mid-size SUV) – Toyota cars are often called Vanilla, without exotic flavor. The Toyota Highlander was smooth and definitely a perfect soccer mom ride. However, the Ford Edge had a bit of “edge” to make Dad happier or even speeding helicopter moms content. The difference was in the feel of turning and acceleration. The feel of the EcoBoost boost seemed to increase as the size of the vehicle increased.
Ford F-150 vs Chevy Sliverado (Truck) – The largest difference between rides was between the trucks. The F-150 has an aluminum body and a very comfortable cab which is more like a sports car than a truck. The Silverado felt strong but slow and less responsive than the F-150. The F-150 galloped over the bumps like the ponies on the track while the Silverado was more of a strong mule ride.
The nice thing about the EcoBoost Challenge is you as the driver can see for yourself which ride and style you prefer for these popular models.
Pedal to Metal Clutch Learning: Shift Phobia
For those who don’t know how to drive a manual transmission there was instruction with a professional driver and cockpit simulators to try. As the afternoon progressed the lines got longer and the kids didn’t want to leave the demo cockpits. In order to participate in any ride the person has to be at least 16-years-old. Perhaps in the future, Ford will have some kind of game for the kids so that they don’t take over the all the demo cockpits. Or parents may leave the kids at home or bring a game for them to play.
This is where drivers who like to burn rubber can really have fun in a Ford Fiesta ST. Fiesta means party in Spanish and car lovers can party hearty in this challenge. First the Ford rep asks, if you know how to drive a manual transmission. I sat in the back to try it out. The first goal is to go as fast as you can in first gear and stop quickly. Our guide driver made the Ford Fiesta screech, created dark marks on the pavement and we smelled burning rubber on the stop. This ride was more thrilling than fun. Then the next part was to go fast in second gear. If you are planning this challenge and haven’t driven a shift in a while, it would be best to take the lesson first.
After waiting in line and presentation you can drive two cars on the street. The route took the car around a very large city block less than a mile around a large shopping mall. You are only allowed to test drive two cars and have to go back in line after driving one. The models available were:
- Ford Expedition
- Ford Fusion Hybrid
- Ford Edge
- Ford Transit Connect
- Ford C-Max Energi
I took one for a ride.
New Mustang Challenge
My family previously owned a classic 1965 Mustang, I arrived at 1:00pm and by 4:00pm I was sweaty damp and tired. The Mustang Challenge had some fast areas and curves.
Although I’m sure the Mustangs would have great air conditioning, I had to go home because I had too much fun in the hot sun in one afternoon.
The best things about the EcoBoost Challenge were access to many vehicles in one place, extensive knowledge of reps about EcoBoost, a fresh supply of water and no sales pitches or sales people.
The things I liked least about the Ford EcoBoost challenge were I was charged for parking (which was a mistake and it was refunded), the heat (which Ford can’t control) and I did not allow enough time to have more fun…
Another thing we would like to experience maybe in a parking structure are demos of the Ford SYNC systems in vehicles since technology plays such an important part in buying decisions. It would be nice to connect a smartphone with Bluetooth and try out some audio streaming apps, since Ford SYNC won the Tech Cars Award for best smartphone integration.
The EcoBoost Challenge will be coming to Dallas, Houston, Louisville, Phoenix, Charlotte, Seattle, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Rochester and Minneapolis.
If you have been to an EcoBoost Challenge you are welcome share your experiences in the comments below.