Fun, that's what Ford encourages you to have when you hit the various stations at The EcoBoost Challenge. Fun within a certain range of safety of course but fun nonetheless. For me, just getting to drive any vehicle that I've not driven before is fun, whether that means an easy cruise around the block or finding its limits.
Beyond the" fun zone" lies the realm of "having a really awesome experience" and I reserve that for days when I'm driving a vehicle that I'm quite familiar with. I'm taking the time to explain this in detail because it is imperative that that you, dear reader, understand that I was not looking to have a really awesome experience at Ford's EcoBoost Challenge, I was just looking to have some fun. In fact up until this incident I was having a great deal of fun and everyone (well, almost everyone) working the event was very pleasant and informative.
I started off at the street drive station where I got a chance to drive the Fusion Hybrid, Expedition, Transit Connect Wagon and F-150 King Ranch. The Transit Connect was a vehicle I've been interested in for some time now because of its versatility and efficiency. They're also highly customizable and I'm a sucker for a cool van. The new F-150 has also been atop my list for vehicles to drive this year and the 3.5L EcoBoost powered King Ranch did not disappoint. A short loop on public roads is hardly a satisfactory amount of time to spend with such a well appointed truck but it's better than no time at all. Compared to the Silverado High Country the King Ranch is the better truck by a mile, both in interior quality and power (according to my buttdyno). Also, there's something incredibly cool about hearing that turbo whistle while putting your right foot down in a pickup truck.
After the street drives I headed over to the head to head challenge course where I could drive Ford's vehicles back to back with the segment leading competition. F-150 2.7L EcoBoost vs. Silverado V8, Edge Sport vs. Toyota Highlander and Escape EcoBoost vs. Honda CR-V. I was encouraged to push all these vehicles hard around the cone course and when I did, nobody had a problem with it. I clipped a cone or two with the Highlander in the "Evasive Lane Change" section and when I mentioned this to the starter he got a kick out of it. "Good thing they're just cones and not puppies or children" he said, I was inclined to agree.
All the Ford vehicles completely outclassed the competition in both acceleration and handling. The interiors of the Highlander and CR-V are an embarrassment in comparison to the Edge and Escape. I still like the Silverado interior but the bench seat layout in the midrange F-150 was pure truckin goodness. The Edge Sport was the standout vehicle for the entire day. I had more fun whipping that thing around than I did with the Mustang, Fiesta ST or Focus ST. The last generation Edge always conjured up images of bulbous women schlepping their diabetic children down to the local Wally World, this new one is something I'd proudly drive.
So having just been encouraged to go for it with a group of vehicles that aren't built with such antics in mind, I headed over the the Mustang station. I paid close attention to the safety lesson, forced a laugh when I was told not to attempt drifting or burnouts for the 5th time and then hopped into a 2.4L EcoBoost Mustang. I pulled up to the starting line, found the catch point on the clutch with ease and rolled away at a good clip without even so much as a peep out of the tires. I bled away all my speed in the braking zone as instructed, turned in, rolled back onto the throttle and the rear end rotated a little bit. When I say a little bit, I mean A LITTLE BIT. I got off power immediately, straightened the car out and continued into the slalom section of the course. I should mention that I was in 2nd gear the entire time, we were explicitly told not to go up to 3rd as there was no need for it which is absolutely correct. Now it was time for my second lap and after I got the go ahead wave from the starter I proceeded to the staging area, only this time I tapped the toggle for mode setting and selected track mode.
This is where I may lose some of you but I swear, this is the complete truth, I did not think twice about selecting track mode. There wasn't a single part of me that was thinking "I'm gonna get me some action" or "Let's see how much of a hooligan I can be". The only thing going through my mind when I hit the toggle was, "Sport mode was kinda dull, I wonder what Track mode is like." and that's it. So once again I zipped through the acceleration zone, bled away all my speed in the braking zone, turned in and the rear end rotated a little bit more than the time before and then a little bit more. I straightened out and got back on the power but instead of a controlled corner exit the ass of the 'Stang once again swayed to the side and I had to correct. I'd simply gotten back on the throttle too early and I thought to myself "ooops, that was dumb" but I quickly moved on and enjoyed the slalom section.
Before I even parked the car I saw the starter jogging towards me and I just had this feeling like when you bean a player in little league after pitching 8 great innings and out of the dugout comes the coach. The guy gets to the window and the following conversation took place.
FFP: "What was that?!"
Me: "What was what?"
FFP: "You were out of control in the corner, took out like 3 cones!"
This was news to me, I certainly didn't feel any cones like I did when I'd clipped a few in the Highlander earlier.
Me: "Well I'm sorry about that, just got away from me a bit when I got back on the power"
And that was it, that was the end of the exchange. I got out of the car and headed for the Focus ST/Fiesta ST station, embarrassed that I'd not been able to control the raw power of the turbo 'Stang but certainly not thinking anything of it. I mean if a cone course in a mall parking lot isn't the safest place to accidentally get a car sideways, then I don't know what is.
Before I even got to the ST station, this woman came trotting up behind me. I thought to myself "did I forget something at the Mustang station?". Nope, she was there to let me know that she and the other employees had a little discussion and that they felt I'd blatantly ignored the course rules which is usually grounds for dismissal. At first I kind of laughed it off but then I got defensive, I hadn't intentionally committed gross acts of hooning and certainly hadn't damaged any property, unless you count those 3 cuddly little orange safety cones. Yet here I was being told that if I was a member of the general public I would have been asked to leave on the spot but because I'm an member of the auto journalist elite, I was graciously allowed to remain on the premises. I apologized, again, and made it clear to her that it was a simple mistake, a miscalculation on my part in a car that was new to me. In other words I was sorry but shit happens ya know? With that she walked away and I hopped in the Focus ST.
The purpose of the ST station was to highlight the handling capabilities of the FoST and FiST. It started with a head to head "drag race" and then a short slalom course into an S turn. It was pretty fun I suppose, the casual competition between myself and a new friend from Truck Trend was good for a laugh. I had him beat off the line the first time and he got the best of me the second time. The laughing was to be short lived however because when I pulled the FoST back into the pit the safety guy from the Mustang station was there waiting for me.
For the third time that day I had a complete stranger in my face telling me that I was driving beyond my limits, was being reckless and that normally this kind of behavior would result in being asked to leave. At this point I'd had enough of this passive aggressive attitude, I wanted them to kick me out, at least then the "you're just an asshat kid looking to hoon our cars" label they had applied to me would have been justified. Instead the guy got into a bit of high school "she said that you said that I said" and I had to fight every urge in my body to keep from busting out laughing. When I apologized for turning on track mode the guy had this look on his face like "Can you say that again but this time speak into my collar", as if I had just signed my own conviction.
That's what this was all about, I had toggled track mode which in the 2015 Mustang turns off traction control which in turn can result in fiery death. This is why I had become public enemy number one, the King in their deck of most wanted cards, a bonafide persona non grata. I know that in some cars track mode turns off traction control but I swear on all that is Oppo, I didn't think twice about that when I tapped that damn chinzy plastic toggle. All I was thinking about was the change in steering feel, throttle response and suspension stiffness. Looking back was that stupid of me, sure it was but in the moment, the thought of turning off the sissy safety controls wasn't even remotely on my mind. The guy clearly didn't believe me, you all may not believe me but I know I'm telling the truth and that's enough for me to sleep at night.
The takeaway from all of this is apparently my idea of fun and Ford's idea of fun are a bit different, so much so that I got a stern talking to by not one, not two but three people. The circumstances of my verbal shaming have been making me chuckle all weekend and I think you'll agree when I say the whole situation was completely ridiculous. Being lectured, patronized and talked down to are my 3 least favorite ways to interact with another person and I got the trifecta this past Friday courtesy of The Ford Fun Police.
But enough about me, enjoy these photos.
2016 Explorer, 2 parts Land Rover, one part Grand Cherokee.
The seats in the Edge Sport are very, very comfortable and I like them way more than I should. Actually had me wondering what an Edge ST with Recaros would be like...
Fun fact: The Transit Connect Wagon was endorsed by the Tall Club International as the best vehicle for the vertically gifted.
The center stack in the Explorer is so much better than the outgoing model. Capacitative touch is gone and has been replaced with Playstation buttons which I'm very fond of, well done Sony/Ford!
The new F-150 now has the drop window doors from the F-250 which makes it seem like you're riding higher up and makes for a very comfortable place to rest your arm when the window is down.
Here's the Mustang I wanted to drive but as this was the EcoBoost Challenge not the N/A V8 That You've Always Wanted Challenge, I didn't get to. Still holding out hope that Ford will drop one off for me sometime. After all, I was a Fiesta ST Agent and that makes me special somehow, right?
Andrew Maness writes about cars because he has one and also has a computer. He's been known to drunkenly tweet as @thisnicelife and upload photos to @theroadlessdriven. He also has a YouTube Channel and thinks talking about himself in the 3rd person is really weird but knows it's necessary if he wants to be taken seriously as an automotive journalist.