Ford begins switch-over to focus on fuel economy

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The 2009 models are upon us, and nowhere is the sales lot more important than at Ford Motor Co.

Sales are down, and as Ford tries to shift its production from gas-guzzling big trucks and sport utility vehicles to more economical small cars, the competition isn't standing still.

The latest edition of Ford's popular F-150 pickups comes to the showroom amid the upheaval, but Ford is working fast to update that lineup with more economical powertrains. The company has improved its gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles for 2009 and given more gears to some of its automatic transmissions to save on gas.

In the coming weeks, we will highlight the new cars and trucks for 2009. Here are the details of what's new from Ford, Mercury, Lincoln and Mazda, which Ford owns a stake in:

Ford

Depending on your tastes, the 2009 Ford Flex (see review) is a sizable, wagonlike SUV or a tall-riding, boxy wagon.

Either way, it can carry up to seven passengers and cargo and provide luxurious amenities, including a four-panel Vista roof, programmable ambient lighting and a refrigerated console between seats.

The Flex is powered by a 262-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The starting price, including destination charge, is $32,770.

The F-Series pickup is redesigned with new looks outside and in, an upgraded chassis and a choice of three V-8 engines initially.

Ford is revising its full-size E-Series van with new front-end treatment and upgraded interior.

The Escape compact SUV gets more powerful engines, ranging from a base, 2.5-liter four that produces 171 horsepower to a 240-horsepower, 3-liter V-6.

The Escape Hybrid remains the most fuel-efficient SUV on the planet with city/highway ratings of 34 and 31, thanks to a new, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that uses the fuel-efficient Atkinson cycle for combustion.

Lincoln

Lincoln continues to expand its lineup of vehicles starting with the letters "MK."

The newest is the MKS, a sizable sedan with seating for five; a bold, shiny grille; and a roomy interior. Power comes from a 275-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, and front- and all-wheel-drive models are offered.

Sometime in the model year, a twin-turbocharged V-6 with about 340 horsepower is expected to be added to the MKS.

Lincoln no longer builds the Mark LT pickup, which was based on the Ford F-150.

Mazda

The Mazda6 sedan grows substantially larger for 2009, with length expanded by 6.1 inches.

Two engines are available: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder generating 170 horsepower and a 3.7-liter V-6 with 272 horsepower. The six-speed manual transmission for the 2009 Mazda6 is new.

The Mazda6 five-door hatchback and wagon models are no longer part of the lineup.

Meantime, the RX-8 sports car has freshened styling and a new trim level -- R3. The R3 includes sport suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers and Recaro sport front seats.

The Tribute sport utility vehicle gets more powerful engines for 2009. The base engine is a new 2.5-liter, four cylinder with 171 horsepower and 171 foot-pounds of torque, while the uplevel 3-liter V-6 generates 240 horsepower and 223 foot-pounds of torque.

The gasoline-electric hybrid version of Tribute also gets a more powerful engine -- a version of the 2.5-liter four that's in the regular base Tribute.

Mercury

Mercury's twin to the Ford Escape SUV is the Mariner, and it receives the same new powertrains.

The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder puts out 171 horsepower and 171 foot-pounds of torque, while the uplevel 3-liter V-6 develops 240 horses and 233 foot-pounds of torque.

Like the Escape Hybrid, the Mariner Hybrid qualifies as the most fuel-efficient SUV sold, with city/highway ratings of 34 and 31 mpg. For 2009, it uses a new, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that uses the fuel-efficient Atkinson cycle for combustion.


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