Pick Your Power
Life used to be so simple that even guys like me could understand it. Cars ran on gas or diesel, and all drivers had to do was decide (usually arbitrarily) whether to stick with regular or spring for premium. As a new writer, reviewing cars was pretty straightforward, too. I felt like I had been conditioned from such an early age to rattle off cylinder counts, displacement, bore, stroke, and the presence or lack of forced induction that describing engines was almost reflexive. You were probably the same way.
It was the summer of 2022 when I started to realize that my natural frame of thinking was lacking and, dare I say, antiquated. A string of press cars challenged me to go beyond the usual lexicon and explore concepts like charge times, battery capacity, and combined horsepower. Those, and whatever a kilowatt-hour is. Instead of casually swinging by whichever gas station I happened to pass when I noticed my gas gauge was low, I found myself researching public charging stations a day in advance and pondering the odds of my home’s electrical system surviving an attempt to charge an electric vehicle.
By the end of the summer, I completed a milestone in driving experience: I had accumulated seat time in vehicles powered by gas, hybrid systems, plug-in hybrid systems, and all-electric power.
When I got behind the wheel of Ford’s latest 4x4 at the Bronco Off-Roadeo, its powerplant felt like one of the more commonplace features of the vehicle. That was surprising because a 2.7-liter V6 being force-fed oxygen by a pair of turbochargers is hardly standard fare in the off-road world. Still, things like the electronically disconnecting sway bar, trail control (off-road cruise control), one-pedal drive, and suite of seven drive modes stole some of the spotlight. Trail turn assist, which locks up the inside rear tire to make the Bronco pivot around tight corners, was every bit as exciting as feathering the throttle over technical obstacles.
Critics of the new Bronco (and there aren’t many) want a V8 under the hood. I’d certainly like the option as well, but the twin-turbo V6 never left me wanting. With 330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque on tap with premium gas, running out of get-up-and-go wasn’t an issue.
Driving the Bronco felt like a turning point. While Dodge was going buck wild with Hellcat engines and GM was stubbornly standing by the LS platform with more loyalty than Tammy Wynette, Ford must have felt the winds changing. While you can still get F-Series trucks and the Mustang with a V8, it now seems pretty clear that there is—at least in some ways—a replacement for displacement.
Double the Fun
The F-150 that appeared outside my house last fall made 100 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque more than the Bronco I drove in Nevada. Surely it had two more cylinders too, right? Quite the opposite. The truck did have a displacement advantage—3.5 liters compared to 2.7 liters—but the engine was still a V6. It still had two turbochargers. In addition to a little extra size, it had help from a hybrid system that offered instant torque and cut down on fuel consumption.
A few years ago, trucks and hybrids occupied distant corners of the automotive world, presumably never to meet. How strange, then, to see the iconic F-150 sharing technology with the Toyota Prius.
Driving the truck felt familiar and strange at the same time. The leather-filled interior of the Lariat package felt similar to the big diesels I rode around in as a kid. The design, controls, and overall driving experience were unmistakably F-150. The one thing that felt off to me was power delivery, which was ironic considering this was the most powerful F-150 without a Raptor badge you could get at the time. That’s right, the 5.0-liter V8 is no longer at the top of the lineup. When I mashed the gas pedal into the carpet (as one does), the truck responded with an instant hit of power from the electric motor. That thrill came and went in an instant, replaced by the more gradual roll of the V6. As revs climbed, the turbochargers developed enough boost to chip in and provide another rush of power, this time to redline. All this probably happened within a second or two, but it was enough to register on my proprietary seat dyno.
The hybrid F-150 was the quickest, most powerful stock half-ton truck I’ve driven. The three stages of power felt strange, though. The experience was oddly unsatisfying for a car enthusiast. Imagine a 1980s turbo that takes a break midway through the rev range, and you’ve got an idea of what I mean.
Insert Electricity Pun Here
A dab of electricity complicates power delivery, but going all-electric smooths it out entirely. The Ford Mustang Mach-E offers easy acceleration with no lag, no shifting, and an omnipresent powerband. The GT Performance Edition takes the crossover SUV to a whole new level, with the ability to hit 60 miles per hour from a dig in less than four seconds. Shocking. Something to get amped up about. I know.
My inner gearhead was grumpily yearning for engine sounds and exhaust gasses the whole week I had the electric pony car, but I couldn’t deny the thrill of driving it. On chilly mornings, I jumped inside and immediately started hammering on-ramps without worrying about letting an engine warm up. Traffic was my personal plaything as I ripped away from stoplights with 480 horsepower and 634 pound-feet of torque.
Extracting power from the electric drivetrain was effortless and enjoyable. Inserting power into it was another story. Buying electricity may be cheaper than buying gas, but it’s nowhere near as easy. My poor, old home’s electrical system wasn’t up to the strain of charging a car so I had to turn elsewhere. More than half the charging stations I attempted to use were broken, required a subscription, or were locked away in a private parking garage. The one fast charger I could use was a few miles from my house and even it took more than an hour to fully charge the battery. There are situations where EVs make all the sense in the world, but they aren’t for everyone and we shouldn’t pretend that they are.
The Best of Both Worlds
Here is where we stray from Ford to Jeep but remember that this is about powertrains, not manufacturers.
As much as I appreciated the fuel economy and torque of the hybrid F-150, they wouldn’t be enough to make me buy one over a V8 truck with my own money. Logistical realities preclude me from owning an electric car for the time being. But there is a third way to evolve from traditional internal combustion.
Jeep’s new 4xe (pronounced four-by-E) powertrain uses plug-in hybrid power to drive all four wheels. In the Grand Cherokee 4xe I drove, I had the option to draw power from the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, a small battery, or both. I could plug the vehicle into a trickle charger or let the engine and regenerative braking return energy along the way. With a full charge, the battery could only manage 25 miles of all-electric power. That sounds insignificant, but it was enough to handle my daily errands without lighting a single spark plug. When I ventured further from town, I could relax knowing that I had the ability to fill up at any gas station along the way in minutes. Sure, the sounds coming from the little four-cylinder were lamentable and power delivery took a massive hit when the battery was depleted, but I could look past those imperfections in a daily driver.
If you’re expecting enlightened wisdom from these experiences, I’m sorry to disappoint. They’re so different that it’s really a case of apples, oranges, and maybe that digital food we fed to our Tamagotchis as kids. In some ways, it feels like the early days of automotive innovation all over again. It’s the wild west of power generation and every manufacturer is taking shots at what the future might be. In the meantime, we all have some drive homework to do.
Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the ’90s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.