Ford Motor Co. has taken the wraps of its new I-4 engine with the production launch of '01 Ranger (see Ward's Automotive Reports — Nov. 6, '00, p.5).

Joe Pratt, program manager for the I-4, downplays the delay in the program's ramp up. “Job One in Ranger was delayed about four months. But it had nothing to do with the engine,” he says, blaming “NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) concerns.”

“But those have been resolved now,” Mr. Pratt says, and Ford's first I-4 powered Ranger rolled off the line last week at Edison Assembly in Edison, NJ The newly equipped pickup will be in showrooms this quarter.

Mr. Pratt tells Ward's the 2.3L, 16-valve, 4-cyl. powerplant culminates four years of intensive research and development. “We think we've delivered most of what the customer's looking for — better fuel economy, quieter, better performance.”

The I-4 is also available in 1.8L and 2L displacements, and the same family of engines will be made for Mazda at a plant in Hiroshima, Japan. Mr. Pratt says the Japanese automaker had significant input in the I-4's development.

Annual output is expected to approach 2.2 million units after Ford's engine plant in Valencia, Spain, joins Dearborn, MI, Chihuahua, Mexico and Hiroshima. Each plant will be able to manufacture all variations of the engine.

In 2003, the I-4 will be the base engine in Ford's Escape HEV, a hybrid electric version of the SUV.

The I-4 replaces Ford's 2L single-port injection engine, first engineered in 1974. “The outgoing engine that we're replacing is 119 hp,” Mr. Pratt says. The I-4 puts out 135 hp. “And at equivalent torque,” he says.

Much of this improvement is credited to a switch to an aluminum block for the new I-4, cutting weight by more than 70 lbs.