With per-gallon prices hovering around $4, customers are sensitive to every penny spent at the pump, and Ford Motor Company is leveraging technologies to help consumers avoid an even further hit to their wallets. Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles, including luxury models like the all-new 2009 Lincoln MKS, run - and run well - on regular unleaded gas, a true competitive advantage given today's skyrocketing fuel costs.

By developing vehicles that deliver both fuel efficiency and performance using regular unleaded gasoline, customers can save as much as $200 annually at the pump filling up a Ford, Lincoln, or Mercury product rather than using expensive premium unleaded fuel as some other automakers require.

Yet, recent figures from Kelley Blue Book show that the number of vehicles that either recommend or require premium fuel at an average of $0.20 or more per gallon has grown from 166 in 2002 to more than 280 today.  Some luxury models on that list even warn owners they can seriously damage their engines if they consistently fill up with gas below 91 octane.

No such disclaimers or fuel requirements apply to volume Ford, Lincoln or Mercury vehicles.  Products excluding specialty performance vehicles such as the Ford Shelby GT500 can run on regular 87-octane gasoline - with great performance, said Stephen Russ, a technical leader with Ford Powertrain Operations.  That includes products ranging from the 2009 Ford Mustang Bullitt to the Lincoln MKS.

"Our vehicles, including our luxury products, will run normally on 87-octane regular fuel," he adds.  "Some customers may choose to use premium fuel to get additional horsepower, but our powertrains are designed so we don't have to require it."

The Lincoln MKS, equipped with the 3.7-liter V-6 and front-wheel drive, for example, delivers 275 hp and 274 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel. Fill up with regular unleaded, and the luxury sedan still delivers more than 270 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque, along with maintaining 24 miles per gallon on the highway.

No Knock

Thanks to Ford's improved adaptive spark ignition system, Lincoln MKS owners that fill up with regular unleaded don't have to worry about the common engine knock and pinging often associated with using a lower-grade gas.

This system can sense what type of fuel is being injected into the motor, and communicates the information to the powertrain control module (PCM), which adjusts the spark accordingly.  "We have improved the algorithms and software so the vehicle's PCM is better able to figure out what fuel is being used and quickly adapt," said Russ.

In addition to software changes, the ignition system features two knock sensors rather than one to further improve performance. These two sensors detect the presence of uncontrolled burning in the chambers more accurately, so the control module can retard engine timing as needed to eliminate the potential for engine knock and pinging.

Other vehicles that feature the improved two-sensor adaptive spark ignition system include the Mustang, equipped with the 4.6-liter V-8, Mustang Bullitt and the 2009 Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner equipped with the 3.0-liter V-6.

Dollars and Sense

Running on regular versus premium represents upwards of a $200-a-year savings in fuel costs for customers.  Coupled with myriad other fuel-efficient technologies offered on Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles, such as Ford's new six-speed automatic transmissions, customers can save even more in fuel costs without having to sacrifice performance.

For example, in addition to its six-speed transmission, the MKS features a two-speed fuel pump that alternates between two flow settings. During idle or under certain conditions such as cruising at highway speeds, the fuel pump runs on the low setting, requiring less energy to run the pump.  The lower voltage results in less of a draw on the engine, improving fuel efficiency.

MKS also features Aggressive Deceleration Fuel Shut-Off, a fuel-saving system that shuts off fuel flow to the injectors when the driver backs completely off the throttle with the vehicle in fifth or sixth gear, such as exiting onto a freeway off ramp.