Ford's EcoBoost Almost Ready For Liftoff

May 15, 2009

Yesterday was actually my third time in an EcoBoosted Ford, but this is the first time I can actually tell you what it was like to nail the throttle of an engine that may become the next 5.0-liter.

If you're unfamiliar with the old Five-O, that was the way a generation of enthusiasts referred to the 302-cubic inch V-8 (five liters) that Ford Motor Company used for decades in all manner of vehicles. It is especially remembered for igniting the performance flame in the Fox-platform Mustangs that were first produced in 1979.  Enthusiasts like the engine because of its power, durability and relative economy.

The new 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 will power four models from Ford this year; the Ford Taurus SHO, the Ford Flex, the Lincoln MKS, and the Lincoln MKT (shown above at yesterday's track event). EcoBoost powered models will start appearing in showrooms this summer.

In 2011, the EcoBoost will find its way under the hood of the F-Series pickup. The engine represents a more fuel-efficient approach to making power than going with more displacement or cylinders, and here's how it works...

Ford Motor Company's EcoBoost V-6 engine, 3.5-liters

Ford Motor Company's EcoBoost V-6 engine, 3.5-liters

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The basic architecture is similar to Ford's corporate 3.5-liter and 3.7-liter V-6 engines used in many Ford products.  It's a straight-forward double-overhead-camshaft V-6 with four valves per cylinder. This is a good start.

Ford Motor Company's EcoBoost V-6 cylinder head with DI

Ford Motor Company's EcoBoost V-6 cylinder head with DI

Enlarge Photo

To this solid base, Ford increases the strength of the block, pistons, and connecting rods using higher alloy content amalgams. Then new heads go on each cylinder bank that incorporate a sophisticated Bosch direct-injection (DI) fuel system that squirts fuel directly into the combustion chamber. The DI fuel system delivers a huge boost in efficiency, boosting both power and economy (Porsche, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and GM have all recently introduced DI engines for these reasons). Ford could have stopped there. They didn't.

To achieve the level of performance Ford wanted, EcoBoost engineers also added one small turbocharger on each side of the engine. These tiny blowers are manufactured by Garrett, a legendary blower builder that is original equipment on plenty of top-flight turbo cars including the Mitsubishi Evo. Using an electronically-modulated turbo waste gate (to purge extra boost pressure), engineers created a boost curve that looks more like a plateau than anything else.

Power rises steeply to 1500 rpm and then stays perfectly flat at 350 lb.ft. until it trails off at 5250 rpm. Horsepower peaks at 355 at 5700 rpm. This is roughly 80 more horsepower and 100 more lb.ft. torque than the non-turbo 3.5-liter.

So what does driving EcoBoosted vehicles feel like? Is there any turbo lag? Do the turbos hiss and pop and fart? Nope. There's nothing but power ... smoothly delivered and completely linear power.

A crude stopwatch timing of a 2010 Lincoln MKS Sport (on Ford's high speed oval at their Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo, Michigan) showed that the two-ton sedan will sprint to 100 mph in about 15.1 seconds. Sixty mph breezes by in the mid six-second range. The MKS charges up to its electronically-limited top speed of 135 mph, but would have easily gone much faster. (The speed ratings for the Michelin MXV4 M+S tires require the limited top speed for safety reasons.)

So the EcoBoost engine delivers on power. But the engine's claim to fame (and its name) focus on "Eco." At a steady 70 mph on the same high-speed oval, the MKS delivered an average highway economy of 24.4 mpg. At lower speeds, economy would have surely been even more impressive. For fun, we did one fuel-economy lap of the five-mile oval at 100 mph. Showing how critical aerodynamic drag is to economy, the MKS achieved only 9.8 mpg. This mileage would be approximately 10-20 better than a V-8 engine of equal power.

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