Why Ford’s EcoBoost V6 matters

Ford’s EcoBoost engine claims to have the power of a V8 yet offer fuel economy that bests even conventional V6 engines. Sound too good to be true? Sure it does, and Ford knows it. That’s why I drove an EcoBoost-powered F-150 at the Texas State Fair introduction of this engine last September. That demonstration had me towing up to 3,000 kilograms before running an empty fuel consumption demonstration that personally netted me a figure of 10.2 litres per 100 kilometres average.

Still, conventional wisdom suggests – among us suspicious truck buyers – that you just don’t buy the first year’s production of any significant new technology. Instead, you wait to see how the recalls and warranty issues shake out.

But, in a bid to speed sales, Ford is fighting back with a cross-country road show, hoping to jump the consumer confidence gap that traditionally only time changes.

Ford’s claims for the 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost are as follows: It makes 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque and will tow 5,135 kg.

The V6 engine program manager for this project is Jim Mazuchowski, a Dearborn, Mich.-based engineer who has been explaining the promises EcoBoost is making longer than anyone else. I asked him to break down for me (in plainspeak) what makes the EcoBoost as powerful and efficient as it is.

“Power density,” says Mazuchowski.

“This is achieved by coupling two technologies – forced air through twin turbos and direct gas injection,” he says. “First, the turbos cool and compress air, making it denser as it’s pushed into the engine. This charged air also cools the cylinder and injected fuel. The result is a dense mixture that burns fully. Also, fuel pressure in the injection process ranges from 65 to 2,000 psi during delivery, and the fuel/air mixture has a high rate of tumble through a new port design; it is also detonated in a cylinder with a new piston. We’ve used something like a diesel piston head with a bowl design.”

What surprised me was that the amount of power (just more than 100 hp to a litre of displacement) is made with a compression ratio of just 10: 1 -I thought it would be higher.

To further calm first-year buyer jitters, Ford started a program several months ago called “Hero Engine.”

First, Ford engineers ran a V6 EcoBoost picked randomly off the assembly line -engine No. 448AA -registering the equivalent of 241,000 kilometres on a dynamometer, then dropped it into a truck body and shipped it to four different companies, which in turn worked it every day for weeks.

At that point, the motor -with 256,000 km on it -was pulled and transplanted into an F-150 race truck, which ran the Baja 1000 in just more than 38 hours last December. Throughout this testing, the engine suffered no breakdowns. Of course, all this would mean nothing unless consumers can somehow verify the results. Ford realized that, too, so at the Detroit auto show in January, technicians tore that engine down in front of a crowd of 1,000 journalists and industry people.

This motor was pulled apart after testing, which by then had simulated 10 years of wear over 258,000 km, and the components were spread out for viewing by the crowd. The results showed that the block, pistons, turbos, crankshaft, valves and other internal parts of engine 448AA were still within original factory specifications.

Other findings related to the EcoBoost truck engine discovered at the teardown included: No visual issues with the compressor or turbine, which rotated freely; piston rings spun freely and pistons showed no obvious signs of wear; and nominal carbon deposits. During the cylinder leakdown test, the engine’s cylinders were pressurized with 100 pounds of air to measure the sealing performance of the rings and valves. The test results ranged from 6% to 13% within manufacturing tolerances.

After the initial EcoBoost introduction in Texas last year, I wrote: “Truck sales in Canada are hot right now -north of 50% of all new vehicle purchases. And while this is surely a sign of pent-up demand and recovery, it’s heartening to see that the truck industry has recognized it needs to get ahead of the next fuel crisis. I think that is exactly what Ford’s EcoBoost engine is going to do. This new technology is good value today -but will score a direct hit on future high gas prices.”

Photo Courtesy Ford Motor Co