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A boost up

All it took was an impromptu drag race at Ford's Dearborn, MI, Development Center to convince me of the merits of the company's new EcoBoost engine technology. Journalists spent a day there learning about the new 2009 vehicles, and two of us ended up last in line on a straight test strip where we could compare pairs of F-150 pickups and Lincoln MKS sedans with both standard engines and the new EcoBoost V6s.

All Ford officials had left the area, and only two engineers remained to ride along with us on our acceleration tests. My last run was in the MKS EcoBoost, so I waved the other journalist to pull alongside in his F-150 with the 5.4 V8 and suggested we try a drag race on the wide, straight, mile-long strip. The engineers said they weren't sure we were allowed to do that, but I assured them — with no authority whatsoever — that it would be okay. Quickly, I told the other journalist to count down, "3-2-1-GO!" He did, we both hit the gas, and I was astounded both at how swiftly my EcoBoost-powered vehicle took off and how rapidly his V8 F-150 grew smaller in my outside mirror.

Ford first introduced EcoBoost in cars like the Taurus and Lincoln MKS and crossover SUVs like the Flex. Ford's standard 3.5 V6 engine turns out a solid 263 hp and 249 ft.-lbs. of torque. The EcoBoost V6 in car form jumps to 355 or 365 hp, and to 350 ft.-lbs. of torque, computer-controlled to maintain that peak from 1,500 to 5,250 rpm. In its auto and crossover applications, the EcoBoost required all-wheel drive rather than front-wheel drive to handle the increased torque.

“The F-150 will be the first application of the EcoBoost to a rear-wheel-drive vehicle,” says Alan Hall, EcoBoost marketing manager. “Because of that, we'll be able to get even more torque out of it. We'll have a similarly flat torque curve, and we're going to have a special transmission to handle what I would guess will be somewhere over 400 ft.-lbs. of torque.”

Technically, Ford created its first EcoBoost by taking the high-tech, two-year-old, 3.5-liter V6 and reinforcing it throughout. A stronger but lighter die-cast aluminum engine block was fitted with a crankshaft and connecting rods, both made of a higher-grade alloy for greater durability. Oil-cooled pistons, to withstand greater heat, have cylinder heads machined for direct injection. The dual-overhead camshafts are set for variable timing of the valve train to assure optimal performance, lower emissions and better fuel economy.

Turbocharging compensates for the fewer cylinders and smaller displacement, and Ford worked with Honeywell-Garrett to develop dual water-cooled turbochargers. Typically, turbochargers operate by directing a stream of exhaust flow to spin a turbine wheel, which powers a compressor that force-feeds an increased volume and velocity of airflow, sucking gasoline along with it to the engine. In the EcoBoost system, smaller turbines provide quicker spooling time, and, combined with the direct-injection system and computer control, the usual lag in power application is eliminated.

Instead of squirting the same air-fuel mixture into all cylinders at once, the Bosch-designed direct injection is calibrated to meter cool and more combustible air at extremely high pressure to insert a precise dosage of fuel individually into each cylinder's combustion chamber. Other direct-injection systems increase power, but Ford succeeded in coordinating the more efficient fuel-burning to aid power and fuel economy and to lower emissions.

“We promised a 20% increase in fuel economy, and we delivered a 25% improvement,” says Brett Hinds, advanced engineering design and development manager of the EcoBoost. “And we also achieved a 15% reduction in emissions.”

“Fuel economy is one of [farmers'] top needs,” says F-150 marketing manager Mark Grueber. “In our tests, farmers have praised the EcoBoost's low-end torque but also have been pleased to get 17 or 18 mpg and over 20 on the highway.”

By 2012, Ford expects to produce 750,000 EcoBoost engines in the U.S. and 1.3 million of them globally. The F-150 EcoBoost will reach showrooms late in 2010. Ford thinks farmers will appreciate the EcoBoost's durability and reliability. And once the crops are in, that EcoBoost engine might come in handy for drag racing.

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