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Tech Tips: Can you dig it?

For 2011 Ford has made sure that every customer will find an engine they want in the F-150 pickup. Four in total — two V-8 power plants and two V-6 models — from mild to wild. Its newest 6.2-litre V-8 makes 411 horsepower and 434 foot-pounds of torque, which Ford says will tow 5,135 kilograms if so equipped.


November 28, 2011
By Howard Elmer

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For 2011 Ford has made sure that every customer will find an engine they want in the F-150 pickup. Four in total — two V-8 power plants and two V-6 models — from mild to wild. Its newest 6.2-litre V-8 makes 411 horsepower and 434 foot-pounds of torque, which Ford says will tow 5,135 kilograms if so equipped.

p14_EcoBoost-2 
Ford showcased its V-6 EcoBoost equipped test truck at the Texas State Fair. After putting the equivalent of over 250,000 kilometres on the engine, the engine components were still within factory specifications.


 

The other V-8 is a transplant from the Mustang. Having resurrected the famous 5-litre V-8 earlier this year, Mustang donates its 380 horsepower engine to the F-series. Third is a new base V-6 engine. This 3.7-litre engine is the least technically advanced of the four (and likely the cheapest), yet it too is working hard at what is obviously a very serious focus for Ford: fuel economy without the sacrifice of power. It makes 302 horsepower and 380 foot-pounds of torque (numbers that still put it in small V-8 territory), yet even it is rated to tow up to 2,667 kilograms. But the next engine in the lineup is the one that will probably raise the most eyebrows: the V-6 EcoBoost. Attempting to capture the holy grail of gas power, this 3.5-litre engine does combine power and fuel economy in a single package. Each engine is now mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This gearbox saves fuel and is now standard equipment on the entire pickup line.

 So, with fuel prices skyrocketing, it is a happy coincidence of timing that sees the V-6 EcoBoost engine available in the F-150 for the first time right now. It claims to have the power of a V-8 yet with fuel economy that surpasses even conventional V-6 engines. Sounds too good to be true? Sure it does and Ford knows it. By the numbers, here are Ford’s claims for the 3.5-litre V-6 EcoBoost. It makes 365 horsepower, 420 foot-pounds of torque and will tow 5,135 kilograms. Fuel mileage is stated as 13 litres per 100 kilometres average (14.7 litres in the city and 10.7 litres on the highway).

That’s why I was anxious to drive the EcoBoost powered F-150 at the Texas State Fair introduction of this engine in September 2010. That demonstration had us towing up to 3,000 kilograms and then running an empty fuel-consumption demonstration that netted me a figure of 10.2 litres per 100 kilometres average.

Still, conventional wisdom suggests (among us suspicious truck buyers) that you just do not 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 that consumer confidence gap that traditionally only time changes.

So right now Ford is faced with this uphill marketing task in regards to this new EcoBoost engine. I say now because while EcoBoost is already doing duty in vehicles like the Lincoln and Flex, its application is just now hitting the real mainstream with the introduction of the 3.5-litre V-6 in the 2011 F-series pickups. And with the price of fuel, what might have been a gradual ramp-up in sales suddenly has the potential to become a headlong rush. Since March that’s exactly what has happened – with Ford currently reporting that for the first time in decades V-6 engines are outselling V-8s in the F150.

Building EcoBoost
I recently had a chance to find out a little more about how this engine is built during a phone interview with Ford V-6 engine program manager, Jim Mazuchowski. This Dearborn, Mi.-based engineer explained the promises EcoBoost is making by breaking it down for me in plain-speak. So, what makes the EcoBoost as powerful and efficient as it is? In a word, said Mazuchowski, “power density.”

He explained it this way. “We achieve power density by coupling two technologies: forced air through twin turbos and second direct gas injection. The turbos cool and compress the 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 2000 pounds per square inch 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 I was surprised at was that the amount of power (just over 100 horsepower to a litre of displacement) that is made with a compression ratio of just 10:1. I thought it would be higher.

To further calm first-year-buyer jitters, Ford ran a program several months ago called “Hero engine.” In short, they ran a V-6 EcoBoost (picked randomly off the assembly line) the equivalent of 241,000 kilometres on a dynamometer, non-stop, then dropped it into a truck body and shipped it to four different companies who in turn worked it every day for weeks.

At that point, they pulled that motor (with 256,000 kilometres on it now) and transplanted it into a F150 race truck, which ran the Baja 1000 in just over 38 hours last December. Throughout this testing the engine suffered no breakdowns. Of course, all this means nothing unless we (the consumers) can somehow verify the results. Ford realized this too, so at this year’s Detroit International Auto Show in January they tore that engine down in front of a crowd of 1,000 journalists and industry people.

After having been run on the dyno, farmed out to industry and run through the desert, this motor had the equivalent of 10 years of wear on it. That equalled over 258,000 kilometres. As it was torn down the components were spread out for viewing by the crowd. What I saw last January was a block, pistons, turbos, crankshaft, valves and other internal parts of that engine, and they were all still within original factory specifications. There were no visual issues with the compressor or turbine, which rotated freely. The piston rings spun freely and the pistons showed no obvious signs of wear. Carbon deposits were nominal, though they can vary based on quality of fuel used and when in the cycle the engine was stopped. In a 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 six to 13 per cent, which is within manufacturing tolerances.

Wrap-up
I found all this is pretty exciting, particularly when you consider that the cost of this optional engine is, although more than the naturally aspirated V-6, not prohibitive. The other alternative would be a small displacement diesel, say three litres. I know GM has one on the shelf that would match the EcoBoost in power and economy, but not price. Frankly the price would be higher even if Ford built it. Diesels are just more expensive to build, so for the half-ton I think Ford has hit on a good middle ground.

This is the third time I’ve had a close look at the latest F-150 with the EcoBoost and I went back to see what I’d written the first time. Last September, after the initial EcoBoost introduction in Texas I wrote, “Truck sales in Canada are hot right now – north of 50 per cent 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 that they need to get ahead of the next fuel crisis and 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.”

Now this prediction doesn’t make me psychic, as rising gas prices were always an event that was going to be a “when” not “if.” However, the when is now. So is the marketing working? Sales of this engine in the F-series have been going strong since the March launch.


Howard Elmer is a truck and ATV writer living in rural Ontario.


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