More Power and Better Fuel Economy -- What's Not to Like?
By Dan Carney
True truck owners, those who need to buy pickups for towing and hauling, need the practicality of a truck, but like everyone else, would like to use less fuel. Unlike the commuters who haul air in their trucks, true truck users don't have the option of swapping their pickups for economy cars.
The obvious solution has been for manufacturers to start putting diesel engines into their light-duty pickup trucks, but the large price difference between regular unleaded and diesel, often about a dollar per gallon, has caused a rethink of that plan. Ford says it has put off (at least for a couple years) its previously announced plan to offer a diesel in the F-150 in 2010.
Instead, the company is developing a V-6 EcoBoost engine for the F-150 which employs turbocharging and direct-injection -- a design that Ford says will deliver similar power to a V-8 engine -- all while using less gas.
Such engines are cheaper to build than diesels -- less than $1000 more costly than a conventional V-8 in comparison to the $4000 or $5000 price tag of a diesel engine, according to Ford. That thousand bucks buys you more power, expected to top the targets of 340 horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque from the 3.5-liter turbo V-6, compared with the 320 and 390 for today's 5.4-liter Triton V-8.
It will also return 15-20 percent better mileage, Ford engineers predict. That extrapolates to 16 mpg city/23 highway for the EcoBoost engine, compared with 13 and 18 for the V-8 today.
Towing and other hard work won't tax the EcoBoost engine, even though conventional wisdom would suggest that a smaller-displacement engine would have to work harder and that a turbocharged engine could be stressed by heavy loads. The direct injection of gasoline has the effect of cooling the combustion chamber, as the fuel absorbs heat when it evaporates. According to an engineer who is developing the EcoBoost F-150, "cooling has not been an issue."
One challenge will be the sound characteristics of a turbo six-cylinder, which will be different from the familiar mellow rumble of a V-8. The company is looking at solutions, including a simplified active sound-cancellation system that will mold the sound waves that emerge from the exhaust pipe, but without a complex closed-loop system using microphones to monitor and adapt to the sounds being produced. The system would instead use a simple data map to know what it should do under different circumstances.
EcoBoost-powered F-150s will arrive in showrooms in 2010 for the 2011 model year.