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Ford’s EcoBoost Challenge

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Mar 28, 2015

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


Doug Stokes is blown away at the Ford EcoBoost Challenge (Doug Stokes)

As reported by Doug Stokes (who has voluntarily refrained from using the term “Ego-Boost” anywhere in this article) LA Car was invited out to nearby Santa Anita Park for a preview of the 17-city Ford EcoBoost Challenge.* We had a great time tasting and testing Ford’s latest (and may we say greatest) adventure into the world of boost. No, not the geriatric nutrition supplement, we’re talking turbo-charging here. Using the engine’s own (usually wasted) exhaust gas to spin a small turbine that pulls more air into the engine than it can suck in by itself, thus making more horsepower. In Ford’s case the application is to relatively smaller displacement engines (many with less cylinders) that effectively boosts the output while still retaining the economies of a smaller sized powerplant.** Adding to the power and flexibility equation is the application of direct injection and my nominee for the greatest advance in engine design lately: variable valve timing, which almost acts as a turbocharger all by itself. Blended together this threesome can really impress on all levels of comparison without very much compromise at all. The more that I see of EcoBoost, the better I like it. For people of a certain age (me as an example) “turbo-charging” has always meant two things: making WW2 high-altitude, high-performance fighter/bombers go fast and high, and adding a hot rod part on a production engine, having fun and hoping for the best.


Ford EcoBoost Challenge at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia (Doug Stokes)

Of course, back then bolting up an aftermarket turbo almost always contravened the manufacturer’s warranty but (what the heck) we were blowing all of our (non-turbocharged) friends into the weeds—and loving it. And sooner than later, the piper asked for his money and the cows came home. “It was fun while it lasted” was the most requested refrain, with an occasional “ah well” thrown in. The boost was there, but the electronic sophistication needed to keep it in line was … well, lagging behind. It hurt the whole idea of turbos for anything other than outright hard core competition cars for many years. Many manufacturers have tried turbos in the past, but none (except for maybe the late, lamented Saab) ever made the sort of full line commitment to the technology that the blue oval people have here. That was then, and now there’s Ford’s EcoBoost and a whole new world of cool cars, with light, responsive motors, that thrive under well-regulated turbocharging, and we got a short shot in a number of them… MOST FUN: The Focus ST in the ST Reaction Challenge – A (very) short drag race( replete with a set of NHRA pro style countdown starting lights) that was set up to show how quickly a turbocharged engine could react to the demand for fast acceleration. (Turbo note: In the past turbo-charging was notorious for slow reaction to the accelerator pedal. It was called “turbo lag”.) Here’s the notes from this part of our challenge morning: I cut a .004 light, and both the little Fiesta ST and its bigger brother, the Focus ST, were both more fun (even on this shortest of short courses) than a barrel of monkeys.*** And the seats in both of these delightful machines are really something to sit on, if only for a short shot. They wrap around and held this driver like the giant hand of some motor-deity. I need (much) more time in both!


The 2015 Mustang can be flavored with EcoBoost (Doug Stokes)

BIG GUNS: I also got to take a run at cool little slalom course in the latest 2.3-liter 301(!) horsepower four-cylinder Mustang. This is a big car, actually just a bit tall for the height of the marker cones on the course, but I kept them all up and (again) had a great time running the this one. There’s no feeling of loss here, and not having a big old V-8 up front never even occurred to me as any sort of a problem as I made the tires make those noises that tires make. TRUCKING: In truth, the Focus and Fiesta ST’s were so much fun that my time at Santa Anita ran out before I had a chance to try the truck challenge. Ford pitted their all-EcoBoost line up of an F-150 pickup, Edge SUV, and Escape SUV against the Chevy Silverado, Toyota Highlander, and Honda CRV respectively. That is 6-pack that rates very highly on anyone’s card. In talking the next day to a couple of motorcompadre who did that comparo, word was that the Ford product was the equal and/or better than the contender in overall performance in each case. Of course our diesel-driving friends will be quick here to remind us that their (Ford and everyone else) light truck engines have been turbocharged for decades now. ROAD RUN: There was a quartet of equally EcoBoosted Ford product that was set up for street drives around the Arcadia area. The Ford Fusion Hybrid was the most fun, and we could have really handled a whole bunch of stuff with the Transit Connect. There was an Edge and an Expedition also available that, alas, were not sampled before time expired. SHIFTING GEARS: Oh yeah, the nice Ford folks event actually had a “ShiftPhobia Boot Camp” at Santa Anita and they were busy with a steady stream of millenials every time that I looked over that way. As it turns out there’s no iPhone or Android “App.” for stick-shifting. I swear I heard one of the students say that, once-mastered, snapping shifts off by oneself is so “steampunk” that it might catch back on just for the novelty of it. BACK ME UP HERE: I’m really not a fan of parking assist, turbo-charged or not, so you will have to discovers the wonders of Ford’s parking assist on your own time. I’m sure one of the dealer staff who attended one of these challenges will be eager to let you have at it.


A Performance Academy Fiesta ST (photo courtesy Ford)

WHAT DID WE LEARN: 1.) Modern, seamless turbocharging is now available right across the full Ford light-duty line up in the United States. 2.) For any day/everyday use the system works beautifully, and that one does not need a “boost gague” on the dashboard to know that they are moving along quite nicely thankyouverymuch. *U-DRIVE: Here’s the 2015 “Tour” itinerary. If any of the remaining stops is anywhere close to where you live, try to get in on one of these fun half-days. There’ll be sessions for media, dealers, and the general public at each stop for this turbocharged road show. Almost 30,000 people took part in this fun and enlightening series last year.… If you go, see if you can beat .004! • Washington, D.C.: FedEx Field, March 28 • Houston: NRG Park, April 18 • Louisville, Kentucky: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, April 25 • Phoenix: WestWorld, May 2 • Concord, North Carolina: Charlotte Motor Speedway, May 2 • Seattle: Emerald Downs, May 9 • Chicago: Arlington Park, May 9 • Cincinnati: Forest Fair Village Mall, May 30 • Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh International Race Complex, May 30 • Orlando, Florida: Orange County Convention Center, June 6 • Philadelphia: Wells Fargo Center, June 6 • San Francisco: Oakland Alameda Coliseum, June 13 • Rochester, New York: Monroe Community College, June 13 • Minneapolis: Mall of America, June 20 Participants must register beforehand. Pre-registration is live now at Space is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Events are open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in most markets. **And it’s not just the smaller displacement that now makes, for example, a 250 hp turbocharged (er … EcoBoosted) 4-cylinder motor more desirable versus a 250 hp V-8 engine. The 4 is physically smaller/lighter so less weight takes (somewhat) less fuel to haul that weight around, in addition that lighter weight can make the car’s handling balance better (a big, heavy motor right over the front wheels makes for less than crisp driving response. And, lastly that smaller number of cylinders means a smaller number of parts and pieces that it takes to make up the engine with an incremental (we’ll take it) reduction in cost and complexity. “Incremental” is the watchword here, there really is no free lunch anywhere in the automotive world, but there are places where certain combinations of technology make more sense and work (incrementally) better than others. *** Full disclosure: I’ve never really driven a barrel of monkeys. The closest that I ever came was late one night at the 1979 Long Beach Grand Prix with Lake Speed, Lynn Haddock, and Albert Wong trying to find our way back to our hotel aboard my ’76 Volvo 240DL Wagon after a wine-soaked non-dinner at a Chinese restaurant that had just been purchased and taken over by a Hungarian refugee couple who knew even less in the world than I did about preparing Chinese food. I remember Lake sitting behind me and holding my shoulders. A forward was “go” an easy backward pull was “slow” a harder one was “stop” and you have already figured out what the shoulder signal was for “right” or “left”. No, they weren’t monkeys … monkeys might well have been better-behaved. -DS For more information about Ford’s EcoBoost Challenge, click here.

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