Monday, May 31, 2010

Why I Love EcoBoost (and so will you)

Due to my refusal to talk about the "Summer of LeBron" speculation/tripe until July 1, Browns news being light until training camp and the Indians' season already irrelevant, I'm writing yet another car post.  Today's post is about an engine technology that is truly going to be the future of gasoline engine technology until alternative fuels/propulsion systems take over (my best guess since I feel the Chevy Volt will accelerate their development): Direct-Injection Twin turbo engines. And I'll use the EcoBoost technology as an example since it is the most well-known and best marketed technology out there.

Turbo engines aren't exactly new; they've been around for decades. But Direct-Injection Twin-Turbos are and they are important for several reasons.

  1. They do not require the upkeep and "special treatment" of turbos of the past.
  2. They do not require premium fuel like past turbo engines due to the direct injection system allowing for higher compression ratios using regular 87 octane fuel.
  3. They provide tons of torque at low RPM's, allowing for fun driving in the city and better "real-world" fuel efficiency by being able to feather the throttle and still deliver acceleration when you immediately touch the gas.
  4. Long story short: It's like having your cake and eating it too.
In Europe, Ford sells the Ford Focus ECOnetic model as a diesel with stop/start technology as an option (in other words: the engine shuts off when the car is stopped and turns back on when the gas pedal is pushed), among other fuel-efficient factors.  The Focus Diesel will not be coming to the U.S. for two main reasons: added cost of diesel engines, and the volatile fuel prices of diesel in the U.S..  So, EcoBoost is the best alternative for the U.S. market because it still provides low end-torque like a diesel (although not as much) and close fuel economy numbers.

Chevrolet recently unveiled the Cruze Eco, which will deliver 40 MPG highway from a 1.4 liter turbo engine.  This engine, however, is not direct-injected, so it is missing out on some added power and fuel efficiency that it could have had if the engine was direct injected.  I think the Cruze is going to be an amazing, revolutionary small car for General Motors in the United States, however, I feel like it's just slightly missing the mark due to the lack of direct-injection.  The Cruze *WILL* be a monster home run for General Motors.  Those who have never driven a turbo are going to be in for a real treat due to its low-end torque and I believe it will sell in large numbers for that reason.

While GM will hit a home run with the Cruze, Ford has the technology to hit a walkoff grand slam if they so choose. Ford is developing a 1.6 liter EcoBoost engine rumored to be 180 horsepower and 180 lbs/ft. of torque (which is plenty powerful for a non-sports car and in fact is downright fast with a dual-clutch transmission). They also have the PowerShift Dual Clutch Automatic Transmission coming to the Focus, which delivers all he power of a manual and 9% better fuel efficiency than the current 4-speed conventional automatic. When stop/start technology is added to this combination (a 3% gain in fuel efficiency), Ford has the ability to deliver almost-hybrid-like fuel efficiency without the penalties of a hybrid system.

Ford has only announced a direct-injected 2.0 liter naturally aspirated (read: non-EcoBoost) engine in the U.S. 2012 Focus. It's said to deliver 10% better fuel efficiency and 155 horsepower and 145 lbs/ft. torque (up from the 140 horsepower and 136 lbs/ft of torque in the current Focus). This is more horsepower than the 1.4L Cruze engine (138 HP), but less torque (148 lbs/ft, and since the Cruze engine is a turbo, the torque will be delivered at a lower RPM for a more spirited feel and possibly better real-world fuel efficiency). That is an excellent engine, but is it class-leading? I'm not so sure. The 2.2L Ecotec in the Chevy Cobalt matches that power, but not the fuel economy.  The good news is that Ford is not finished releasing details on the 2012 Focus, so as a car enthusiast, I'm hoping that the 2.0L is just the base engine of the Focus, and there's a better engine for more upscale models.

Let's do the math: The current Focus is rated at 24 city/34 highway MPG (although I've read in more than one review that you can achieve significantly better real-world MPG's because the transmission is tuned for MPG's over acceleration). The next Focus with the 2.0 naturally-aspirated direct-injection engine should deliver anywhere from 27-29 city/37-41 highway MPG. Excellent and possibly segment-leading, but it's not close to what a diesel could achieve and it doesn't have the exciting low-end torque of a diesel either, or the 1.4L Cruze turbo, for that matter.

Enter EcoBoost and stop/start technology. From my geeky mathematic estimates, a 2012 Focus w/ a 1.6L EcoBoost engine could theoretically deliver 31-32 city/43-44 highway MPG's. Even if the estimates were slightly lower than that, the fact that the engine has low-end torque means real-world fuel economy could easily reach the high-30's MPG range, which is right at diesel performance and knocks on the door of hybrids and is much higher than the high 20's/low 30's I achieve in my 2003 Focus.  While it's not quite hybrid territory, such a car would be much sportier than current hybrids AND fuel efficient at the same time.

Ford has yet to release all the details on the 2012 Focus for the U.S. market, but they have unveiled more details that include the 1.6L EcoBoost in their European plans (which I hear 90% of them are included in the U.S. Focus). I'm hoping, praying, BEGGING Ford to deliver the goods: a 1.6L, 180 horsepower/180 lbs/ft torque (at low RPM nonetheless) EcoBoost engine with stop/start technology in the United States either at launch or shortly after launch (ideally I would like to buy my next car next spring after the last snow flies). I would be the first one to put down my pre-order money on such a car: quick and sporty yet practical and fuel efficient.

While I use the Focus as my guinea pig since it fits my wants and needs, it's not the only car that will benefit from EcoBoost as a fuel-saving technology: The 2011 Ford Edge and 2011 Ford Explorer will use 2.0L EcoBoost engines that will deliver unsurpassed fuel economy in their segments (especially in the Explorer), and the F-150 will receive a modified 3.5L V6 EcoBoost as seen in the Taurus to deliver much better fuel economy without sacrificing power (at least 23 MPG highway). But the car that will be the REAL game changer in the United States? The next generation of the Ford Fusion, which I'm guessing will have the 1.6L EcoBoost as the base engine, and the 2.0L EcoBoost as the "sport" model.

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