If you keep up with what’s happening on the auto-scene, you’ve no doubt heard of Ford‘s EcoBoost effort by now. EcoBoost is essentially Ford’s moniker for adding forced induction (i.e., turbochargers) to high-compression engines to produce power equivalent to that of a V8 (or a V6) with fuel economy comparable to a V6 (or a 4-cylinder). Automakers have been doing this for a number of years now, but Ford is making it a core part of their strategy to boost their brands’ fuel economy, spreading the technology through virtually all of their models.
I just finished watching the 6 vs 8 – Showdown at Loveland Pass episode of Speed Test Drive on Speed Channel, in which the Lincoln (Ford’s luxury brand) MKS (with a twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5L V6 making 355 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque) was pitted against a Mercedes E550 (with a 382 hp 5.5L V8), BMW 550i (360 hp 4.6L V8), Maserati Quattroporte (400 hp, 4.3L V8), and Jaguar XF (385 hp, 5.0L V8). The challenge was to see if the 6-cylinder Lincoln could keep up with the V8-powered European luxury/performance brands in a 3.7-mile hill climb up Loveland Pass in Colorado, with the finish-line nearly 12,000 feet above sea-level. Expert rally / hill-climb champion racer Rod Millen was given the honor of piloting each of the vehicles.
The result? The Lincoln came in second, with a time of 172.7 seconds – a couple of seconds (and about 0.8 mph) slower than the BMW, and several seconds ahead of the Mercedes, Jaguar, and Maserati that came in 3rd, 4th, and 5th respectively. More striking is the fact that the Lincoln actually reached the highest top-speed on the course (109 mph), demonstrating that it was the handling, not the engine, that caused it to fall just short of the BMW’s pace.
I’ve never driven Loveland Pass. I have driven over Independence Pass – 100 feet higher than Loveland Pass – and realize what a challenge this test actually is. I also know how anemic normally-aspirated cars can be at extreme elevations – a fact that certainly played to the boosted Lincoln’s strengths. And if you’re wondering why the car with the least power appears to be the fastest, note that it’s not the peak horsepower that matters – it’s the area under the torque curve, and the Lincoln’s is wide and flat.
I’m impressed. That the Lincoln can run with, and even outshine, Europe’s best in any test has got to be an ego-boost for Ford. But I’m even more impressed with Ford’s efforts to bring the technology to all of their vehicles. The EcoBoost engine in the new Ford Flex (reviewed here by Autoblog) makes nearly 100 hp more than the normally aspirated V6 Flex, with the same fuel economy. (I’d like to see them replace that old Duratec V6 with an EcoBoost 4-cylinder.) The same engine is used in the high-performance Taurus SHO. And there are even plans to use a version of it in Ford’s light-duty trucks.
I grew up in a Chevy family. (Growing up the rural south in the ’70s, you were either a Chevy family, a Ford family, or a Chrysler family.) And though my preferences have shifted to a few German marques, I’ve got to give Ford credit. While the other American manufacturers have gone through bankruptcy and major reorgs in the last year, Ford has not only managed to survive, but they’ve introduced interesting new technology, all while manufacturing some of the better hybrids on the market. And that, more than anything, should boost their ego.