Ford Ecoboost

The American automaker wagers its new small motor is big enough to win over the macho pickup crowd.

A 2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost(TM) will take on the demanding Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 long-distance desert endurance race this year, marking Ford's EcoBoost engine racing debut. The F-150 off-road race truck is equipped with the same stock EcoBoost engine that already has experienced 150,000 equivalent miles of dynamometer testing and other real-world tests as the final step in the engine's durability torture tests. (09/23/2010)

So this will be the grand experiment, perhaps the toughest test yet of whether the supposed American preoccupation with all things environmental really does have legs. Ford, the most environmentally conscious of North American automakers, is about to unleash a serious "green" alternative to the hoariest of hide-bound consumers - full-sized pickup owners.

Nor is this supposedly eco-friendly F-150 some expensive, niche "halo" vehicle like the GMC hybrid Sierras; the EcoBoost pickup is to be trumpeted as a direct alternative to Ford's grandest V8, the 6.2L Triton.

The EcoBoost model is powered by a 3.5L V6 twice fortified with turbochargers. Both turbos are tiny, spooling up quickly to produce massive low-end torque. Indeed, judged from spec sheets alone, the 3.5L is all but a match for the 6.2L (and blows away a revised 5.0L V8 that also joins the F-150 powertrain line-up; a base, normally aspirated 3.7L is also available). The 6.2L holds an advantage in horsepower - 411hp versus 365 - but in the torque department, things are much closer: the big V8's 588Nm are just 19 more than what the diminutive 3.5L boasts. Confusing the matter even more is that the 3.5L's maximum torque is actually produced at a much lower rpm than the gargantuan V8 - 2,500 versus 4,500.

And, in limited driving in southern California, it was the 3.5L that felt the torquiest. It's impressive, especially since the V6 is just as smooth and quiet as the big V8. And though the 6.2L and the EcoBoost 3.5L are both rated for 11,300 pounds (5,125kg) of towing capacity, the 3.5L will achieve far better fuel economy. Ford hasn't released official figures yet, but does expect the EcoBoost to generate in around 20 per cent better fuel economy compared with the big V8s.

According to Jim Mazuchowski, the engineering manager for the V6, the new 3.5L has been fortified with stronger connecting rods, a tougher crankshaft and more rigid pistons. Variable valve timing is also used on both intake and exhaust camshafts and there's new porting in the inlet tract. As part of its marketing strategy, Ford ran one of the EcoBoost engines for 240,000km on a dynometer and then installed the same engine, untouched, into a race truck that competed in - and finished - this year's Baja 1000. Whether this is enough to convince traditional truck owners that the little 3.5L is indeed built Ford tough is a question only time and sales will tell.