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Ford's EcoBoost Engines offer Performance (and Fuel Economy)

All the talk about hybrids and battery electric vehicles (EVs) somewhat obscures the fact that the internal-combustion engine will be with us for quite a while to come. And it makes a lot of sense to optimize it for fuel economy and emissions.

Ford has now done just that with its EcoBoost engines, which have just started production at the company's venerable (it first opened in 1951, and had been mothballed) Engine Plant #1 in Cleveland. Ford, which spent $55 million retooling the plant, plans to have EcoBoost power plants available on 90 percent of its vehicle nameplates by 2013, at which point it will be on 1.3 million cars and trucks annually, says Ford spokesperson Jennifer Moore. Here's what the engine looks like:

Dan Kapp, Ford's director for powertrain research and advanced engineering, says the company's blueprint for sustainability focuses on how to achieve the lowest-cost solution to get to a given target so it can be rolled out in high volume.

"What really popped out at us is how to use turbocharging effectively," Kapp said. "It's been around for a long time, but it has inherent drawbacks in causing knock, which means you have to lower the compression ratio. With EcoBoost we can significantly downsize the engine, and do with a V-6 what we would otherwise have to do with a V-8--it's a 10 to 20 percent improvement in fuel economy."

The key to the technology is direct injection, which uses Bosch-sourced high-pressure fuel injectors (35 times more intense than standard injection) to spray a mist of gasoline directly into each cylinder. This improves fuel economy (especially at cold start) and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent. Dual turbochargers spool up quickly and can spin at 170,000 rpm, yielding a 6,200 rpm redline.

The 2010 Lincoln MKS luxury sedan is the first Ford to get EcoBoost, and a 3.5-liter version of the engine will also go on the crossover Lincoln MKT, Ford Flex and Taurus SHO. Kapp says the EcoBoost engine in the MKS will offer 355 horsepower (and 350 foot pounds of torque) as compared to 300 from the 5.4-liter V-8. The MKS will also deliver a best-in-class 25 mpg combined, Ford says. It should trump the Lexus GS460 (24 mpg combined) and the Infiniti M45 (21 mpg).

"We can stair-step down the size of our engines," Kapp says, "and re-gear to run the turbocharger at lower engine speeds. It's a performance option that can be applied to a variety of engines and vehicle platforms, as well as to diesels and hybrids." The 3.5-liter engine offers full horsepower at engine speeds from 1,500 to 5,250 rpm.

It is, of course, unclear how many customers will specify EcoBoost on their order sheets. Perhaps to sweeten the pot, the Lincoln MKS with EcoBoost also comes with 19-inch painted aluminum wheels, paddle shifters, a six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive and some other goodies.

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