Smaller engines which produce more power and consume less fuel are the key focus of car manufacturers worldwide. The Ford EcoBoost gasoline range aims to do exactly that. The 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol, which will debut in the new EcoSport SUV next year, will be the first of its ilk. Read on for a detailed insight.
The word ‘EcoBoost’ is a clue in itself. ‘Eco’ refers to the green credentials, while ‘boost’ let’s you know that the engine is turbocharged. Clever nomenclature aside, the Ford EcoBoost really is the way forward for internal combustion. Globally, the EcoBoost range spans different sizes from 1.0-litre to 3.5-litres, and will be used across the Blue Oval’s range of compact cars, sedans, pick-up trucks and SUVs.
The idea is simple: turbocharging inherently enhances the volumetric and thermal efficiency of an internal combustion engine. However, as with any other technology, it is fraught with its own set of challenges, in this case mainly cost and complexity. Yes, in theory you can retrofit a turbocharger to almost any engine, but to make it reliable and cost-effective is a challenge. This is what has kept Ford’s powertrain boffins busy, but the company is bullish about the prospects of the technology.
Here, we’ll take a look at the smallest engine in the EcoBoost family. This engine displaces a mere 999cc and has only three cylinders, but don’t let the small cubic capacity fool you. It punches well above its weight, pumping out 120 PS of power and 170 Nm of torque. That’s more than the 101Ps and 146 Nm of the 1,596 cc Duratec in the Fiesta Classic, or the 109 PS and 140 Nm from 1499 cc you get in the new Fiesta. Ford claims the 1.0-litre EcoBoost has the highest power density of any engine they’ve produced to date.
For the Technorati who’re reading this, the big question is “How?” Also, how has Ford attempted to deal with the other challenges that turbocharging throws up, especially with respect to drivability? Well, we haven’t driven the petrol EcoSport yet, but the technology does hold some clues.
Ford EcoSport will be first Ford product to get EcoBoost engine in India.
For starters, all EcoBoost engines get direct injection and variable camshaft timing. Direct injection ensures that fuel is squirted straight into the combustion chamber, and not the inlet manifold. Also, the electronic management allows very precise metering of fuel and multiple injections per stroke. This ensures better ‘burn’, which is to say that the fuel burns more completely (all engines are inherently wasteful. Some un-burnt fuel will always exit during the exhaust cycle. The trick is to minimise it). Direct injection also allows for higher compression ratios, further improving combustion. The twin-independent variable camshaft timing or Ti-VCT continuously alters the rate at which the valves open and close, depending on load and engine speed (rpm). The Ti-VCT compensates for the compromises otherwise seen, allowing for different valve timing at different stages of load, part-throttle or full-throttle and engine speed. The end result is the engine will feel more responsive to the driver’s input throughout the rev range.
Now, moving to the question of turbo lag. Small, turbocharged engines have always faced criticism for turbo lag. This is a period of operation during which an engine tends to feel unresponsive, which usually happens while the turbo is ‘spooling-up’ or building boost. Since the turbo itself is fed off the engine’s exhaust, it’s usually a catch-22 situation: low rpm means little or no boost, and back-pressure in the system prevents quick rpm build up. Not only is this phase irritating for the driver, it is also massively inefficient. Ford knew this would be key to making EcoBoost viable and well-received by customers. For starters, the 1.0-litre EcoBoost uses a relatively small turbo, which has less inertia and spools up faster, spinning at a maximum of 248,000 rpm! Also, it utilises a vacuum-assisted waste-gate (a waste-gate is like the whistle on your pressure cooker. It eases excess pressure in the system). However, in the case of the Ford EcoBoost, this excess pressure is continuously ‘bled’ in smaller amounts during the operating cycle, unlike many other turbos which ‘pop’ dramatically when the maximum boost is breached. This ensures that the 1.0-litre EcoBoost is on song from a low rpm, reducing the wasteful waiting process. Ford claims this engine produces its max torque of 170 Nm at just 1300 rpm, and this is available all the way to 4500 rpm, before it tails off. This should ensure excellent drivability as well.
Extremely compact architecture, notably the narrow cylinder spacing, evident from this cut-away diagram
So that’s the theory. Mechanically, Ford has given the EcoBoost an ‘under-square’ architecture, where the stroke is longer than the bore. This design inherently ensures better torque characteristics, important given the small displacement. Since three-cylinder engines also tend to vibrate more than four or six-cylinder engines, Ford had to ensure that the NVH levels were kept in check. Instead on investing time, energy and material costs in designing a counter-balancing shaft, Ford’s engineers deliberately off-balanced the 1.0-litre EcoBoost’s flywheel to counter the cyclical vibrations of the engine. Clever! The engine block is made of cast iron, while the cylinder head is made of aluminium alloy. Cast iron is heavier than aluminium, but it’s cheaper and stronger, allowing Ford’s engineers to space the cylinders just 6.1 mm apart. In fact, the company claims the block would fit on an A4-sized sheet of paper.
As you can see, Ford has invested a lot of thought, time and energy into developing EcoBoost. The potential of turbocharging has been evident to automotive engineers for nearly a 100 years, and indeed turbo-charged cars have been around for many, many years. But what we’re seeing now is a paradigm shift, with manufacturers across the globe accepting the technology. For Ford, it’s a leap of faith, especially in a cost-conscious market like India. However, the company is looking at the bigger picture, and how India fits into its global manufacturing plans. This engine will also likely be used in the B-Max MPV, when it goes into production later in 2013 or early 2014. Our skewed fuel pricing policy could still scupper its viability in our market, but as a technology, there’s no turning away from down-sizing.
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