If there is one thing most automotive observers agree on, it is that Ford in North America lags in the power train department. It does not matter in which direction you look – with the exception of the Ranger, and the Hybrid Escape, Ford has no fuel efficiency leaders; and with the exception of the pony-car-without-competition Mustang, Ford has no power leaders either. Ford’s engines are quite fine in most cases, but they simply rarely break from the pack and lead. Until recently that is.
Since January 2007, when the Twin Force 3.5 liter six-cylinder was revealed in the MKR Concept, Ford insiders in U.S. and Europe have been leaking information on more and more engines adopting the same state-of-the-art technology and the “Twin Force” moniker. From a company where the strongest mainstream V8 makes 300 hp and until recently the strongest V6 made 221 hp, this rapid adoption of new technologies is a very welcome sign of activity.
The lineup projected to-date consists of the following engines:
1.0l, 100hp, three-cylinder
1.6l, 150hp, four-cylinder
2.5l, 260hp, four-cylinder
3.5l, 350 hp – 415 hp, six-cylinder
6.2l, 650 ft. lbs, eight-cylinder
All of the engines are directly injected; the three and four-cylinder engines have variable camshaft timing and single turbochargers, while the six and eight-cylinders have twin independent variable camshaft timing and dual turbochargers. The 3.5l six-cylinder and the 1.0l three-cylinder will also be E85 capable. Interestingly, in most applications these engines are not to be calibrated for performance, but rather fuel economy. Indeed, Ford is bidding these new engines as “diesel alternatives” – engines delivering diesel-like mileage without the diesel emissions.
The push to advanced gasoline engine is not just a North American development, however; while Europe has been high on diesel-craze, automakers there are tuning back to gasoline in light of future emissions regulations. Currently in Europe, diesel engines are not required to meet the same soot-emissions restrictions that the gasoline engines labor under. However, the European Union has been moving to remove this discrepancy and by 2012 (or so) diesel emissions regulations are expected to be in line with gasoline restrictions. This new emphasis on cleaner diesels is expected to send the price of the engines through the roof, while somewhat reducing their excellent fuel mileage. Given the diminished benefits and higher cost, it is expected that diesels will retract from their current position of powering over half of new cars to about a third; and the slack will be picked up by advanced gasoline engines, such as the Ford Twin Force family.
Ford introduced its advanced Twin Force engine family with the 415hp 3.5l V6 in the Lincoln MKR Concept.
While in Europe the Twin Force engines will supplement and possibly replace diesels, in the United States, they will be the only non-hybrid fuel-efficient options. In the U.S. the diesel emissions regulations are already very strict, making diesels quite expensive, and removing them as the clear choice for fuel economy. Only a handful of diesels have been announced for the US market, and while there will be a couple more, we are unlikely to experience the kind of diesel revolution that swept Europe about ten years ago.
We cannot, however, credit Ford for pioneering development of advanced gasoline engine. Volkswagen has been exploring, developing, and selling advanced gasoline engines for years now, using exactly the model Ford is pursuing – their turbocharged engines were the optional, more powerful, and more efficient options to the base engines. VW is also well ahead of the game of moving the gasoline engine even further. They have developed an experimental gasoline engine that can run off of spark-less compression ignition, just like a diesel, and it also delivers equivalently excellent mileage. Ford has not gone that far, yet.
Unlike VW, Ford also has previously not had the same success squeezing mileage out of their turbocharged and supercharged engines. We do not have to go very far in the past to see some examples. Mazda offers three models with turbocharged 2.3l four-cylinder engines, and while at least one of the vehicles – the CX-7 crossover – is pegged as “efficient alternative to V6 crossovers,” in reality the CX-7 fails to deliver. The 260-odd horsepower turbocharged CX-7 achieved considerably lower mileage than, as an example, the Toyota Rav4 with a 3.5l V6 and the same power output. To add insult to injury, the Rav4 can run on regular, while the CX-7 requires the premium stuff. Other examples, like the supercharged 3.8l V6 from a couple years back, did not fare much better. Inside sources, however, indicate that the new 3.5l Twin Force six-cylinder testing in the F150 delivered 28 miles per gallon in highway driving, which would of course be an incredible number for a 380 ft-lb engine in a full-size truck.
Needless to say, Ford is excited about their new family of engines. They are aiming to deliver some excellent performance and economy, and even adding a new advanced dual-clutch robotic transmission to the mix (another example of taking ideas from VW). For now, the prudent realist should be skeptical of these promises and watch the official numbers as they are released. Fortunately, we will not have to wait too long to see; all but the eight-cylinder are to be on sale by February 2009, with the first engines appearing around this time next year. Until then, here’s to hoping.
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