Let's for a moment forget about electric cars, hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells or any of the other countless alternatives touted as the future of transportation. Gas-powered engines will likely be with us for a while, so why not make them cleaner and more fuel efficient?
That's the line of thinking that's enabled Ford to come up with their line of EcoBoost engines. The latest variation, announced last week, is a 3-cylinder 1.0-liter motor that's also the smallest the company's ever produced. Ford estimates that the engine should deliver 50 mpg when vehicles equipped with the technology are rolled out sometime next year.
So what's the big deal? You'd probably expect to get pretty good mileage out of a three-cylinder anyway. For instance, the 3-cylinder Geo Metro ruled when it came to gas mileage, but did it ever so wimpishly.
What makes Ecoboost technology unique is that consumers won't be forced to make such a sacrifice when it comes to performance. The engines are souped up with all kinds of state-of-the-art innovations so that drivers would get as much muscle and torque as they'd get from 1.6 liter four-cylinder vehicles.
“The new 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine will come in at the lower end of the global range and will take the place of a four-cylinder engine, again with no loss of performance or refinement, said Ford product boss Derrick Kuzak.
The 120 hp mini-engine boasts the same technology found in other EcoBoost models, such as direct fuel injection and turbocharging. Direct fuel injection allows fuel to be burned more efficiently by delivering it into the chamber in small, dense and precise amounts while turbocharging uses waste energy from the exhaust to spin the turbine so that more air and fuel can enter. Combining these technologies have resulted in a 20 to 30 percent improvement in fuel efficiency over four cylinder engines and similar performance. Previous models also produced 15 percent less carbon emissions.
Additionally, the new engine will include an offset crankshaft for even better fuel economy, a split cooling system, and other modifications to cool down the temperature of exhaust gas and reduce weight.
But getting maximum performance from a three-cylinder doesn't come without some challenges. Jim Motavalli over at our sister site BNET writes:
There’s a major reason not to do three-cylinder engines, which is that it’s really hard to achieve smooth operation. No one remembers the one-liter Geo Metro XFi (53 city/58 highway mpg) of the late 80s and early 90s fondly, and one reason was the noisy, vibration-prone engine. But modern tech is overcoming that problem. Bob Fascetti, Ford’s director of global engine engineering, told me:
Smoothness is something you have to deal with. We address that problem by managing the torque pulses with an offset crankshaft, putting our engine mounts in the right place, and using balance shafts when it makes sense.
Consumers aren’t going to care about all that — they’ll just notice that the little engine performs like the bigger one, and gets great gas mileage.
First introduced as part of a concept car show in Beijing in 2010, the new engine is part of Ford's strategy to offer turbo EcoBoost engine technology in 90 percent of their models by 2013 -- even as competing technologies are gearing up to supplant gas-powered engines.
The company's hunch is that with gas prices hoovering at four dollars a gallon and alternatives like electric cars being costly while also having a limited per-charge driving range, an innovative gas engine just may be one of the more practical "green" options for now.
"EcoBoost will provide real-world fuel efficiency benefits in the near term with a shorter payback time than other advanced technologies. We believe hybrids, diesels and technologies such as plug-ins and fuel cells have a role, but we believe that having the right mix of fuel-saving technologies over time is the best approach," says Andreas R. Schamel, Ford's chief engineer for Research and Advanced Engineering.
Animation explains EcoBoost technology:
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