Editorial: A Turbo By Any Other Name

Joseph Kaitschuck
by Joseph Kaitschuck

I recently came across a brand new Lincoln MKS. I’m a pretty hard core Japanese car fan but I had to admit that this car looks pretty slick. I had heard that it was pretty fast too. I like fast. Upon inspecting the exterior of the car it came to my attention that the MKS is equipped with ‘EcoBoost.’ Not being up on the very latest in automotive tech, the unfamiliar name intrigued me. Was this some hybrid or electric technology? Curious, I started off on a quest to find out what this EcoBoost is and what makes it so… EcoBoost-y.

Thanks to the power of Ford advertising, I soon found that EcoBoost is available both on the Lincoln MKS and on the Ford Taurus and claims up to 20% fuel economy increase, up to 15% lower emissions and increased engine performance. What the Mad Men wouldn’t tell me is how. I delved into the internet to find out more about the technology, and was shocked to discover that this magical device is really a twin turbo set up with direct fuel injection. Wait a minute, adding a turbo charger to an engine increases horsepower, I knew that, but it can only decrease fuel economy, right?

For those of us who are not familiar with turbo chargers, they are basically air compressors powered by the hot exhaust gasses exiting the engine. The inlet side of the turbo spins and compresses incoming air (12psi in the case of EcoBoost) into the engine. There is an ideal air to fuel ratio (14.7) so more air requires more fuel. So if the turbo chargers require more fuel when they are in operation, how can EcoBoost claim 20% greater fuel economy? Time to check some official numbers…

Comparing the Ecoboost MKS with its normally-aspirated sibling is an apples and oranges comparison, since the non-Ecoboost uses a larger engine displacement. I needed to find two identical engines to compare, one with EcoBoost and one without. Lucky for me the Taurus offers such a comparison, since all its variants use a 3.5 liter V6. The FWD version gets fairly good MPG at 18/28 seeing as there is less drive train mass to move verses an AWD setup. The other two trims both have so the only real difference is one has EcoBoost and one does not. Both setups rate at 17/25 MPG.

So wait a minute, EcoBoost doesn’t help at all in fuel economy, although doesn’t seem to hurt it either. This makes a certain amount of sense, considering the nature of the turbo. A turbo will not always be spinning at top speed and therefore compressing air all the time. It’s likely that for the purposes of regular city and highway driving (and most importantly, for EPA testing), you may not see any boost at all. That’s great for fuel economy during normal driving but in spirited driving (when you actually want power) you will surely see a drop in fuel economy.

So where does the EcoBoost’s 20% increase in fuel economy number come from? Here is the trick; Ford is doing the old apple to orange comparison, comparing a V6 with EcoBoost to a naturally aspirated (no turbo or supercharger) V8 engine. It seems Ford is trying to say, “We could have used a bigger engine, but we didn’t, so this way that we’re doing is more fuel efficient.” In fact, both the Lincoln MKS and Ford Taurus are only equipped with V-6 engines. So what’s the point of comparing fuel economy between the EcoBoost V6 engine, to a fantasy engine that is not available in that vehicle anyway? The fact that a turbocharged six cylinder engine is comparable to (and yet more fuel efficient than) a V8 is old news. You could have asked Toyota (Supra) and Nissan (Skyline) about it over a decade ago.

It’s interesting to note that EcoBoost was originally going to be called ”TwinForce” instead. Does calling a turbo system something that sounds eco friendly make it more acceptable to the US public? Is that Ford’s angle with EcoBoost? I drive a turbo charged Toyota and I love the performance. I got it knowing that the turbo would get me more power with less fuel economy (I drive spiritedly) than it would with the same size engine with no turbo. Toyota did not try to sell me the car saying, “Its more fuel efficient and better for the environment.” I’m all for turbo chargers, I think they’re great, (Taurus now makes more horsepower than the Mustang GT) but please, just call them what they are. Don’t sugar coat something by giving it an eco friendly name then make apple to oranges comparisons to make it sounds better so that more people will feel comfortable purchasing it, thinking it’s better for the environment. A turbo by any other name…is still a turbo.

Joseph Kaitschuck
Joseph Kaitschuck

More by Joseph Kaitschuck

Join the conversation
2 of 128 comments
  • Dolorean23 Dolorean23 on Oct 15, 2009
    Uh…newsflash! Saab has been selling, in some MYs, nothing but turbocharged cars for THIRTY years. And even a 2 liter 4 pot and 210hp is still way more than necessary to easily move a 1500kg car well beyond posted limits. V6s and esp. V8s are dino-juice sucking, over-complicated wastes of time and space that have NO place in todays or tomorrows world of $4 fuel. “Ecoboost” is just so much marketing CRAP. Actually Ford has too. The 1979 Ford Mustang GT had a 2.3L turbo four in it. Carrol Shelby himself put his name to a 1984 Dodge Omni Charger and for a little while there in the 80s, everything from Escorts to Minivans were turbocharged. They finally broke us from fear of Horsepower by allowing for fun and power when you demanded it and fuel savings if you didn't. @Maxb49: Absolutely not. A lot of long time Ford customers such as myself are pissed that we can’t buy a V8. The only reason Ford is building this engine is to require the use of special tools manufactured by Ford to repair the engine, thus making more money at the dealerships. Ford can take this POS and shove it. Dude, retrack some of the impotent rage. I'm a die hard Ford fan and love the small block 5.0 in my Cobra, but even I considered a twin-turboed 300ZX from the same era as worthy competition. Consider this, Ford offered a Yamaha V8 in its 1998 SHO and NO ONE BOUGHT THEM. The automotive press skewered Ford for bringing the V8 into the Taurus. This was probably due to the front wheel drive aspect and lack of a 5 speed, but the learning point was made.
  • Power6 Power6 on Oct 15, 2009
    Power6 and other longevity-of-turbo detractors Oh I think you got me in the wrong group, I said "a lot has changed" and even then the turbo cars in the 80's weren't bad. I drove my MX6 GT Turbo to almost 200k on original turbo and engine. But since you had to get in your Volvo love, I will say this: I don't get it, I think Volvos aren't particularly reliable, . That four cylinder was strong, and those Dana rear-ends can take a beating, and they have good rust protection, that's about it. Find me a Turbo 740 and I will show you a sunroof that is stuck, power seats that are broken, windows that won't go down, but hey that turbo motor is still kicking! great if you like to spend your time with electrics I guess. I have to move the neighbors old 850 Turbo from time to time, and the dash lights up like a Christmas tree when I start it. That thing was loaded back in 1996, and barely any of it works now, but I am sure the engine is still running well. I'd put an 80s turbo Mazda up against that any day.
  • RobbyG $100k+...for a Jeep. Are they selling these in fantasy land?Twin turbo inline 6 paired to an 8-speed transmission. Yet still only gets 14mpg.Whatever money you think you would save over a V-8 will be spent 2-3x amount fixing these things when they blow up.
  • Alan Well the manufacturers are catching up with stocks. This means shortages of parts is reducing. Stocks are building around the world even Australia and last year had the most vehicles ever sold here.
  • Larry You neglected to mention that the 2024 Atlas has a US Government 5-Star Safety Rating.
  • Alan Why is it that Toyota and Nissan beat their large SUVs (Patrol/300 Series) with an ugly stick and say they are upmarket? Whilst they are beating the vehicles with an ugly stick they reduce the off road ability rather than improve it.As I've stated in previous comments you are far better off waiting for the Patrol to arrive than buy an overpriced vehicle.
  • Alan How many people do you see with a 4x4 running mud tyres? How many people do you see with a 4x4 running massive rims and low profile tyres? How many people have oversize mirrors for towing once in a blue moon? How many 4x4s do you see lifted? How many people care what tyres they run to save fuel? The most comfortable tyres are more or less the most economical.