As Ford’s most popular engine design, the EcoBoost combines efficiency and power like few others. But they’ve not been without their problems.
Turbocharging, a.k.a. forced induction, has historically been used to increase power output, making good engines great and great engines extraordinary. (Think when the Porsche 911 went turbo with the 930 or today’s 300-horsepower three-cylinder GR Corolla.) However, turbocharging is more than simply a performance upgrade. Over the past two decades, many manufacturers have begun slapping turbochargers onto otherwise ordinary engines to recoup or improve power that would otherwise be sapped by the twin goals of greater fuel efficiency and lower emissions.
Ford has been at the forefront of this practical turbocharging revolution. Their line of EcoBoost engines is coming up on 15 years in the wild. And while not all those years and engines have been great, the current crop of EcoBoost engines see wide application across Ford’s lineup, from the Escape to the F-150 to the venerable Mustang.
Below we’ll explain what Ford’s EcoBoost technology is, its strengths and weaknesses, and which EcoBoost engines have performed best (and worst).
Ford’s EcoBoost is a combination of three engine technologies: turbocharging, direct fuel injection, and variable camshafts. The goal behind these is to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions all with the added benefit of a turbo “boost” in power.
Taking a step back, what exactly is turbocharging? Turbocharging involves running exhaust gases through a turbine connected to a centrifugal air-compressor (integrated into the air-intake) which in turn forces more air into the combustion chamber. The more air (read oxygen) provides more bang and more engine output.
Direct fuel injection is just what it sounds like. Direct fuel injection sends fuel directly to the combustion chamber where it then mixes with air, rather than a throttle body injection or port injection, both of which mix air and fuel before injecting them into the combustion chamber. Direct injection is similar to what happens in a diesel engine.
Ford combines the above two technologies with dual overhead camshafts. Dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) double the number of values per cylinder and allow more air in and out of each cylinder. Again, more air, more power. The resulting combination produces smaller engines capable of equaling the output of larger engines while using less fuel.
Now that we’ve established what EcoBoost is, the question remains: Do you want one in your next Ford? The answer depends on the Ford in question.
Take the Mustang as an extreme example. Now, a V6 Mustang has been something of a sacrilege going back to the mid-60s and going down to just four cylinders would seem like sheer blasphemy. But the 2.3-liter GDI inline-4 EcoBoost first used in the Mustang (and borrowed from the now defunct Ford Focus RS) puts down 310-330 hp, that’s more than many vintage Mustang V8s. Adding the Handling Package and the lower entry price makes the EcoBoost Mustang HPP (High Performance Pack) a genuinely exciting pony car, regardless of the number of cylinders.
The EcoBoost isn’t just for burning rubber. It’s also useful in the most practical and ubiquitous of all vehicle segments, the midsize SUV, in this case the Ford Edge. The base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder EcoBoost lends the Edge 250hp. Jumping up to the 2.7-liter V6, the Edge gets a healthy 335hp. And all while boasting an excellent 29 mpg on the highway (or 26 hwy. for the 2.7L).
How about the most popular of all vehicles in the US, the Ford F-150? It too has been given the EcoBoost treatment, in its case both a twin-turbo 2.7L “Nano” and a twin-turbo 3.5L “Cyclone” V6, the latter making 365 horsepower. This engine was even used in the next-gen Ford GT starting in 2017, providing 647-660 horsepower.
What then are the drawbacks of going full “boost”? First, the turbo “boost” you get from the EcoBoost encourages driving in a manner that might, just might negate substantial portions of that fuel efficiency savings. The good news is using the “boost” has the added benefit of making sure the entire turbocharging system gets regular use. Without regular use, components can experience problems, such as with the waste gate which can seize and get stuck open if it isn’t used regularly. Problems with the wastegate and other exhaust components can also be the cause of, or worsen, another common problem with EcoBoost engine, turbo lag.
With turbo comes turbo lag. Throttle response is often delayed (especially at low rpms) when turbocharging is added to an engine because the system needs a moment to “spool up” due to the initial low pressure in the engine’s exhaust system. Without a supercharger or a twin-turbo set-up, some lag is inevitable in almost any turbocharged engine. Additional problems or deficiencies with valves and/or timing only increase lag.
With that said, lag, while persistent across Ford’s EcoBoost engines, is not parceled out equally across their line-up. At the higher end, for instance in the Ranger, turbo lag is relatively subtle until you turn on the “Sport” mode. The extra oomph from “Sport” mode is preceded by a noticeable lag in throttle response. Jump over to the EcoSport and any acceleration is an exercise in patience, turbo lag or not.
Other common issues with EcoBoost engines have involved belts/belt tensioners. When it comes to timing chains and oil pump belts, we’re in the realm of potentially catastrophic injuries to your engine (loss of coordinated timing and overheating respectively). These and other issues are covered in detail below.
Part of being at the vanguard means working out the kinks of newly applied technology. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Ford’s EcoBoost engines have had more than their share of troubles. Some EcoBoost engines have been and remain laudable in their performance and reliability, but others have become notorious among mechanics and owners for various issues, prompting numerous recalls and redesigns.
A some of the more troublesome EcoBoost engines have been the earliest versions. The 1.6L four-cylinder “Sigma” debuted in 2010 and saw use in the Focus, Fiesta, and Fusion. It became known for overheating due to poor coolant circulation and was the subject of recalls in 2013 and 2017. An updated 1.5L version came out in 2014, but it had similar issues to the 1.6L version and was the subject of a class-action lawsuit.
Part of that same class-action was the 2.0L GDI, which also debuted in 2010. It was used in the Explorer, Edge, Lincoln MKC, as well as the Volvo XC60 and Range Rover Evoque among other vehicles. The 2.0L was also known for overheating and was given a redesign for 2015. The new “twin-scroll” GDI 2.0L improved considerably on reliability and currently sees use in the Edge, Escape, Bronco Sport, and Maverick.
Another of the early, problematic EcoBoosts is the 1.0L three-cylinder “Fox” engine. Used in the EcoSport, Fiesta, and Focus, the “Fox” motor made a decent 125 horsepower despite its exceptionally small size. It is currently the subject of a recall for a possibly faulty oil pump belt tensioner.
The 3.5L twin-turbo V6 “Cyclone,” as noted above, has seen wide application across Ford’s lineup from the F-150 to the Ford GT, starting in 2010. The initial version saw problems with the timing chain (not good), but the 2015 update largely eliminated those concerns.
The 2.7L and 3.0L “Nano” V6 was the smallest displacement V6 ever fielded in an American full-size pickup. And while it provided a surprising amount of power for the F-150, it has been the cause of a surprising number of headaches for owners. Both the 2015 2.7L and 2017 3.0L versions are now the subject of recalls relating to faulty intake valve designs which used a new “Silichrome Lite” alloy that may not withstand high temps.
The above EcoBoost engines have been hit and miss, but there are a few that have delivered on their mission of power and efficiency without sacrificing reliability. These include the 1.5L “Dragon” three-cylinder used in the Focus, Fiesta ST (Europe), Escape, and 2021 Bronco Sport. The 2.3L GDI, which debuted in 2015, is another powerful and reliable EcoBoost. You’ll find it used in the Lincoln MKC, Explorer, Focus RS, and the Mustang. It was also recently given a redesign for the 2024 model year, where it now makes up to 315 horsepower. As noted above, the updated 2.0L twin-scroll GDI seen in the Maverick other applications and the latest version of the 3.5L V6 “Cyclone” both greatly improved reliability over their initial iterations.
Overall, Ford EcoBoost engines are an engineering success story. Higher or equal outputs with less resource expenditure (globally and from your wallet) and reduced emissions are both unquestionably remarkable things. In truth, Ford’s EcoBoost largely fulfills it’s have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too billing.
Eco Boosts are costly & labor intensive to work on. Too much plastic on the engine lots of throwaway parts once you access the engine: oil pan, valve covers etc. Some components are internal that used to be external for a quick fix.