While a naturally aspirated V-8 engine will produce up to 15 percent less torque in a high-altitude location like Denver (aka The Mile High City), the turbocharged Ford 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 keeps going strong, producing full torque, even at one mile above sea level.

"When does a vehicle need lots of torque? When climbing up steep hills," said Mike Shelby, Combustion and Emissions technical specialist for Ford Advanced Powertrain. "Unfortunately, the performance of most car engines decreases as a vehicle climbs to higher altitude. Not with Ford's new EcoBoost engine. Turbocharging allows this engine to still produce full torque for better, more consistent performance even at higher altitudes."

The beauty behind Ford's EcoBoost engine technology is that it allows Ford to provide its customers what they are demanding most today: improved fuel efficiency without sacrificing performance. In simple terms this means that V-6 engines with EcoBoost will have the performance of a V-8 and the fuel economy of a small V-6 engine.

EcoBoost V-6 High Altitude Engine Tests_thumb

Likewise, the technology allows a 4-cylinder engine to deliver significant fuel savings while delivering performance figures better than many V-6 engines on the road today. This exclusive Ford technology debuts next year on the Ford Flex, Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS and, overtime, will be applied across Ford's engine product lineup.

Ford is going to extreme heights to ensure customers will realize these fuel savings no matter the altitude. Ford's early engine testing shows that the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 is capable of maintaining peak horsepower at up to approximately 2,000 feet above sea level. In comparison, a naturally aspirated engine loses an estimated 3 to 4 percent of its horsepower per 1,000 feet above sea level.

More Air = More Power Turbocharged engines perform better than naturally aspirated engines at higher altitudes because the turbocharger can maintain the air density in the intake manifold as the atmospheric pressure drops off, allowing the desired torque to be maintained. In a normally aspirated engine, the reducing pressure means that the engine gets less air into the intake manifold, less fuel is available to burn, and therefore, less torque and power is produced.

"Compare it to how easy it is for a person to run out of breath at high altitudes because of the thinner air. The same scenario happens to most car engines at higher altitudes because, like us, more air produces more power," said Shelby.

For high-altitude inhabitants wondering if there are other possible remedies for this loss in vehicle performance, Ford's Brett Hinds, Advanced Engine Design and Development manager, adds, "The only real option that a customer has to compensate for the dropping atmospheric pressure is with a boosting device such as a turbocharger or supercharger. Changing from regular to premium fuel, for example, would not produce very much benefit."

Put to the Test Ford engineers recently took a road trip to Colorado – travelling as far as Loveland Pass, a pass point of the Continental Divide, 11,990 feet above sea level – with a fleet of vehicles, including the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKS, equipped with 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6s. Here, the direct-injection, twin-turbocharged engines were put through Ford's standard battery of high-altitude engine tests.

The protocol included cold starts and drives at altitudes from 5,000 to 12,000 feet, turbo boost control calibration tests, tailpipe emissions evaluations at 5,000 feet and trailer tow testing to ensure engine and transmission function for maximum efficiency and responsiveness.

"The results of these tests were very positive," said Hinds. "Although all non-boosted engines have similar levels of degradation at altitude, with the turbochargers, the fleet of EcoBoost V-6 engines was able to continue to provide great driving characteristics – low-speed torque – even at very high altitudes."

Turbo Trend Ford is at the forefront of a spiking trend toward more turbo-powered engines with its EcoBoost engine strategy. Honeywell Turbo Technologies, a technology leader in engine boosting and modern turbo technologies, estimates that the global turbocharger segment will grow from 30 percent of the overall automotive market to more than 38 percent by 2013 as automakers look to boost engines to help increase fuel efficiency, deliver great performance and reduce emissions.

The twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 debuts on the Lincoln MKS next year, and will offer customers the performance of a larger displacement V-8 with the fuel efficiency of a V-6.

The MKS with the EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6 will deliver upwards of 340-plus lb-ft of torque across a wide engine range – 2,000 to 5,000 rpm – versus 270 to 310 lb-ft of torque for a conventional naturally aspirated 4.6-liter V-8 over the same speed range.

Ford will feature turbocharged EcoBoost I-4 and V-6 applications in half a million vehicles annually over the next five years – across multiple product lines globally.