With gasoline prices still low for most Americans at the moment, it’s good to be in the truck business. Take Ford, for example, where the pickup business is booming. In April, the Blue Oval offloaded nearly 71,000 F-series trucks; an additional 70,000 units shifted in March gave the maker its best back-to-back F-150 sales months in nearly a decade. All those F-series pickups—which may end up equaling 1 percent of all new vehicles sold this year if the numbers hold up—are 2016 models, however. Now we’ve been given a tiny taste of what Ford has up its sleeve to help maintain momentum for the F-150 pickup 2017: a new powertrain that combines a redesigned twin-turbo V-6 and a 10-speed automatic.
Ford’s marketing department calls the combination of direct fuel injection and turbocharging “EcoBoost,” and the automaker applies this branding to all engines that fit this criteria, whether they be V-6s or inline three- or four-cylinders. Ford launched its first EcoBoost engine, a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-6, in 2009. While Ford waited an additional two years to install it in the F-150, the company’s second-generation 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 will be offered in the truck from the get-go, this time working with that all-new 10-speed automatic transmission.
Ford says the V-6’s block is all-new but admits that the engine shares bore centers and cylinder dimensions with the outgoing engine to avoid costly changes to the assembly line. Keeping the engine dimensions the same also allows the engine assembly line to produce both the new and old engines at the same time because the F-150 is the only model to get the new 3.5 for the 2017 model year. For the new engine, the compression ratio increases a bit to 10.5:1, from 10.0:1, although horsepower does not waver from 2016’s 365-hp rating. Torque, on the other hand, jumps by 30 lb-ft, to 450. This means a lot more low-end grunt is in store, enough that the V-8–loving crowd may be forced to take a longer, harder look at the boosted V-6 before ordering their truck with the beloved 5.0-liter (“Five-Oh”) eight-cylinder.
The new 3.5 also will power the forthcoming second-generation Raptor supertruck, where it will make more power. Exactly how much more remains a mystery—we asked, and then asked again—as Ford won’t stray from its established line that it’ll make more power than the outgoing truck’s 411-hp 6.2-liter V-8. We’ll say that 425 horsepower seems to be a conservative minimum, and 450 is a possibility. Judging by the slightly lower compression ratio in the Raptor’s version (10.0:1), we’re guessing the Raptor’s V-6 will make its extra power via more boost. In the regular 2017 F-150, two BorgWarner turbos will increase manifold pressure by 16.0 psi (up from 14.5 in the current engine).
More details? We have them. Starting in the new aluminum heads, roller-finger followers reduce friction of the four hollow camshafts, which save about a pound of weight each. The addition of a port fuel-injection system to the direct rails improves cold-start emissions and low-load consumption. When the DI isn’t needed, the camshaft-driven high-pressure fuel pump shuts down to reduce parasitic loss. New, lighter pistons with low-friction rings also minimize losses, and new turbochargers, which are the same size but feature steeper compressor blades, have efficiency-improving electronic waste gates, which are employed here for the first time in a turbocharged Ford engine.
A composite oil sump also contributes to weight loss, although the additional fuel system and beefier block design mean the new engine is just a few pounds lighter than the previous unit. Ford wouldn’t confirm a rollout plan, but you can expect this new 3.5 to supplant every use of the old one within a few model years.
If you are of a certain age—say you idolized Bender from The Breakfast Club at some point—you’ll remember when having a 10-speed bike meant something. You could get from point A to point B quicker than the single-speed BMX crowd, as the 10-speed gearing was your force multiplier. The same applies to vehicle transmissions. Ford is skipping right past seven-, eight-, and nine- speed transmissions with the new 10R80 for longitudinal applications. Like the second-generation EcoBoost, the gearbox will go into the 2017 F-150 first, at least at Ford. The 10-speed is part of a transmission-development pact between General Motors and Ford, and the General recently announced that the 10R will be offered in the upcoming Camaro ZL1.
Ford wouldn’t talk specific gear ratios yet, but it did tell us the transmission has a 7.4:1 overall spread, which is not quite as good as the 7.8:1 from ZF’s newest 8HP eight-speed automatic. But with two more steps in the range, Ford can keep its newest engine in its most-efficient operating range more of the time. Ford gets 10 speeds from four planetary gearsets, four rotating clutches, and two brakes, and the 10R80 features three overdrive and six underdrive gears. This is the first Ford transmission without a single piece of cast iron in it, although we’re told it weighs a few pounds more than the old six-speed automatic depending on the configuration. At just 0.5 inch longer, thanks in part to a lockup clutch integrated with the torque-converter turbine housing, the 10R basically fits in the same space as the 6R80, making its introduction to various models easier. As for the first model you’ll see it in, the 2017 F-150 goes on sale this fall.