The Not Better Mousetrap

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Ford just announced it will no longer sell a V6 Mustang beginning next year. The 2018 Mustang, which will also get some styling tweaks, will be offered only with the currently optional 2.3 liter turbo four as its new standard engine or (in the GT) the 5.0 liter V8.

This is good – or bad – news, depending on your point of view.

On the good side, the turbo four is stronger than the soon-to-be glue-factory’d 3.7 liter V6. This year’s version of the “Ecoboost” 2.3 liter engine makes 310 hp and 320 ft.-lbs. of torque vs. 300 hp and just 280 ft.-lbs. of torque for the V6. The V6 engine also weighs more than the four, which not only slows the car down some (the turbo four Mustang is quicker) it also puts more weight on the front end, which makes the V6 Mustang less balanced than the four-pot Mustang, which handles better.

And there is the potential for slightly better gas mileage.

The four, paired with the standard six-speed manual transmission, carries an EPA rating of 22 city, 32 highway vs. 17 city, 28 highway for the V6-powered car (also with the six-speed manual).

The mileage differential by the way, is the main reason for the retirement of the V6. The gains are not huge on a car vs. car basis (5 in city, 4 on the highway – and that’s on EPA’s test loop; on my test loop the turbo’s mileage is somewhere in between the V6 and the V8 because I use the turbo) but they are huge in fleet average terms. Factored over tens of thousands of cars, a 5 or so MPG uptick greatly affects the average returned by the fleet – which is how Corporate Average Fuel Economy fines are calculated.

And later, passed on to buyers in the form of higher prices.

Speaking of which – did you suppose that making the turbo four standard would be free?

Ford hasn’t said anything specific yet – this is a 2018 model we’re talking about and it’s just barely 2017 – but the 2017 Mustang with the 2.3 liter turbo engine stickers for $25,645 to start while the V6 Mustang stickers for $24,695.

That’s just under $1,000 for the additional 10 hp and 5 MPG.

But it could end up being more than that.

Ford also announced that the 2018 Mustang – whether it’s got the turbo four or the V8 – will also get (if it’s not a manual car) a new ten speed automatic.

CAFE, again.

It’s a measure of just how desperate things are getting – in terms of CAFE compliance – that car companies (Ford is far from being the only one) are resorting to such measures as putting a transmission with ten forward speeds behind an engine with four cylinders.

Or even eight.

Most of these speeds – the ones after fourth or fifth – are multiple overdrives that the computer will try to get engaged as soon as throttle pressure allows, in order to cut engine revs to the bare minimum and thereby scrape the bottom of the barrel for yet another .3 MPG here (or there). I’ve driven several FiatChrysler vehicles with functionally similar nine-speed transmissions and the shift action is sometimes… weird.

These transmissions will not be free, either. Especially if one fails on you post warranty.

Which brings up something else, again – that turbo.

It’s one more thing to go wrong. The V6 hasn’t got one, so it’s a non-issue, ever.

And it’s more than just another component that might crap out on you – or the next owner. On someone, eventually – probably inevitably.

Turbos apply pressure to the engine. Pressure adds stress. The more boost, the more pressure. And even if the engine is built stronger to stand this, it remains a fact that it is higher stressed than an engine not turbo’d. Historically, turbocharged engines do not last as long as not-turbocharged engines.

Maybe Ford (and everyone else resorting to this expedient) will upend history. It will be a good job if they do.

But it would be even better if they didn’t have to do it at all.

Turbos are fun and they have their place, but they probably ought not to be mass-market things and the same goes triple for ten speed automatics. But we’re getting them because the government keeps pressuring the car industry to meet increasingly unobtainable mandatory minimums – the most recent of these being the Obama cabal’s midnight mandate (fatwa’d days before Obama leaves office and after his political party lost the recent election) imposing new tailpipe exhaust emissions standards on gasses that aren’t even “emissions” (i.e., carbon dioxide, an inert gas that doesn’t do anything as far as smog or other such).

Hence smaller and smaller engines – and small engines that are designed to not even run whenever feasible (see here).

By the way, the idiocy doesn’t end there.

Ford also announced it will be “upgrading” the 2018 GT’s V8 to have both direct and port fuel injection. Do you know why the engine has to have two different fuel injection systems?

It is because direct injection – which supplanted port fuel injection because CAFE – causes new problems such as carbon build-up on valve stems. This happens because direct injection sprays the fuel directly into the cylinder, through a hole in the cylinder wall, like the hole for the spark plug. In a PFI (or TBI or carbureted) system, fuel enters from above, washing over the back of the valve as it passes, cleaning off the carbon as a kind of perk of the process.

Well, with DI, that doesn’t happen and the crud builds up and the engine ends up developing premature and expensive problems. Which are being dealt with by adding a dedicated port fuel circuit just to keep the crud from accumulating – but keeping the DI system, too.

Once again, my teeth are beginning to hurt.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve got a 2013 F150 with the 3.7. This replaced a 1984 D250 Dodge with a 360. (Yes, I’m someone that buys a new pickup every 30 years.)

    That new half ton with the little V6 runs circles around the old Dodge in terms of towing, power and mileage.

    Dumping that 3.7 would be a huge mistake. It’s not only less complicated than the turbo stuff, but completely adequate for probably a lot of folks that purchase a V8.

    • Hi Aljer,

      The V6 makes more power than most V8s did throughout the ’70s and ’80s. I am willing to bet it has vast untapped potential to make even more power.

      But it is becoming untenable because of CAFE (and soon, “greenhouse gas” emissions standards). Even fractional differences (on government tests) matter hugely, as you know.

      PS: I am still stumped as to why your posts keep getting held up in the Moderation queue. I approved you and you have Contributor status!

  2. Bingo! Jim Henshaw I have been working in the auto-industry since 1985 and I have seen many changes. I cannot recall one significant change that simplified a car or truck’s system(s).

    • Hi Gordon,

      The object of the exercise appears to be deliberate/purposeful heightening of complexity. Part of this is the result of necessity – to comply with federal ukase. But there is also a likely very conscious effort being made to render cars less and less DIY-serviceable as well as economically unrepairable earlier, so as to encourage people to just buy another new car.

      • eric, while the SBC is the same in some respects such as bore to bore centers, camshaft to crankshaft distance and a couple other things like being a 90 degree V, that’s where the similarities end. Now it had VVT, has had one coil per cylinder for a long time with an electronic distributor and various forms of EFI and I guess they’re all DI now. I can tune the whee out of a non-variable valve system on one, can adjust the timing and dwell and points or change weights and adjust HEI to a specific set-up but just looking at a new one intimidates me thoroughly. I doubt I could figure out how to adjust the valves and changing the settings on anything else would require some electronic controller, at the least some specific program on a laptop with the correct factory electrical connectors. I’d be LOST.

  3. At some point the V8 will have to go for CAFE as well. I am guessing if the word MUSTANG wasn’t on the car, it would likely be gone already. Heck, the new Ford GT has a V6 instead of a V8. And they are trying like heck to get V8 out of their full size pickups. I am guessing there won’t be a V6 in the upcoming Bronco either.

    V6 will disappear even faster then the V8’s did.

  4. The carbon build up problem with direct injected only engines plagued Ford and their first generation “ecoboost” engines. I saw a video on Youtube, where a Ford certified mechanic was talking about this issue, and was putting some kind of bottle system on his car to catch all of the waste, before it could bugger up the valves. Ford, in an effort to resolve this issue, as apparently add Port Fuel Injection alongside the Direct Injection on their second generation “ecoboost” engines. Isn’t that just adding more complexity to the engine, and creating another potential headache down the road? And about Ford dropping the V6 option for 2018 in the Mustang…..they could be doing it indeed because of CAFE edicts from the stupid busybodies in the gooberment. They could also be giving it the axe, due to the sale numbers of the 4 banger turbo vs. the V6. And reviews around the web seem to be very positive on the performance of the turbo four banger. The V6 Mustang always seems to have a stigma attached to it also. I think a lot of people see it as the “rental car” version of the Mustang. Although that is probably related to the old 4.0 V6 SOHC engine that was woefully under-powered in the Mustang, hence why it was usually found more in rental car lots than in the hands of everyday folks…..lol.

  5. So is the direct plus port injection “upgrade” to the 5.0 going to increase power significantly? I’ll accept the added cost and complexity if it gives that Coyote another 60+ bhp. 🙂

  6. One thing I think is a positive characteristic of the four cylinder engine over the eight is many of the eights now seem to cut out cylinders as a efficiency measure likely using various software and mechanical devices further complicating it, wearing cylinders without work being done. Previously missing cylinders would prompt a check engine light, now it is a feature. Also, surely some genius will invent a solvent/mechanic in a can to deal with valve gunk, Techron as an aerosol comes to mind.

  7. Are cars becoming inbred? They all have turbo’d 4 bangers, they all have 8-9-10 speed transmissions (maybe Schwinn will go into the gearbox business…), they all have DI. Tanaka airbags. Bosch computers. Styling based on aerodynamics instead of artistry.

    Manufacturers please take note: whether you’re a Hapsburg or a Dalmatian, inbreeding never ends well.

    • Basically, the feds are de facto dictating the design of cars now, by giving such artificially stringent rules to meet regarding gas mileage, rollover safety, etc. — that all enginneering converge on one design in a desperate attempt to comply, as Eric has noted before.

  8. “That’s just under $1,000 for the additional 10 hp and 5 MPG.”

    If someone actually got around the EPA estimates, the 4 banger would repay the extra $1,000 over the V6 in about 60,000 miles at $2.20 per gallon. I can see a rational person deciding to pick the 4 banger to get more torque, save money in the long run, and get a bit better handling.

    But, if you ran the 4 hard … the V6 might be a better choice for durability.

    I’m guessing going to the 10 speed automatic makes no sense at all, absent the CAFE fines giving perverse incentives to Ford.

    • Well that’s the funny thing. The V6 gets 300hp on 87, the ecoboost only gets that with 93.(With 87 it apparently makes 30 less hp on 87 for 280hp) In my neck of the woods 93 is 50-60 cents more a gallon so you don’t really save any money.

  9. What bizarre automotive times….it is known that DI creates a problem but instead of ditching it or fixing it we just throw a secondary PI system back in to fix a problem that would never have existed were it not for DI. What a PIDI.

    • Hi Shemp,

      It’s nuttier than John Hinckley on mushrooms… and I say that as a guy who has been covering the biz for 25 years now. During the past five, it’s gone off the reservation with a JATO rocket strapped to the roof.

      • I’m gonna play Devil’s Advocate on DI — it’s at least part of why the Lexus GS 350 V6 is rated as noticeably more powerful and quicker than the non-DI version of that engine in my Avalon. If I was given the choice, I’d pick the DI version if Toyota offered to replace the engine in my Avalon, and let me choose between the Toyota and Lexus versions.

        • Hi Jim,

          No doubt, DI has its advantages, including higher engine output and better mileage. But there are also downsides, including the much greater complexity (two fuel pumps, for one) and also new maintenance/repair issues… so, it’s a question of is it worth it?

          To the long-term owner looking for value? Probably not.

          For the short-term leaser who likes the extra power and mileage? Maybe so.

          • Hi Eric — my revealed preference is that I bought a slightly used Toyota Avalon for $20K rather than a functionally similar Lexus GS 350 for $50K.

            So, yes, price and lack of complexity do matter — I agree, I’d rather save money and have a car that starts every damn time because there’s fewer things to break, and the EPA is taking that choice away from people.

        • That being said — if the EPA was abolished, at $2.20 a gallon gas the car manufacturers would make powerful cars using displacement — going to simply designed V8s instead of tweaking the hell out of V6s and 4s, and sticking with transmissions with maybe 4 or 5 gears. The upfront savings would more than compensate for somewhat higher fuel costs in a rational, free market world.

      • eric, I can see it now. Instead of the Rocket 88, we get the Rocket 3. Oh yeah, my fave big car company has been defunct for a long time now. Old dogs, no new tricks and I still live in the past when Hot Rod Lincoln played on the jukebox at the Mobil truck stop and my BIL’s ’46 Ford with a huge Lincoln V-8 was the hottest thing around(except for those damn 57 Cheby’s.

        Wish I had a 45 player. I still have HRL on 45.

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