At a time when automakers are looking to squeeze every ounce of technology they can to get just a few more horsepower or just a little more fuel economy, turbochargers have become the darling of the industry. The theory seems simple enough: Turbos allow a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine to perform work like a larger displacement engine.
Ford has found great success with its EcoBoost technology that combines smaller, lightweight engines with direction injection and twin-turbo technology to get solid performance and mileage numbers. In theory, four-cylinders are supposed to work like V-6s, and V-6 engines should work like V-8s. In fact, Ford says 43% of all F-150s in 2012 were sold with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 just for this reason.
Of course, the operative words here are "in theory," and as you've probably heard before, "your mileage may vary" depending on how you drive.
A recent article published by Consumer Reports (registration may be required to view) reported not finding the purported benefits of turbocharging when comparing real-world fuel-economy numbers to the listed EPA numbers for a given vehicle or when compared to other segment players.
Admittedly, most of the vehicles CR is talking about are smaller passenger cars but the magazine included its Ford F-150 test data comparing the 5.0-liter V-8 to the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6.
In our most recent experience with a 2013 King Ranch F-150 with EcoBoost (click here for the price sheet), we were able to clock more than 100 miles of around-town driving in Los Angeles before heading to Las Vegas. With time on our side, we never felt the need to drive above 75 mph, with most of our driving done closer to 70. By the time we got to Las Vegas, we had about 120 miles worth of fuel in the tank and averaged 17.6 mpg.
It's worth noting that we never saw the transmission downshift out of 6th during the whole run, and we had several good hill climbs getting out of Los Angeles. One thing we know about the EcoBoost: It has great midrange torque - plenty to pull an empty full-size pickup truck up and over a small mountain range.
On the trip back, we decided to load the truck with about 1,500 pounds of payload (38 bags of rock salt), putting the truck right at its maximum gross vehicle weight rating. We drove a little slower on the drive back to Los Angeles, averaging about 65 mph, and also got a chance to put another 80 or so miles of city driving (a combination of rush-hour errands and city commuting) on the odometer before filling the tank to calculate our final fuel-economy numbers. At max payload, over a similar duty cycle, our King Ranch F-150 averaged 15.6 mpg.
We'll let Consumer Reports complain about the fact it's not seeing enough power or fuel economy from the smaller car turbo engines, but as far as the F-150's EcoBoost, it seems like there are plenty of truck buyers ready to pay the additional $1,095 (over the 5.0L V-8) for 420 pounds-feet of torque and get respectable mileage when they have to drive extended miles at maximum gross vehicle weight.