Ford EcoBoost engines, including those that currently power the 2015 Mustang, are susceptible to significant power loss when the intercooler becomes saturated with heat, also known as heat soak. When the ECU sees the intake side temperature the high temperature threshold of 150 degrees Fahrenheit, it begins to pull ignition timing as a safety precaution. Vortech has introduced a new direct bolt-on intercooler and charge pipe kit, for the 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost. According to Vortech, this new bar and plate type intercooler has the capacity to support 1,000 horsepower. Using our 2015 Mustang EcoBoost, Project 5-Liter Eater, we installed one of these new Vortech kits and put it to the test.

Comparison of the stock intercooler versus the Vortech unit. Obviously, there is a massive difference in size. The Vortech unit measures 20.75 inches in width by 5.75 inches in height by 3.25 inches thick, literally double the size of the stock unit.

We have seen the EcoBoost engines powering the F-150 and Focus ST suffer dramatic power losses once the intercooler becomes heat soaked, loosing its ability to effectively cool the air the engine is breathing after the turbo has compressed it. The ’15 EcoBoost Mustang is no different, and we’ve even experienced heat soak power losses during SCCA competition, dyno sessions, and spirited driving of our project car.

The Vortech intercooler employs a bar and plate design; which has been proven to provide minimal pressure drop, while reducing heat soak dramatically. This recaptures the valuable air density that is lost through heat saturation. To test out just how bad our heat soak issue was we headed to London Chassis Dyno (LCD), where Chad Epperson and Willie “Red” Taylor helped us run some tests using LCD’s chassis dyno, and then installed our new Vortech cooler.

During our initial tuning session we verified the ECU’s temperature threshold for heat soak of 150 degrees Fahrenheit; anytime we surpassed this limit, we logged the ECU pulling timing, altering camshaft phasing advance, and even adjusting the throttle angle and, closing the throttle since the car is drive by wire (DBW). This event ultimately reduces power output, a similar phenomenon also exists when the Mustang experiences detonation. Improving the intercooler’s heat transfer abilities allows it to facilitate rapid air density recovery, which allows the engine to produce more power consistently.

Vortech’s bar and plate design improves thermal efficiency dramatically; through design, size, and strategic placement, it receives the most fresh air possible.

Vortech chose to utilize a bar and plate design, over a tube and fin design type intercooler. Vortech says the design exhibits low thermal conductivity, preventing heat soak through an optimal design that has proven over time to be both durable and effective. Mike Reagan from Vortech says, “The main benefits of a bar and plate type intercooler are durability and high thermal inertia. Typically, on a street vehicle the WOT operation time is much shorter than part-throttle, so the mass of the bar and plate type design gives it an advantage over a tube and fin type.  This is because it maintains a cooler temperature over the brief duration of the boosting event.”

The lower the intake temperature is, the cooler the cylinder temps are. This inverse relationship has an effect on air density; the more air we can cram into the cylinder (e.g. increase air density), the more theoretical power can be made.

Aside from its improved efficiency there are several features that make Vortech’s intercooler unique. Reagan says, “Our charge cooler employs cast tanks that feature smooth radius entryways and exit ports. This allows for a smooth transition into, and out of, the core which cannot be achieved with welded-tube-on-sheet metal designs. The internal and external fin design and density have the proper balance of excellent heat rejection, while maintaining low pressure drop. The large thermal mass of the charge-cooler core eliminates heat-soak and the lightweight, large-radius mandrel bent aluminum tubing further reduces pressure drop.” Decreasing the pressure drop reduces the pressure differential seen at the cold and hot side of the intercooler.

Cast Tanks

The end tanks on the Vortech intercooler are cast aluminum, creating smooth entries and an exit air path make the pressure drop minimal while increasing the overall efficiency.

The Garrett Honeywell GT22 twin-scroll turbocharger that powers the 2.3-liter Mustang operates in its efficiency range up until 27 psi, and once it passes this point the turbo begins to blow hotter air. A smaller turbo (like this one) that is over-spun in order to generate more power will begin to increase the temperature of the charged air rapidly, ultimately reducing air density. To increase air density, the compressor must be operating in its range of efficiency, and the cooling abilities of the intercooler must have the thermal capacity for the desired flow or pressure. An effective intercooler will allow one to confidently increase boost, without experiencing detonation prematurely. During our testing we found that the Vortech intercooler kept the intake charge cool and the cylinder temperature down; inhibiting detonation and optimized operating conditions.

The Total Package

The charge pipes feature large radius bends that are mandrel bent, furthering the reduced pressure drop effect.

The Vortech kit includes all the necessary hardware for an easy installation. The kit comes with aluminum charge pipes that are mandrel bent, with a diameter optimized for minimal pressure drop, along with silicon couplers and worm-type clamps. This new charge pipes have integrated mounting locations for the stock TMAP sensor, and a factory bypass valve, making it a direct bolt-on kit. Reagan says, “We have included application-specific billet adapters which are welded to the powder-coated aluminum charge tubes. This allows the customer to bolt-on the OEM valve and TMAP sensor without wire extension or modification.”

The pipes integrate mounting locations for the TMAP and the factory bypass valve (or aftermarket replacement) – allowing for an easier, clean install. -The TMAP sensor position promotes accurate pressure readings – as you can see from the pictures, the welds look great.

The included installation guide is very thorough, listing all the necessary steps, along with torque specs, and tips for installation. This is a nuts and bolts job, meaning there is no welding or major modification required for existing parts. All of this makes installation a breeze.

Although we had access to a lift, we chose to use just a floor jack and basic tools. Since this is just an intercooler and charge pipe upgrade, there is no necessary reflash or tuning required for the ECU.  Reagan mentioned, “No reflash is required, but it does give you enormous room for future growth, whether it is simply an ECU reflash, or a major engine and turbo upgrade. As an additional accessory, Vortech offers a billet Maxflow BOV to replace the plastic OEM Ford valve.” To extract the full power potential of the kit we absolutely recommend a tune from an experienced engine management specialist.  In fact, that’s exactly what we did with our EcoBoost Mustang.

All the work and testing was performed at London Chassis’ Dyno, though Justin Starkey at VMP Tuning handled all the tuning remotely. First, we established a baseline, utilizing the stock intercooler with a canned 93 octane tune from our SCT X4.  We ran the Mustang back to back with a large blower fan pointed directly towards the mouth of the front bumper clip, to induce a heat soak scenario, and were successful after only three pulls on the dyno.  Out of all the runs our first run produced the highest amount of horsepower, showing temps of 200.7 degrees F on the hot side (or charged side) and 136.2 degrees F on the intake (cold) side of the intercooler. It only took two more pulls to induce a heat soak condition where the temperature readings spiked on the cold side.

We logged temperature data using our AEM AQ-1 data logger that was previously installed. We had previously installed AEM’s AIT (air intake temperature) sensors in the hot and cold side in the OEM plastic charge pipes. This allowed us to monitor temperatures and heat soak.

After removing the bumper, and following the provided instructions, we were able to remove the stock intercooler relatively easy. After we disconnected the TMAP and bypass valve, we removed the factory intercooler. Slight modification is required to the electronic louver shroud. The tabs need to be trimmed down, which is very feasible with basic tools.

We saw the AIT get as hot as 230.6 degrees F on the hot side of the intercooler and 167.9 degrees F on the cold side.  Remember the aforementioned temperature threshold is about 150 degrees F, before any timing is pulled by the ECU. We lost 38.4 horsepower at the rear tires by the time the intercooler surpassed its ECU temperature threshold.

As you can see, by the time we induced a heat soak condition through repetitive pulls we saw total loss of 38.4 horsepower. With the heat-soaked intercooler we saw power drop, at the same 29 psi of boost, to 324.6 whp and 433.0 lb-ft torque. Take note of how the torque and horsepower production quickly drops after 3,800 rpm.

One thing to note, is the stock intercooler is sandwiched between the A/C condenser and the radiator. This will affect the net ambient airflow it sees, and probably affects its ability to minimize heat transfer. We saw the stock intercooler max out its efficiency range, where it could only provide a temperature differential of  63 degrees F from the charged side to the discharge side of the intercooler. Also, since the intercooler is positioned at the bottom of the radiator, it affects how much overall airflow the radiator will get, marginally effecting its cooling potential. Ramming more amounts of ambient airflow into the intercooler positively effects the cooling properties by combating heat soak scenarios.

As you can see from our AEM AQ-1 data logger, temperatures were rapidly rising as the pulls were done and passed the ECU’s temperature threshold very fast. After the third pull on the dyno and high boost, we saw a reduction of 50 horsepower alone purely from heat-soaking the intercooler.

Vortech Intercooler Test

Now for the Vortech intercooler’s turn. One of the most noteworthy differences between the stock intercooler and Vortech’s is the positioning of the intercooler. It has been converted to a true front-mount intercooler system, being placed strategically in front of the A/C condenser and radiator, without contacting either part. This allows it to not be sandwiched between the radiator and A/C condenser. Reagan explains, “The intercooler core sits beneath the A/C condenser. We supply a panel which properly channels the air through the condenser and engine cooling radiator, allowing it to maintain OEM cooling abilities.” This allows the intercooler to ingest fresh, dense, cold air.

All of these attributes benefit the intercooler effectiveness. “The charge cooler is placed forward of all of the heat exchangers, allowing it to further improve the effectiveness,” Reagan said. Although the Vortech kit is a direct bolt-on kit, we welded additional AIT bungs on the intake plumbing for hot and cold side of the cooler to monitor temperature readings with our AEM AQ-1 datalogger. This was necessary in providing real data points, and giving a true comparison between the stock unit and the Vortech. Having an AIT sensor on just the intake side (cold side), would not provide any real usable data points for us. It also allows the tuner to fine tune and develop the proper temperature thresholds while programming the ECU.

Starkey from VMP Tuning created a new custom tune for the Mustang, helping us extract the highest potential power output once we had verified that the engine was operating normally and completed our heat soak verification. Although he optimized the tune for our specific modifications, he did not alter the factory safeguard protocols in the ECU for high temperature.  While the blower fan cannot replicate real life airflow from driving, the Vortech intercooler was still able to keep temperature down remarkably well, given circumstances of our test. Expect a full story later on the tuning session performed by VMP Tuning.

After back-to-back pulls our AIT sensors were showing, the intake side was only reporting 132.78 degrees F. We actually peaked out our hot side sensor at over 302 degrees F, however the car was still only losing a few horsepower. This is fantastic for an air-to-air intercooler system.

Results

After running the Mustang four consecutive times back-to-back in an attempt to induce a heat soak scenario, our AQ-1 data logger recorded the hot side of the cooler at 302 degrees F (the max temperature reading for the sensor), while the intake side was only reporting 132.7 degrees F. For an air-to-air cooler, the Vortech unit was very efficient at keeping temperatures in check and encouraged us to use additional boost. After pushing the intercooler to its limits, we only forfeited 17 horsepower at the wheels to heat soak, which was probably due to the turbo getting so hot and being pushed beyond its efficiency range during repeated test cycles.

This picture depicts our first run (cold) with the Vortech intercooler, and then our last (hottest run). Our baseline tune from VMP Tuning, with the Vortech intercooler, bumped up the power to 369.0 whp and 436.2 lb-ft.  The stock intercooler suffered significantly by this point from heat soak and the Vortech unit only saw a loss of 17 whp!

Overall the Vortech cooler and pipe upgrade allowed us to increase boost, and improve the consistency of our Mustang.  During our continued testing on the autocross course, we have not encountered a heat-soak scenario, reinforcing the overall value and effectiveness of this kit. The installation was easy and the instructions were thorough. Expect this kit to take the better part of an afternoon to install. With a custom tune, and cooler boost, our EcoBoost Mustang is making more power than ever before.

This shot of the dynograph shows the best run of the day. Our maximum power output was 396.9 horsepower and 449.3 lb-ft. The EcoBoost was able to support over 380 lb-ft of torque up to about 5,000 rpm, proving that a properly setup turbo system and an effective charge air cooler does not always inhibit the turbo lag symptom that most V8 loyalists despise.