When it arrived on the scene a few years ago, the EcoBoost V6 engine was touted as having the power of a V8 with the fuel economy of a V6. There were many skeptics, and much fear about this engine replacing V8’s, though many saw a potential door opening for performance - with the knowledge of the power that comes with turbocharging any engine.
Since the EcoBoost 3.5 made it’s way to F-150 pickups, the engine has become a popular option. This engine offers substantially improved fuel economy, while also offering the towing capability of much larger, and less fuel friendly engines. SCT Flash set out to tap the power potential of the EcoBoost 3.5-liter in the F-150, catering to a truck market that was already familiar with the company’s products.
Proving to be the little engine that can, the 3.5 EcoBoost is Ford’s go to power plant for everything from top speed in the Taurus SHO, to trailer pulling torque in the F-150.
The LiveWire TS
For EcoBoost equipped F-150 owners, SCT offers the Livewire TS, part number 5015, which we took an in-depth look at last December. The Livewire TS offers more than just another handheld tuner, it is a high tech device, designed with today’s customers in mind. The four-inch touch screen is unobtrusive, and the device offers not only the ability to tune and monitor the vehicle it’s connected to, but also data logging without the presence of a laptop computer.
Top Left: The main menu for the Livewire TS includes the typical diagnostic and programming options. There are also options for performance testing, and the unit can be connected to a backup camera. Top Right: The vehicle diagnostics function of the Livewire TS can read and clear Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) Bottom Left: Performance testing options include 0-60, quarter-mile, and braking. Bottom Right: The Livewire TS can display additional gauges in real time, and also datalog without the need for a laptop connected to the tuner.
Livewire TS Features:
If you were to compare an EcoBoost truck’s PCM code to that of a ’96 Mustang, you’d find the size of all the data in the truck computer is at least 20 times that of what was in those first Mustangs with OBD-II. -Tim Roi, SCT
Color Four-Inch Touch Screen Display
Rear View Camera Input
Automatic On / Off / Sleep Mode
Holds up to 10 Custom Tunes
Reads & Clears DTC Codes
Built-In Performance Calculator
High Speed Data Logging & Monitoring
User Adjustable Tune Options
User Selectable Graphics & Gauge Layouts
Available for both Gas & Diesel Vehicles
User Adjustable Warning / Alerts
Windshield Mount Included
Additionally the Livewire TS also offers the ability to test the performance of a vehicle, offering the following tests:
0-60 MPH Performance Test with Estimated HP & TQ
ET/MPH Performance Test with 1/8th & 1/4 mile
Top Speed Performance Test
Braking Performance Test with 60-0 MPH With ET
The Livewire TS comes preloaded with an SCT performance tune for the EcoBoost 3.5 in this case, and that tune is user customizable to a certain degree, which we’ll discuss a little later in this story. The tuner can also be loaded with custom tunes from any SCT custom tune dealer, those tunes can vary the performance further depending on what the dealer offers, and what the customer desires.
User adjustable options allow the tuner to compensate for everything from fuel octane currently being used, to changes in axle ratio, and tire size.
Developing Modern Tunes
Developing tunes for modern vehicles is more than just setting up parameters to make the most power possible. There are literally thousands of tables and parameters in a modern engine control module. In fact during a recent visit to Dearborn, we heard one Ford executive state that modern vehicle calibration software contains more lines of computer code than what is currently in a Boeing 777 airliner.
This makes creating software and tunes for modern vehicles a much more complex task. As SCT’s Tim Roi tells us, “If you were to compare an EcoBoost truck’s PCM code to a ’96 Mustang, you’d find the size of all the data in the truck computer is at least 20 times of those first Mustangs with OBD-II.”
In order to maximize the performance of bolt-on modifications on modern vehicles, the vehicle tune must typically be updated to match the new modifications. This includes everything from major upgrades, to something as simple as bolting on a popular cold air intake.
The Livewire TS comes pre-loaded with options for popular aftermarket bolt ons like cold air intakes. “It’s not uncommon for someone like JLT or Airaid to send us parts so we can develop a tune for a vehicle with their parts, and include it with our tuner,” says Roi. Owners can choose to customize the vehicle tune for many popular bolt-on parts from the tuning menus, and the Livewire TS will load the proper tune. This allows the tuner to grow with the customer and the vehicle.
With so much complexity, tuners must take care to not only create a tune that offers performance gains, but is also safe. “The F-150 EcoBoost presents a number of challenges because it is a factory twin turbo design. Ford was very careful to build a large number of safeguards into their software so that the engine could survive in a variety of conditions. We leave those safeguards in place to ensure that the engine continues to operate properly,” says Roi.
One such safeguard is the vital intake air temperature. Roi pointed out that in the stock tune if the intake air temperature (IAT) data point shows too high of a temperature, the computer starts to add fuel and pull timing. Leaving this safe guard as well as others in-tact with their tune allows even a truck tuned for more power with an SCT tune to still take advantage of those OE engineered safe guards which protect the engine in stressful environments.
With OEM engine calibrations there’s always more power left on the table and it’s no different with the EcoBoost engines. Dyno numbers reporting astounding power levels from various EcoBoost models seem to come out each week. The 3.5 EcoBoost engine itself is based off the old Duratech 3.5 design, but with a number of improvements.
The old Duratech 3.5 engine was rated somewhere around 265 hp, with the new EcoBoost engines making 100 hp more than their predecessors from the factory. Their small turbochargers are actually capable of creating an additional 200 hp over the base engine’s horsepower. With the turbos only providing around 100 hp over what the old naturally aspirated Duratech was capable of in stock form, it’s easy to see that there is more on the table with this engine.
Big power gains are no good to the customer if their vehicle isn’t drivable. We want the calibration to be OEM-level in terms of quality, and for the vehicle to behave as if it were programmed this way from the factory - Tim Roi
The Livewire TS SCT optimizes the amount of boost, timing, and air/fuel ratios to improve performance. The new SCT tune also improves shift firmness and the shift points. It’s more than just a generic plug and play option though. There are user selectable options with regard to fuel type that are adjustable as well. This ensures that a customer can choose the type of fuel that is available to them for their truck.
Making big power is what is often advertised to sell tuners, however SCT goes further than that. “All of our calibrations are developed on our in-house dyno, but they are also thoroughly tested on the street,” says Roi. According to Roi, SCT focuses their efforts as much on maintaining factory-level drivability as making more horsepower.
“Big power gains are no good to the customer if their vehicle isn’t drivable. We want the calibration to be OEM-level in terms of quality, and for the vehicle to behave as if it were programmed this way from the factory,” says Roi.
We strapped our test vehicle, a stock EcoBoost F-150 to the Power Automedia Dynojet dyno for before and after runs. Since the Livewire TS only takes a few minutes to load a new tune the truck was never moved off the dyno.
Installing the Livewire TS is as simple as connecting the tuner to the truck’s OBD-II data-link connector located under the dash. Our test mule ended up being a 2013 F-150 FX4 that was otherwise stock. Since 91 octane is the highest rated gas available at the pump in SoCal we chose that in our setup menu for maximum horsepower.
We also made a pull on the dyno before and after installing the tune. We took the average run from our baseline stock tune, which netted showed 312.5 hp and 382.5 ft-lbs of torque to the rear tires on our in-house Dynojet. With the SCT tune loaded power increased to an impressive 345.8 hp, and a stump pulling 454.0 ft-lbs of torque, a gain of 33.2 hp, and 71.5ft-lbs. Had we been able to run 93 octane fuel, we suspect our numbers would have been right on target with SCT’s advertised for 93 octane power gains of 50 hp and 108 ft-lbs to the rear wheels.
With 91-octane pump gas in the tank and set on the tuner, the truck gained 33.2 hp and 71.5 ft-lbs of torque, taking power to 345.8 hp and 454.0 ft-lbs.
Driving the truck on the street, you do notice the firmness, timing, and speed of the shifts, which feels better than stock. It’s not until you mat the loud pedal that things begin to get interesting, the torque surge hits as soon as the turbos reach their boost level.
With stock-like drivability, impressive power gains on tap, and OEM safety measures in place, as well was real-time data and data logging, the SCT Livewire TS is an all-around tuning and data tool, that takes an EcoBoost F-150 from a nice truck, to a powerful performer, without the worry of hurting the engine.