GM’s introduction of the LS family of engines as the third generation of the Chevy small block was revolutionary. And when Ford began phasing out the venerable Windsor V8 for the overhead-cam modular motor in the mid-90′s, that was pretty big, too. Since then we’ve had some advancements, but nothing really ground-breaking for performance enthusiasts. And lots of folks think the next big thing when it comes to cars will be electric or hydrogen powered (yawn).

But Ford just displayed its newest powerplant at the Detroit Auto Show that is definitely worth a second look. No, it’s not a V8, but it’s still better than the souped up golf carts everybody seems to keep pushing down our throats. Ford’s newest is called the EcoBoost, and it is a 3.5 liter V6 with direct-injection and twin turbochargers. The company says it is capable of providing V8-like power with the fuel economy of a V6. And Ford isn’t joking around. If the blue oval’s claims are true, we’re talking about 355 horsepower and 350 lb/ft of torque. The EcoBoost will first show up in the 2010 Ford Flex and by 2013 it will be available in 90 percent of Ford’s fleet.

Ford says the twin-turbo system will be water cooled and operatue simultaneously. No word yet on the level of boost pressure. But the more interesting development is gasoline direct injection. Diesel engines have been doing this for years, but direct injection with gasoline is still relatively rare. The benefit here is the intake valve is no longer in the way. Fuel atomization inside the combustion chamber should be better, allowing more power with improved fuel economy. On the performance side–and we have no idea if the EcoBoost will be employing this–you should theoretically be able to run much more compression since you don’t have to inject the fuel until you are ready for combustion. Detonation isn’t as much of a concern as it is in standard systems when you can only inject the fuel when the intake valve is open.

Yes, the EcoBoost isn’t as cool as a Windsor, but the truth is despite the small size and complexity it should still be much more fun to work on than some electric hybrid gizmo. After this summer’s gas scare, there’s no telling if the government will try to legislate conventional naturally aspirated engines right out of existence. (Remember Michael Moore’s ill-advised rant?) What do you think? Will something along the lines of the EcoBoost become the Chevy small block of this century?

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