The biggest tuning issue is the overall comprehension of how these engines control power output. – Andy Ricketts, Livernois Motorsports
In the never ending search for more power from Project 5-Liter Eater, our 2015 Mustang EcoBoost, we’re continually bolting on and testing new parts. We’re near what the kids these days call “full bolt-on” status without cracking the engine open or swapping out the turbo. We’re also in a sweet spot right now in terms of usable horsepower for this car’s application, which is a daily driver and autocross machine.
Our next stop in the quest for more power has us enlisting the help of Livernois Motorsports. To further maximize the potential of our 2.3-liter EcoBoost mill, we turned to Livernois for three key components. The first is the company’s Thunderstorm exhaust downpipe, which replaces the factory catalytic converter and downpipe from the turbo all the way back to our ROUSH Performance axle-back exhaust. The second of these parts is a Livernois EvenFlo thermostat. The final piece of the puzzle was to have Livernois for a complete tuning solution with one of its My Calibrator tuners.
The previously installed ROUSH Performance axle-back exhaust was our only exhaust modification prior.
Exhaust technology has evolved a great deal at the OEM level over the years. Higher flowing and stronger catalytic converters – thanks to the engineering that allows the packaging of larger diameter exhaust tubing – have resulted in some of the best OEM exhaust systems in the history of performance cars. With that said, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some room for improvement.
Thunderstorm 2015 2.3 Mustang Downpipes And Connection Pipe Kit For Off Road
100-percent US manufactured
US T304 stainless steel material
Low angle mandrel bends for the highest flow possible
Increased diameter over stock (2.125inches stock vs. 2.5-inches Thunderstorm)
We ordered a new downpipe and connection pipe kit from Livernois to replace our stock parts. The Thunderstorm downpipe and connection pipe kit (PN LPP101126) for the 2015 Mustang EcoBoost is made from USA-sourced T304 stainless steel, and comes in a 3-inch diameter to maximize flow. The system is designed to connect to the OEM axle-back exhaust (or a Livernois Thunderstorm Axle-back system), and is compatible with many other systems like the Roush Active exhaust currently installed on our project car.
We spoke with Andy Ricketts at Livernois Motorsports about the R&D process, as this isn’t Livernois’ first time dealing with exhaust modifications for Ford’s EcoBoost platform. Livernois has already been hopping up everything from F150s to the SHO Taurus and everything in between for nearly a half-dozen years. Of the R&D process on the Thunderstorm exhaust system, Ricketts said, “We wanted to have a completely modular design that would work with an OEM exhaust and our aftermarket variations, and work at the race track by having a turn down option so you can get the maximum flow potential, while removing the weight of the cat-back.”
In the past, the three-inch exhaust was only found on high output V8 cars. Today it’s the norm, even in our small 2.3-liter turbo engine. We asked Ricketts to explain how Livernois arrived at a 3-inch exhaust system as the ideal size for this application. “As with most turbo cars, they do like as much flow as you can give them, but proper design is still critical as well,” he said. “A large pipe that must deal with tighter radius bends could actually end up flowing less than a wide radius smaller pipe. For this reason, we landed on 3 inches to balance fit, and flow.”
This system utilizes the OEM exhaust hangers, and installs directly onto the OEM turbo. Ricketts said it’s compatible with an aftermarket turbo if that unit uses the OEM style flange to connect to the downpipe. Another bonus – Ricketts said this exhaust should be able to handle 600-plus horsepower. Given that the OEM direct-injection components are good to around 550 horsepower by most estimates, this should be all the exhaust our Mustang EcoBoost ever needs.
Since their debut, EcoBoost engines have been notorious for power losses due to heat soak. We’ve proven it in our own dyno testing, combating high temperatures on successive dyno runs, which in turn rob horsepower and performance. Given the quick turn around time of competition in anything from an autocross like we use our project car for, to round robin style formats in some drag racing classes, heat soak can kill an EcoBoost engine’s chances of being competitive in these scenarios.
In all of this testing we have never had an issue with loss of heater performance, nor a drop in fuel economy. – Andy Ricketts, Livernois Motorsports
Also, consider those long commutes that many of us our subject to in our daily drivers. Just when you get out of traffic and can have a little fun at the next on-ramp, or canyon road that leads you home, heat soak is there to ruin your day.
“One of the biggest issues on all EcoBoost engines is the amount of heat they generate, we feel that any time someone modifies one, our EvenFlo Thermostat should always accompany it to help keep cylinder head temperature (CHT) in it’s optimal range,” Ricketts said. Given our current level of modification we chose to use a Livernois EvenFlo thermostat, PN LPP2515-160.
This thermostat kit includes a new housing and O-ring seal, and the housing is constructed by an OEM supplier; so its a direct replacement for the OE part. We asked Ricketts why go with a 160 degree thermostat, as that temperature sounds rather old-school, and low to us. “The OEM thermostats on all EcoBoost engines are around 177 degrees for their opening temperature.
Because of this we chose 160 degrees as the best fit for these to provide enough drop in CHT to allow for improved performance while not dropping it so low that it can start to create problems,” Ricketts told us.
Another underlying issue for us was cold weather performance. While Project 5-liter Eater doesn’t get out much in the winter, there are still a few trips that are necessary in the cold months, and we didn’t want to freeze our collective assets off all in the name of performance.
“Being in Michigan we get blasted with some pretty extreme cold temperatures while having to deal with rather high heat come summertime as well. Basically the best test bed for a variety of all possible weather. In all of this testing we have never had an issue with loss of heater performance, nor a drop in fuel economy —assuming that is, that you can keep your foot out of your new found power,” Ricketts replied.
While fuel economy isn’t always at the forefront of our minds, we also were curious if operating the car at this much lower of a temperature would be detrimental to the engine’s burn characteristics, causing a somewhat rich running condition and killing our fuel economy.
An updated tune is required to take full advantage of this upgrade. Its also necessary to keep the onboard computer from tripping a check engine light due to a lower than OEM calibrated engine operating temperature.
This part can be installed by most enthusiasts in about an hour, but you will need to keep some Ford EcoBoost specific coolant/Antifreeze on hand to refill the system after the install, as you’ll lose anywhere between a gallon to six quarts in the process.
Livernois Motorsports has spent the last seven years developing its EcoBoost tuning, so its no surprise that the company has been behind several of the fastest EcoBoost Mustangs on the planet. Given the extensiveness of our modifications, we chose to use one of the company’s MyCalibrator tuning devices for this round of changes and have it custom tuned by Livernois. The tuning department sent us PN LPP631123.
“We have embraced, and helped to start the EcoBoost performance market since 2009. Being that we offer tuning for essentially every EcoBoost platform and engine made, we understand the unique nuances of every iteration and vehicle variation and how they impact the calibration,” Rickets explained.
The stock EcoBoost exhaust, measuring in at a quint 2.25-inches.
“With so many vehicles tuned and built in-house, and remotely, combined with the amount of records we hold and have set, it proves our knowledge and capabilities. We’re here for the long-haul with the EcoBoost market, and aren’t just trying to capitalize on the Mustang market finally getting one of their own. Because of this, we had 80-85% of the learning done before we ever had an EcoBoost Mustang in front of us, and just had to modify that knowledge to fill that 15-20% gap rather than start from zero,” Ricketts said.
Specifically with the Mustang, Ricketts said that the R&D process at Livernois has been extensive, “We were the first company doing development work on these vehicles outside of the OEM, and were quick to set the tone of the aftermarket capability of these cars moving into the first 11 second quarter-mile pass ever made with one. Our core focus has been, and always will be the performance daily driver, and therefore we have spent more time perfecting this aspect of our tuning than anyone else.
Our new down-pipe from Livernois.
“Quite literally investing well over two years since our 2.3 program began. These are incredibly complex vehicles to tune properly, even with our prior unparalleled experience in the EcoBoost arena, and which is the main reason why we have our own development mules to do this perfecting on as opposed to using customer vehicles for development,” he proclaimed.
As government standards for emissions and fuel economy continue to evolve, the control systems for all cars have become increasingly complex. As such, the tuning approach has had to change as well. Variables like TI-VCT and throttle control, as well as the temperature sensitivity of the EcoBoost platform, all come into play.
The stock catalytic converters coming out.
In our discussion Ricketts commented, “The biggest tuning issue is the overall comprehension of how these engines control power output. No longer is it a simple formula of just boost, plus spark, plus fuel to land at your output. With so many variables impacting power output from BARO, to humidity, to fuel pressure you have to understand every aspect of the tuning and how those mechanical forces must play with your calibration changes.
“Too often we see people try to disable these items rather than understand them and learn how to work with them. These items wouldn’t be part of the OEM tune if it weren’t necessary for proper control and power output.”
The stock exhaust mounting locations.
The beauty of dealing with Livernois for this round of modifications is that the company can build out a new calibration for the car as it is modified. Whether a customer is buying a single modification or is in our particular scenario and adding several changes at once, Livernois can support most modifications and go beyond the basic bolt-ons with the MyCalibrator device.
“So long as the parts are packages that we have validated internally, yes we can support them,” Ricketts explained. “One thing we take a firm stance on is doing proper, rather than popular modifications. This means that we are going to guide a customer down a path of reliability with added power, rather than supporting unproven, and quite often dangerous upgrade paths. This is what has helped us achieve the level of reliability that we have today. By educating customer’s on why we support certain things, while not supporting others it allows them to understand why it’s best to follow our recommendations.”
Livernois sent us multiple options for tuning our EcoBoost Mustang. The company included no fewer than five possible calibrations that we could choose from via the menus in the MyCalibrator tool. Those tunes included:
91 Octane Pump Gas
93 Octane Stage 3
93 Octane Stage 3 Race Tune
100-Plus Octane Race Tune
Ricketts also said that Livernois leaves the OEM safeguards in place for good reason, “Essentially all of them remain intact as these safeguards are in place for a reason, and if you understand every aspect of the logic that is employed in these, keeping them in place is not a hindrance to tuning.”
For the street we run the Stage 3 93 octane tune, but when it’s time to compete we load the 93 octane race tune to produce even more power and better response around the cones. Using the MyCalibrator is simple enough, and requires that users only follow the menu prompts and cycle the on/off switch as requested by the device. The Livernois support staff was also incredible to work with for getting the tune perfected for our application.
The factory exhaust removed.
We headed to London Chassis Dyno to install our exhaust and test it on the dyno.
On the dyno, with the 93 octane race tune loaded, we spun the rollers to 412.1 horsepower and 452.4 lb-ft of torque. That bests our previous pulls of 396.9 horsepower and 449.3 lb-ft of torque by 15.2 horsepower and 3.1 lb-ft. Further, the power band cleaned up due to changes in the timing and throttle mapping. We would assume that Livernois has adjusted the throttle and timing strategies accordingly so that the car doesn’t pull as much timing or try to close the throttle under high boost pressure.
We’d already installed our EvenFlo thermostat before our trip to the shop, and had the MyCalibrator updated and ready to go with the latest tunes.
On the street and at the autocross, we’ve noticed that our cylinder head temperature (CHT) remain substantially lower. CHT had been climbing as high as 224 degrees during quick turn arounds on the autocross course. We typically only get to about 185-195 degrees with the EvenFlo thermostat and updated tuning. With the race tune, the car is significantly more responsive, the throttle feels more aggressive and connected to the car, and we can step the tail out on command if the need arises to more effectively navigate around the cones on the autocross.
The new exhaust being installed.
Power application remains linear and not peaky. There’s virtually zero turbo lag with this new combination, and the car remains incredibly fun to drive. On the street, there’s better response and we’re noticing CHT remaining in the low 180s most of the time, with 190s the norm in stop and go traffic.
The sound from the exhaust is downright crazy for a Mustang. Since this is the first turbo four-cylinder Mustang since 1986, the EcoBoost’s noise is not something most Mustang owners, including us, are not accustomed to. It’s all turbo growl and whine, followed by the jet blast of high pressure exhaust gasses.
The system sounds fantastic, and in the cabin it’s not intrusive. In fact, it’s hardly noticeable unless you’re at more than half throttle. At which point the rush from the boost and the car’s acceleration won’t have you worried about the noise, but more about hitting the next gear.
We’re extremely happy that we’ve finally broken the 400 horsepower mark with our ’15 Mustang EcoBoost. For our autocross escapades, the car is just about perfect. We don’t have to fight traction or other issues, and the car accelerates as hard as most of the V8s that we compete against can.
From stock (left) to current power levels (right) as of this writing, our Mustang EcoBoost project car has picked up nearly twice the horsepower and torque rating from the factory, and that's at the rear wheels.