We believe the Ford F-150 3.5 EcoBoost is an excellent engine from top to bottom. Of course, the twin turbo design means the engine also responds well to performance upgrades. We previously wrote an article about the best 3.5 EcoBoost upgrades. Intercooler mods made that list for good reason. FMIC’s offer power gains, ensure consistent performance, and have numerous other benefits. In this guide, I discuss the best F-150 3.5 EcoBoost intercooler upgrades, benefits, hp gains, and more.
Ford F-150 3.5 Intercooler Designs
At a high level, intercooler upgrades are pretty straight-forward. Turbochargers create a lot of heat since they are powered by exhaust gases. Air also heats up as it’s compressed by the turbos. The intercoolers job is simply to cool the charge air. As such, the purpose of an intercooler upgrade is to provide more effective and efficient cooling. However, there are a few important design aspects to discuss.
The F-150 3.5 EcoBoost uses an air-to-air intercooler system. Ambient air from outside passes over the intercooler to provide charge air cooling. It’s similar to the purpose of a radiator except the radiator cools the water/coolant mixture and an intercooler cools charge air. The 3.5L V6 EcoBoost intercooler is located towards the front of the engine bay – hence the name front-mount intercooler (FMIC).
Anyway, an intercooler is lined with tiny metal fins internally and externally (these fins are connected). As air passes over the external fins it naturally cools the internal fins. Charge air then passes thru the intercooler core and over these fins where it’s cooled. That’s the quick overview. We could write thousands of words on exactly how intercoolers work, but that isn’t the primary goal of this article. However, it does lead us to a few important points: intercooler bar & plate vs tube & fin designs, surface area, and volume.
Bar & Plate vs Tube & Fin
Two primary FMIC designs are bar & plate and tube & fin intercoolers. A tube & fin intercooler uses curved edges on the air galleries. This improves efficiency since it reduces air resistance as ambient air passes thru the fins. However, it also reduces the number of fins you can fit into the intercooler.
A bar & plate 3.5 EcoBoost intercooler utilizes rectangular-like air galleries. You can cram a lot more fins into this design, which increases cooling capacity. Bar & plate FMIC’s are also usually stronger and can tolerate higher boost and abuse (such as rocks and other debris hitting the external surface).
Most F-150 3.5 EcoBoost intercooler upgrades use a bar & plate design. They are less efficient and heavier, but common due to better cooling capacity and strength. Some brands, such as Mishimoto intercoolers, use the more efficient tube & fin design. We don’t think there is always a correct answer as to which is truly better. That said, we’ve always run bar & plate FMIC upgrades with great success.
The next two keys to 3.5 EcoBoost FMIC’s are volume and surface area. A bigger surface area simply catches more ambient air, which in turn increases cooling capacity. Generally, larger intercooler surface areas are a good thing for performance and charge air cooling.
FMIC core volume is also an important aspect. As with surface area, a larger core volume will increase cooling capacity. Many Ford F-150 intercooler mods offer a core volume of 40-100% larger than the OEM FMIC. Where it gets a little muddy is that you CAN go too large when it comes to core volume.
A larger core creates a bigger pressure drop since there is more room for the charge air to expand. More volume to fill can also worsen the feel of turbo lag. If you’re sticking with stock turbos then an F-150 intercooler with roughly 50% more volume should be plenty. Those going for serious power or turbo upgrades may consider larger FMIC’s.
F-150 3.5L V6 FMIC Upgrade Benefits
With some of the background info out of the way let’s jump into the more exciting topics of this article. What are the benefits of F-150 3.5 EcoBoost intercooler upgrades? Who should upgrade their FMIC? Let’s answer these questions in the next couple sections and then dive into some of the best intercooler upgrades.
Benefits of intercooler upgrades include:
- 5-10+whp (similar torque)
- Consistent performance (prevents power loss)
- Lower intake air temperature (IAT)
- Better ignition timing
- Reduced risk of engine knock
Power gains with a 3.5 EcoBoost FMIC can be debatable. On a cooler day if you do one quick WOT pull then an intercooler upgrade likely won’t offer much peak power or torque. You’ll probably pick up around 5-10whp towards the top-end of the power band. An F-150 performance FMIC really shines on hotter days, during back-to-back multi gear pulls, or while towing.
These situations are where the factory intercooler is overwhelmed and begins heat soaking. Intake air temperatures get too hot and the engine starts pulling out boost and ignition timing to keep the engine safe. Hotter air is also less dense, which naturally worsens power.
Point is – intercooler heat soak may cause you to lose 10-20+whp in some situations. An upgraded intercooler prevents heat soak and ensures consistent performance. Cooler air is also healthier for the engine since it reduces the chance of the engine knocking/pre-detonating.
Who Should Upgrade Their Intercooler?
We’ll be pretty quick on this topic, but help wrap-up the above details. The factory 3.5 EcoBoost intercooler is relatively efficient for its designed purpose. However, once you begin tuning or modding your F-150 then you inherently create more heat. As you increase boost, air temperatures begin increasing significantly and the factory intercooler is overwhelmed.
Ultimately, there isn’t much need to upgrade your FMIC on a bone-stock truck. There are situations where you may still consider upgrading the intercooler, though. Those who frequently tow heavy loads or live in hot climates may also see some great benefits from an intercooler upgrade.
Upgraded Intercooler Intake Air Temperatures
In the above image, you’ll notice the OEM intercooler shows a 42°F rise in air temperature. By the end of this multi-gear pull, the engine was surely pulling some boost and timing to keep things safe. Not good for power or performance.
With the CVF Titan FMIC, intake temperatures only increased by 2°F. A huge improvement over the factory intercooler. Keeping IAT’s this much lower helps ensure very consistent performance and power – even during multi gear pulls.
Best F-150 3.5 EcoBoost Intercooler Upgrades
Alright – hopefully the above info helps readers understand the purpose, design, and benefits of intercooler mods. With that out of the way let’s move along to some of the best Ford F-150 3.5 EcoBoost intercooler upgrades.
Note – tons of great options exist and this is far from an exhaustive list. We simply don’t have time to space to cover every good intercooler. Instead, I will focus on a few intercooler upgrades that provide the best balance of price, quality, and performance.
1) CVF Atlas Intercooler Upgrade (2011-2014 F-150 3.5L)
CVF is our favorite brand when it comes to bolt-on performance upgrades for Ford EcoBoost engines. They offer some excellent, high-quality products with very competitive pricing. That holds true for their 3.5 EcoBoost intercooler upgrades. For 2011-2014 trucks they offer this massive Atlas intercooler with a 120% greater core volume.
The intercooler is a TIG welded bar & plate design, and comes with their CVF lifetime warranty. High-flow cast end tanks also help this intercooler deliver excellent performance and cooling capability. This is a high-quality F-150 intercooler that’s sure to get the job done. With a price of $724.99 it’s really hard to go wrong with the CVF Atlas FMIC.
Price: $724.99 (5% off w/ code TUNINGPRO)
2) CVF Titan FMIC (2015-2022+)
Up next is another intercooler from CV Fabrication (CVF). Again, we really like their products for an exceptional balance of price, quality, and performance. The CVF Titan is designed to fit 2015-2020 F-150 models. It does also fit 2021+ models with a slightly modification.
Anyway, the CVF Titan FMIC offers a core volume more than 50% larger than OEM. As with the Atlas, this intercooler is also TIG welded, has cast end tanks, and CVF’s lifetime warranty. It’s even cheaper with a price of only $599.99. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a 2015+ F-150 intercooler then look no further.
Price: $599.99 (5% off w/ code TUNINGPRO)
3) Livernois FMIC Upgrade
By now, we’ve mentioned Livernois Motorsports in quite a few Ford, Mopar, and GM articles. They’ve been around since 1949, design and manufacture their top-notch products in the US, and offer very competitive pricing. The same can be said about these Livernois intercooler upgrades for the 3.5 EcoBoost.
The intercooler for the 2015+ F-150 is almost 1.5″ thicker than OEM and offers more surface area along with 80% more cooling area. Exact details for the 2011-2014 intercooler upgrade aren’t available online. However, it’s also quite a bit larger than the OEM intercooler and has plenty of cooling capacity. Both FMIC’s can support 800+whp.
Ultimately, Livernois intercooler is an excellent option. They’re a reputable brand that builds high-quality products right here in the US. It’s hard to beat Livernois with their competitive price of $699 for the 2015+ models.
Price: $1,099.99 (2011-2014)
4) Whipple Mega Cooler Intercooler
Whipple is a big brand when it comes to performance upgrades for American cars. They’re especially well known for their supercharger kits. Anyway, they also offer an awesome intercooler upgrade for the F-150 3.5 EcoBoost. Their Mega Cooler Intercooler offers 54% greater volume and 8% larger surface area.
It’s also a bar & plate design that’s a simple bolt-on installation. The Whipple intercooler certainly comes at a bit of a premium due to Whipple’s reputation and brand recognition. It’s a bit pricey at $899.99 but that’s still a competitive price compared to many high-quality FMIC’s on the market.
Buy Here: F-150 3.5 EcoBoost Whipple FMIC Upgrade
Ford F-150 3.5 EcoBoost FMIC Summary
The Ford F-150 3.5 EcoBoost is a great engine that responds very well to aftermarket performance mods. One of the best upgrades is an intercooler for the 3.5L twin turbo V6. The factory Ford intercooler is effective for it’s intended purpose, but is quickly overwhelmed once you begin tuning and modding.
An intercooler might not offer massive peak power or torque gains on short, quick pulls. However, you’ll still probably pick up 5-10+whp on the top-end. Most importantly, an intercooler offers consistent performance and prevents heat soak and power loss.
CVF offers some excellent 3.5 EcoBoost intercoolers with very competitive pricing. Their Atlas intercooler is a good option for 2011-2014 trucks while the Titan FMIC fits 2015+ models. Whipple also has a very compelling, high-quality intercooler for the F-150. There are tons of other great options, too. Regardless of the exact intercooler you choose it’s sure to be an excellent upgrade to push your F-150 to the next level.
What’s your experience with intercooler upgrades? Are you considering one?
Leave a comment and let us know!