The Ford 3.5 EcoBoost is our favorite engine in 2011+ F-150 trucks. It’s debatably the best gasoline F-150 engine option for its balance of performance, towing, and fuel economy. In the Ford F-150 the 3.5 EcoBoost offers anywhere from 365 to 450 horsepower. Though, there are more or less powerful variants of the twin turbo 3.5L V6 in other models. It’s a good amount of power and performance from the factory.
However, it also leaves a lot of untapped potential on the table. Look no further than a tuner to take the 3.5 EcoBoost to the next level. In this guide, we discuss some of the best Ford 3.5 EcoBoost tuners along with cost, horsepower gains, and more.
3.5 EcoBoost V6 Tuning Basics
Tunes are a popular performance mod on many engines – including the 3.5L V6 – for good reason. The idea of a tune is to re-write or modify engine parameters in the cars computer (ECU, ECM, DME) such as ignition timing, boost, fuel delivery, etc. Power gains are typically modest on naturally aspirated engines. However, turbo engines have massive potential with the addition of a tune.
Manufacturers use more turbo than is needed to help with reliability, efficiency, etc. This means it’s easy to turn up boost, modify the necessary parameters, and get massive power gains with a simple tune. That basic concept applies to tuned 3.5 EcoBoost engines too.
At a high level – all tunes for the Ford 3.5 twin turbo V6 basically do the exact same thing. The way tuners go about it can vary quite a bit, though. One important topic is piggyback vs flash tunes. We’ll discuss that in a moment after diverging to discuss 3.5 EcoBoost tunes vs tuners.
Tune vs Tuner
Tuner isn’t a word we come across often in the German car tuning world. It’s more common in the American car scene, so we’ll give a quick break down:
- Tune – the actual software/file to modify the computers operating parameters
- Tuner – Typically represents a tuner device. Can also mean a person/company who tunes engines
In other words, a tune is the actual file or software that’s loaded to the engine. 3.5 EcoBoost tuners may either may a tuner device or someone who actively tunes engines. A tuner or tuner device is simply what allows you to actually load the tune to the engine.
F-150 Piggyback vs Flash Tunes
This could be a post of its own, but we’re going to keep this short and high-level. Flash tunes actually re-write the programming on the Electronic Control Unit (ECU). It allows for very direct and precise control over every possible engine parameter such as timing, fueling, boost, and so on. This is where the tuner device comes into play since it can actually write the new tune to the ECU.
On the other hand, piggyback tunes like the 3.5 EcoBoost JB4 tuner, don’t actually change any of the programming on the ECU. Rather, these tuners actually connect directly to the ECU. They’re simple plug and play tuner devices, but they go about things in a very different way. A piggyback tune essentially manipulates certain data points.
For example, it taps into the boost signal and tells the turbochargers to run higher PSI. The ECU still thinks it’s running 100% bone stock boost levels. Modern car computers are very quick and adaptable. Even though it doesn’t know the boost is higher it will still react by increasing fuel flow among other steps to keep the engine running well. Piggybacks can also intercept and modify other signals, such as fueling.
Anyways, the end goal and result from 3.5 EcoBoost flash vs piggyback tunes is more or less the same. It’s just the ways the tunes go about accomplishing things is different. We really like JB4 piggyback tunes and have been running those for over 8 years on all of our turbo BMW’s. Plenty of others prefer flash tunes.
Ford F-150 3.5L V6 Tune Benefits
Of course, the biggest benefit of tuning the Ford F-150 3.5L EcoBoost is the horsepower gain. There are some other minor potential benefits, but power is the big one. Anyways, benefits of a tuned 3.5 EcoBoost include:
- Fuel economy improvements
- Better throttle response
- Improved power band
Most tunes for the 3.5 EcoBoost will offer gains of about 50-100whp with no other mods. Torque can see improvements of 70-120 to the wheels. Excellent gains for a tune only. The higher end of the power gains will mostly be for tuned 3.5L V6 engines running 93 octane, race gas, or E85 blends. Start adding more mods and better fueling and tunes can offer even more power.
Better fuel economy is very debatable. Depending on the tune you may notice slightly better fuel economy. However, most people are adding a tune for the extra horsepower. If you actually use the newfound power it’s likely your F-150 MPG are going to decline.
Otherwise, expect quicker throttle response and a better overall power band. The peak power and torque gains don’t paint the full picture. You’ll notice the difference just about everywhere in the RPM range.
Twin Turbo 3.5 V6 Tuning Risks
All the benefits of 3.5 EcoBoost tunes and tuners don’t come without some possible risks. All else equal, more power and more boost is going to put more stress on the engine and turbo. This includes everything from fuel pumps to the cooling system. There is a reason manufacturers leave headroom. It’s not always just about horsepower, but that is a factor.
That said, the Ford 3.5L EcoBoost is a pretty stout engine with a good twin turbo setup. A well setup, modest tune isn’t going to pose much of a risk. However, pushing things further and further does increase the chance of running into issues. The more power you want the more important supporting mods become.
We wrote a guide about the best 3.5 EcoBoost bolt-on performance upgrades here. A lot of those mods are important to have if you want to push the engine further and further. You may even consider other cooling mods like oil coolers, radiators, etc.
Best 3.5 EcoBoost Tuners
Alright – with all the background info out of the way let’s move onto some of the best tuners for the Ford 3.5 EcoBoost. It’s important to note – plenty of solid options exist and one isn’t always better than the other. Some of it just comes down to personal preference and/or who you want to give your business to. As such, this list is simply a few of the tuning options we believe are best.
There are a few key things to look for, though. Always ensure you’re working with an experienced, trusted company or individual in the industry. Messing with tuning parameters can be dangerous and risky if you don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t go ask your neighbor who once tuned a ’94 Civic to tune your 3.5L EcoBoost.
You also want a company that offers good support for future tuning needs and developments. Anyways, below are some of the best Ford 3.5 EcoBoost tuners.
1) 3.5 EcoBoost JB4 Piggyback Tune
We’re a little biased here since we personally run JB4 tuners and really like their products. They first came around shortly after the release of the twin turbo BMW N54 engine in 2007. It’s a popular tuning option in the BMW world for good reason. This 3.5 EcoBoost piggyback tune offers simple plug and play installation.
There are also 7 tuning maps included with the JB4 that you can change between on-the-fly. Map changing takes about 2 seconds compared to a few minutes for a flash tune. If you’re still under warranty the JB4 is nearly impossible to detect if you uninstall it before a dealer visit. Remember, piggyback tunes manipulate signals so the ECU still shows 100% stock data.
Anyways, we don’t have time to run through all the awesome features of the JB4. Check out the below link for more info on the Ford F-150 JB4. If you want a simple tune with modest and aggressive tunes then this is a great choice for the 3.5 EcoBoost. Those wanting 500+whp on heavy E85 mixes, upgraded turbos, etc should go with traditional flash tunes.
Buy Here: Ford F-150/Raptor/Navigator JB4 Tune
2) V6 EcoBoost Custom Tuning
We’ll circle back to actual tuner devices in a moment, but the rest of the options are 3.5 V6 flash tunes. This means custom tuning is going to be a major option, so it’s important to discuss beforehand. The below 3.5 EcoBoost tuners all feature standard off-the-shelf (OTS) maps that are free with the tuner device. They’re typically developed with a shop/test car.
However, not all 3.5 EcoBoost engines are the same. Plus some owners drive them at sea level and others at 10,000+ ft elevation. We won’t even go into the dozens of other factors. Point is – base tunes aren’t dialed in to your F-150 3.5L EcoBoost specifically. They’re generic tunes meant to work with all 3.5 EB engines.
As such, a custom flash tune can offer tons of performance and other benefits. You’ll work with a tuner to dial in a tune specific to your truck, elevation, conditions, etc. It’s a bit of a back and forth process so it takes some time and patience. However, custom tunes allow you to unleash the full potential of your specific engine.
3) F-150 3.5L Twin Turbo SCT X4 Tuners
Next up is the SCT X4 tuners device for the 3.5L V6 twin turbo EcoBoost engine. The device starts at $399 and comes with some base flash tunes. You can also find options like this from 5 Star Tuning where you get the device and 3 custom tunes.
SCT has been offering tuners and tunes for Ford models for a long time. They’re a well-known company with trusted products at a good price point. Features are standard for most 3.5 EcoBoost tuners. Data logging, built-in wifi, read and clear DTC codes, and plenty more. Great option all around.
Buy Here: 3.5 EcoBoost SCT X4 Tuner
Price: $399.00 ($549.95 w/ custom tunes from 5 Star Tuning)
4) Ford 3.5 V6 COBB Accessport Tuning
Quite frankly this is probably our least favorite option on the list. Nothing against COBB Tuning whatsoever. COBB is a big company that’s been making tuner devices for many makes and models for a long time. However, you do have to pay a premium for their brand name and image. Devices start at $600 and only go up from there.
3.5 EcoBoost tuners are also only available for 2017+ F-150 and Raptor models. If you own a 2017+ F-150 and can see past the higher prices then it’s a great option. We don’t really see any standout features or reasons to believe the COBB Accessport demands the price premium. It’s still a great tuning option for the 3.5 EcoBoost if you don’t mind the $600+ price point.
Buy Here: F-150 3.5L V6 COBB Accessport
5) 3.5 EcoBoost nGauge Tuners (Closed)
At the time of writing nGauge is no longer in business. As far as we’re aware the decision to close wasn’t due to financial, quality, or other reasons. It seems to be due to the recently stricter enforcement about emissions and environmental reasons.
Anyways, nGauge was a well-known company that made excellent tuners and tunes for many cars including the Ford 3.5 EcoBoost. There are likely still some new nGauge tuner devices floating around as well as used options. The biggest downside is the lack of support and development moving forward. Nonetheless, you might be able to find some good deals on the nGauge.
Buy Here: Hard to find new. Used options on forums, FB groups, etc
Ford 3.5 EcoBoost Tuning Summary
The 3.5L twin turbo V6 EcoBoost is an awesome all around engine. It’s our personal favorite in the F-150 for its balance of performance, tuning potential, towing, and fuel economy. 3.5 EcoBoost engines offer great performance straight from the factory. However, it’s not enough for some. Fortunately, a 3.5 EcoBoost tune can quickly boost the engine to the next level.
Horsepower gains of 50-100whp are possible with a tune-only and proper fueling. Add in extra mods and 3.5 EcoBoost tuner power gains are ever more impressive. You’ll also likely notice better throttle response and more power through the entire rev range. It’s hard to go wrong with a tune if you’re looking for that extra edge.
We really like the 3.5 EcoBoost JB4 piggyback tuners for their simple installation and awesome features. However, piggyback tunes aren’t for everyone especially if you’re looking to make 500+whp on heavy E85 mixes or upgraded turbos. Otherwise, the SCT X4, COBB Accessport, and nGauge are all great options but a few have drawbacks of their own. No matter your choice a tune will certainly take the F-150 3.5 EcoBoost to the next level.
What’s your experience with 3.5L EcoBoost tunes and mods? Are you considering a tune?
Drop a comment and let us know!