The Upgrade Guide for the Ford Mustang 2.3L EcoBoost Intercooler. The 2.3L Mustang engine is a terrific engine that can be improved with a few bolt-on performance improvements. An intercooler was mentioned as one of the top performance mods in our guide to the 5 top 2.3L Mustang Mods. Intercoolers not only provide some substantial power improvements, but they also help maintain constant performance and provide some reliability benefits. In this tutorial, we’ll go through the advantages of upgrading the 2.3L Mustang intercooler and recommend some of the best options on the market.
The Fundamentals of the 2.3L Ford Mustang Intercooler
Turbocharged engines require intercoolers. Turbos are fueled mostly by exhaust gases, which means they run at extremely high temperatures and generate a lot of heat. As the turbo compresses the intake air, it also dramatically warms it. Because hot air is detrimental to combustion, the intercooler’s role is to cool compressed air before it enters the engine.
The air-to-air intercooler is used in the 2.3L Mustang. The intercooler is positioned inside the front bumper, in front of the engine. Outside air goes through the intercooler, cooling the compressed air (or charge air) as it passes through the intercooler’s interior.
For stock and little modified Mustangs, the factory intercooler is enough. However, when you add an intake and a tune and begin putting more air into the engine and compressing it even more, the stock intercooler can quickly become overwhelmed. Most aftermarket intercoolers improve cooling efficiency by increasing the intercooler’s air capacity. When selecting an enhanced intercooler, there are a few design aspects to keep in mind.
Mustang FMIC Concept
When updating your intercooler, there are two major factors to consider: sizing and air gallery design. The size is rather self-explanatory. Because some FMICs are larger than others, they have higher internal air capacity. However, contrary to popular belief, bigger isn’t necessarily better.
The second factor is in the intercooler’s design. There are two types of intercoolers: bar and plate and tube and fin. These are related to how the intercooler is constructed and have an impact on the “air galleries” that are utilised to cool the charge air.
Tube and Fin vs. Bar and Plate
Air-to-air intercoolers use outside ambient air to operate. The outside air cools the indoor air by passing through small external air tunnels. These air galleries can be created in two ways: with a bar and plate or with a tube and fin.
Because bar and plate intercoolers are more rectangular, they have a larger volume of air capacity within. Curved air galleries in tube and fin intercoolers lower capacity while increasing efficiency. When compared to tube and fin intercoolers, bar and plate intercoolers are slightly heavier but also stronger and more robust. Tube and fin intercoolers have more pressure drop, which is undesirable. Designs using bars and plates have less pressure drop and can tolerate higher boost levels.
Each has advantages and disadvantages, but we prefer bar and plate designs. They can withstand greater boost, hold more air, have less pressure drop, and are more durable.
Sizing of the 2.3L Mustang Intercooler
The second, and most essential, intercooler aspect is size. Most aftermarket Mustang intercoolers have generic names, but you’ll notice that some brands offer “Race” or “Competition” intercoolers in addition to “Street” or Stage 1 intercooler upgrades. The major distinction between the two is in size.
Volume (air capacity) and surface area are the two sizing considerations. Intercoolers having a larger surface area flow more ambient air across them, resulting in increased cooling capacity. Larger surfaces improve performance and cooling. In general, the greater the surface area, the greater the core volume. And there is such a thing as going overboard.
The second critical factor is core volume. A bigger core improves cooling capacity and reduces heat absorption. The core volumes of most modified intercoolers for the 2.3L Mustang are 100%-200% larger. While bigger sounds better, the greater pressure drop you have the larger you go. A greater volume allows more room for the charge air to expand and hence lose some of the turbo’s boost/psi/pressure. This can also cause turbo lag and a reduction in throttle responsiveness.
For Mustangs with the stock turbo, anything between 100% and 150% is fine. Unless you’re updating your turbo, we don’t recommend going any larger. A larger intercooler will provide more temperature decreases, but it will also reduce pressure and increase lag, resulting in less performance.
Advantages of 2.3L Mustang Intercooler Upgrade
The following are some of the advantages of a Ford Mustang EcoBoost intercooler:
- 10-20whp with tuning
- Lower IATs of 40 degrees or more
- improved consistency of performance
- Reduced heat soak and the possibility of engine knock
- improved ignition timing
In terms of performance, the 2.3L EcoBoost Mustang responds favourably to an improved intercooler. When optimised, 10+whp improvements are easily feasible. This is mostly due to the fact that the stock intercooler becomes overloaded as more air enters the engine and boost is raised.
Consistent performance, on the other hand, is one of the most significant performance benefits. On a frigid day, you might not notice much of a difference with just one pull. However, the performance improvements will be most noticeable on hot days when you are completing back-to-back pulls. Heat soak from numerous WOT pulls can reduce power by 10-20whp, therefore an intercooler will provide some power while reducing power loss.
Furthermore, heat is the enemy of all engines. An intercooler will lower IATs, improve ignition timing, reduce heat soak, and reduce the possibility of knock, all of which are excellent reliability improvements. While the power gains are substantial, the intercooler is an even more reliable addition for tuned Mustangs.
Improved Intercooler Intake Air Temperatures
The fact that an improved intercooler results in lower intake air temperatures results in power gains and reliability benefits. The chart below compares the intake air temperatures on the factory Mustang intercooler to the CVF Street Intercooler.
During a wide open throttle 2-4th gear pull, the factory intercooler increases by 55 degrees. The CVF Street intercooler only added 15 degrees, resulting in intake air temperatures 40 degrees colder than the factory intercooler.
CVF also offers a Race intercooler in addition to the Street intercooler. Their Race intercooler has a -10 reduction in IATs compared to the factory intercooler’s 82 degree gain, for a 92 degree drop. Remember that this was tried on a separate car with different mods, so there are other variables at work. The Race intercooler, on the other hand, is roughly double the size of the Street intercooler and thus twice as effective.
Just keep in mind that if you don’t have an upgraded turbo, the Race intercooler will have a lot higher pressure drop.
Upgrades for the 2.3L Mustang Intercooler
On the market, there are perhaps a dozen FMIC alternatives. Our general advice is to stick to bar and plate designs and smaller intercoolers unless you have or plan to upgrade your turbo. You’ll also find prices ranging from $350 to $1,000 or more. As long as fitment isn’t an issue, we don’t see why you should go with the top-tier intercoolers unless you’re looking for 800+whp.
Another point to mention is that most intercooler manufacturers also provide chargepipe and intercooler piping kits. If you can afford them, these kits are solid, but they aren’t necessary unless you’re updating your turbo and looking for 500+whp.
1) Intercooler Mustang 2.3L CVF Street
CVF’s Street intercooler is the greatest intercooler for the money on the market. The Street intercooler is a bar-and-plate design with a core size that is approximately 120% larger than the stock core. During street testing, it achieved 40° lower intake air temperatures. The CVF intake fits perfectly; it’s a simple bolt-on that doesn’t require any modifications. The high-flow end tanks provide excellent efficiency to the cold side pipework.
You won’t find a better intercooler on the market for $360. The quality is excellent, the performance is excellent, and the pricing is incomparable. It also comes with a CVF lifetime guarantee and an excellent customer service team. Overall, we recommend this intercooler to anyone trying to keep power levels under 500whp.
2) 2.3 EcoBoost CVF Race Intercooler
CVF also sells a Race intercooler, which is roughly double the size of the Street intercooler. The core volume of the Race intercooler is 200% greater than that of the stock intercooler. It also demonstrated IAT drops of 92 degrees during street testing. It has a huge surface volume and the same high-flow end tanks as the Street intercooler. Aside from the higher core volume, the surface volume is roughly double that of the Street.
If you want to go big with your intercooler, this is the greatest option on the market. Engineered Motorsports’ record-breaking 805whp 2.3L Mustang currently uses it. We only recommend obtaining something this large if you have an improved turbo. If you’re not, the Street will suffice, as an intercooler this large will certainly cause some lag and pressure decrease.
Again, there is no better priced product on the market for an intercooler of this size. The hot-side and cold-side piping connectors on this intercooler are 0.5′′ wider than those on the factory intercooler. This complicates installation unless you also purchase their hot and cold side intercooler pipe.
3) Intercoolers Wagner EVO1 and EVO2
Wagner deserves a mention because they create excellent intercoolers. Their items are a little more expensive, but if you want quality and performance without breaking the bank, these are excellent options. They also feature a larger intercooler than CVF for anyone who requires or desires 1000whp or more.
The Evo1 has 45% more surface area and 130% more core capacity. Wagner’s IAT testing reveals temperatures that are 30-40 degrees lower than the CVF Street. For tremendous cooling power, their Evo2 intercooler features a 175% greater surface area and a 226% larger core.
Both of the EVO intercoolers are excellent choices. They are suitable for heavy tracked vehicles. When compared to the performance and quality given by CVF for half the price, they are a bit pricey for our liking as a daily driver.
Price: $750 for the Evo1 and $990 for the Evo2.
Summary of the 2.3L Mustang Intercooler
One of the best performance and reliability tweaks for the 2.3L Mustang EcoBoost is an improved intercooler. In addition to 10-20whp improvements, it provides more consistent performance, less heat soak and the possibility of engine knock, and better ignition timing. All of this adds up to more consistent power and performance for the Mustang.
Sizing and bar and plate vs tube and fin are the two elements to consider when choosing an intercooler. We prefer bar and plate designs because they hold more air, are more durable, and have the least amount of pressure drop. Unless you have an improved turbo, a smaller intercooler is sufficient for intercooler sizing. Larger intercoolers provide better cooling, but if not enough air is sent through them, they reduce air pressure and cause turbo lag.
CVF manufactures the best EcoBoost intercoolers on the market. Their Street and Race versions offer the finest value for money and can handle anything up to 800whp. Upgrading the intercooler pipe isn’t really necessary unless you’re pushing insane power levels, but it can be worthwhile for those who can afford it and have improved turbos.