Right from the start I appreciated how my Ford F-250 equipped with the 7.3L turbodiesel pulled a trailer and hauled heavy loads. It was a big improvement over my old gas 350. Most any grade could be handled without so much as a whimper. What I missed, however, was the acceleration in that 40mph and faster range for onramps and passing. And when traffic slowed momentum on long, steep grades it took a while to get back up to speed.
I wanted some gas-like top end acceleration.
There are lots of ways to gain power from a turbodiesel, such as increasing the size of the turbo, adding an intercooler, installing bigger injectors or boosting fuel-pump pressure. The trouble is, such upgrades are typically expensive and rather complex for do-it-yourself installations. A performance alternative is to tap into today’s “plug-and-play” aftermarket electronics. Utilizing programmers, modules, chips and similar devices from companies such as Superchips, Hypertech and others, white-glove hot-rodding is a fast and easy way to gain power and performance from your pickup. And if you’re not too heavy on the throttle, you could potentially see better fuel economy, too.
We used my 2001, four-wheel-drive Ford F-250 Crew Cab with a PowerStroke 7.3L turbodiesel to highlight the white-glove approach. First, we installed and tested the Evolution programmer from Ogden, Utah-based Edge Products. Next, we tested the company’s Juice module with the optional Attitude in-cab controller. Finally, we were the first (according to Edge) to “stack” both the Evolution and Juice/Attitude to see if we could tap the Ford for even more muscle.
As a disclaimer, we recommend that you check whether any performance-enhancing device that could modify emissions is street legal in your state; for example, not all Edge devices at all settings are street legal in California.
Listing for $359, the Evolution is a Game Boy-size programmer with a cable that plugs into the vehicle’s diagnostic connector (OBD-II), which on my Ford is located on the underside of the dash. Once connected, the unit displays simple instructions for reprogramming (or “flashing”) the vehicle’s computer to one of three performance levels beyond the stock setting; in this case, Tow, Race or Extreme.
The flashing process, which takes less than five minutes via simple “yes” or “no” prompts, gives the factory computer different instructions in how to respond to throttle, load and atmospheric conditions so it will make more power earlier and hold it longer. (If desired, you can return to the factory setting just as easily.) Once the programming is finished, disconnect the Evolution and store it in the glove box for future use.
The other Edge option is the Juice, which consists of a thin, cigarette-pack-sized module connected to cables with Y connectors that plug into various sensors on top of the engine and to the throttle position sensor above the gas pedal. It mounts under the hood and takes about 15 minutes to install. The Juice module basically intercepts the signals from the factory sensors and fools the vehicle’s engine control module (ECM) into thinking the operating conditions require changes in fuel delivery, turbo boost and timing–with the end result being that the engine develops more power.
Like the Evolution, the Juice offers a stock mode, plus three additional power levels, but with the addition of Edge’s in-cab Attitude monitor/controller, the package offers five power levels that can be shifted on the fly. Otherwise, the Juice’s modes are selected by a toggle switch you place in the dash or center console. Installing the Attitude takes about 30 minutes and requires drilling a hole in the exhaust manifold for the exhaust gas temperature (EGT) sending unit. EGT data is one of several on-screen digital readouts displayed on the Attitude monitor.
Bundled for $720, the Juice/Attitude combination lets drivers select the right power mode for the moment. The in-cab display also provides readouts of rpm, turbo boost and the power mode that the Juice is running in. More importantly, the Attitude monitor/controller allows the system to automatically defuel the engine if EGT levels are dangerously high, thus saving your engine and turbo from burning up under a long, hard pull.
For assistance and dynamometer testing, we turned to Dan Judy Automotive in Salem, Oregon. Judy’s shop has been boosting diesel power since the early ’80s, and his staff has experience with all types of mods–from intakes and exhausts to white-glove electronics hop-ups.
Our completely stock test truck, with a little more than 55,000 miles on the odometer, developed 196 peak hp at the rear-wheels and 351 lb.-ft. of torque during the roll-on dyno test. Those numbers jumped to 222 hp and 482 lb.-ft. during the all-gear run.
ON A ROLL
Following our baseline tests, Jon Prankratz, the shop’s diesel-performance installation specialist, used the Evolution to reprogram the Ford’s factory computer for our next round of tests. Finally, he installed the Juice module, fitted the EGT probe and mounted the Attitude monitor/controller to our F-250’s A-pillar (the post nearest the windshield).
We then replaced the stock Ford air filter with a Magnum Force air-intake kit from Advance Flow Engineering and added a 4-inch turboback exhaust system from Diesel Dynamics. Those upgrades added 8 hp and 3 lb.-ft. torque; they also allowed the turbo to spool up more quickly and significantly slowed EGT rise during the baseline all-gear runs.
On the road, this would result in the ability climb a long grade faster and for a longer period under heavy throttle than a stock exhaust before EGT reached critical levels, which are around 1300 degrees Fahrenheit on the 7.3L PowerStroke.
A LOT OF PULL
Our testing showed that the Juice/Attitude maintains the factory shift points during the various power-level settings, while the Evolution reprograms the computer to hold shifts longer in second and third gear. Higher shift points allow the turbo to build more boost, which is one reason why the Evolution delivers higher advertised power.
The dyno also showed that the key to making maximum power with a turbodiesel is increasing both boost and fuel. In both systems, turbo boost climbed with each power setting, and in the Evolution’s Extreme mode, the exhaust smoke was thick enough to block out the sun.
Although we tried various combinations of settings, the best towing performance gain on this particular rig came with the Juice/Attitude alone set at Level 3 (Tow) mode, where it added 43 hp and 57 lb.-ft. of torque. We saw similar increases at Level 4 (Race), as well as horsepower increases at Level 5 (Extreme), although these settings are not geared for towing. Edge says its Race and Extreme modes are “not for towing situations” because the engine will not stand up to the heavy loads that towing places on it under such boost pressures and the EGT heat buildup of burning all that extra fuel.
Reprogramming the factory computer to the Level 1 (Tow) mode with the Evolution alone also added 43 hp to the 7.3L Power-Stroke’s baseline horsepower, but torque decreased from the baseline numbers.
STACKING THE DECK
When we stacked the Evolution with the Juice/Attitude, our all-gear dyno numbers showed power gains, but torque did not increase correspondingly–at least at the settings generally recommended for towing situations.
If you drag race your diesel against your son’s WRX on the weekends, the greatest all-out power gain you’ll see is with both the Evolution and Juice/Attitude programmed at Extreme settings. At this point, our Ford was registering a whopping 329 hp–a 99 hp gain over the baseline data with the new intake and exhaust systems. Of course, this combo also produced a load of black smoke (unburned fuel) and set off the automatic “defuel” system as EGT reached the 1350-degree level we’d set in the Attitude controller.
The Juice/Attitude combination also showed the best towing acceleration gains (pulling a 7600-pound trailer) in our 0-to-60 mph and 40-to-60 mph tests with elapsed times that were 7.4 seconds and 6.3 seconds quicker, respectively, over stock.
BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK
At the end of our dyno and road testing, it was clear that white-glove hot-rodding could indeed ramp-up significant power gains. In this particular example, Edge’s Juice Module with the optional Attitude monitor/controller provided the best dollar-per-horsepower investment.
After gaining this much power, we looked to Banks for an aftermarket torque converter to protect the transmission.
This combination of Edge Products, intake and exhaust and torque converter has now been on this truck for 63,000 miles without breakdowns. I continue to enjoy the power. In fact, in our company we have two stock 7.3 liter Fords. My brother drives one and my son drives the other. Both of these guys comment on the added power when they drive my pickup.
I usually describe it as having all of the load moving torque of diesel with the top end acceleration of a gas engine. You really notice it off the line, but I would advise caution. It can be hard on tires and drive line parts.
For onramp acceleration, regaining speed on grades after traffic slows and for passing acceleration it’s awesome.