Turning A 6.0-Liter Power Stroke Into A Hot Rod

In the early 2000s, the diesel truck market took a big turn toward more powerful engines. Competition between Chevy, Dodge, and Ford was no longer reserved for their performance cars, but was also focused on their diesel truck power plants. Dodge continued with their Cummins low-RPM, inline-six-cylinder, while Chevy and Ford focused on their high-RPM V8 engines. In 2003, Ford introduced their new 6.0-liter Power Stroke diesel engine. Boasting a much smaller displacement, Ford bet on the higher RPM for increased power while counting on the smaller overall engine size for better MPG. This new formula resulted in a diesel engine that turned their Super Duties and Excursions into modern-day hot rod trucks. With all of the buzz and excitement surrounding these new engines, it didn’t take long before the aftermarket responded with new tuners and components.

SCT Livewire TS+ tuner unboxed

The SCT Livewire TS+ for 6.0-liter Power Stroke engines comes with everything needed to update and install the tuner into your truck

Unlike gas engines that get a small bump in power with a tuner, diesel engines can make huge power when a tuner is installed. One of the more popular tuners for the Ford 6.0-liter is the SCT Livewire TS+ (PN 5015P). We decided to install one of these tuners on our 2005 6.0-liter Excursion and couldn’t be happier with the results.

The Installation

Picture of the driverside windshield pillar being removed.

We chose to mount our display on the top left of the windshield. All that’s needed is to run the OBD-II cable behind the dash and up the windshield pillar. We removed four bolts on the windshield pillar, and then the pillar cover was popped off. There is plenty of room behind the cover to run the cable and when finished, the cable is completely hidden.

The installation of the SCT tuner was very straightforward. Since these tuners plug directly into the OBD-II port, the only “work” involved is running the cable through the dash up to the windshield. We chose to mount the display screen at the top left corner of the windshield, so we had to run the cable through the windshield pillar. Fortunately, Ford designed most of the interior panels to easily bolt on and off, and the windshield pillar cover was no exception. Four bolts needed to be removed for the handle and then the pillar essentially popped off. Reassembling the pillar was just as simple. We just popped it back into place and then bolted the handle back on. With the cable in place, we mounted the Livewire TS+ display screen in the upper left corner of the windshield with the supplied suction cup.

Before plugging the tuner into the Excursion, we updated the tuner with SCT’s latest program. Although this may be an extra step compared to some other tuners, it has the advantage of ensuring that we had the best and most up-to-date program. It also allows SCT to continuously improve their programs and offer customers the latest flashes without purchasing new equipment.

Image shows the SCT Livewire TS+ monitor plugged into a laptop

Before hooking the monitor up to our Excursion, we needed to update the software. This was as simple as plugging the monitor into our laptop and downloading the update.

Tuning

The SCT Livewire TS+ tuner has three factory tunes that offer a broad range of performance gains. Along with the three tunes, there are a number of additional options that allowed us to dial in the driving characteristics for our specific driving style. However, one of the reasons this tuner is so popular is due to its ability to add custom tunes. A custom tuner can provide a custom tune that matches your exact truck with your driving style to dial in a perfect behind-the-wheel experience. We have yet to try a custom tune for our Excursion, but we are quite satisfied with the factory tunes of the SCT Livewire TS+.

SCT Livewire TS+ monitor screen showing the four tune options: street, performance, tow 65 hp and tow 50 hp

The SCT Livewire TS+ comes factory with four tunes. Each one offers a broad range of power that can satisfy most driving styles.

The tow/haul tune is a great power enhancer that offers exceptional drivability. We found in our Excursion that the tow/haul tune provided the most similar driving experience to the stock tune, while providing a noticeable bump in power. Also, we noticed a slight increase in fuel mileage. This increase in mileage worked really well with our driving style. Unlike the other tunes, we didn’t have to be gentle with the throttle to see a bump in MPG.

The street tune has a noticeable power increase over the tow/haul tune.  This tune is the first step in turning an average diesel truck into a hot rod that’s fun to drive.  We saw an even bigger increase in our MPG but that was only if we kept our foot off the throttle. If we drove it to enjoy the extra power, fuel economy dropped below our stock MPGs.  Another noticeable characteristic of the street tune was what some like to call rocket surge. When laying on the throttle from a dead stop or low throttle position there was a very slight turbo lag before the power came in.  When the power came in, it came in pretty hard setting us back in our seats and resulted in big smiles. This was the legendary power of the Ford 6.0-liter finally coming out.

It’s hard to explain how impressive the Ford 6.0-liter Power Stroke is without taking a ride while using the Performance tune. From a dead stop, our Excursion would smoke the tires during a full-throttle blast. That’s an impressive feat for a pickup truck, but in a heavy Excursion with a more balanced weight distribution to the rear, it’s almost unbelievable. The power with the Performance tune is exceptional throughout the RPM range and frankly pulls like a gas engine as the RPMs increase. With the Performance tune, the driving characteristics diminish a little more. The rocket surge was very pronounced and the little Prius next to us surely didn’t appreciate the cloud of black smoke we left behind. Anything other than light throttle caused the rocket surge forcing us to pay close attention to our foot position. Of course, we enjoyed every takeoff from a stoplight, but in all reality, this tune wasn’t the most practical for conservative driving. Amazingly, when we did drive conservatively we saw the biggest increase in mileage compared to the other tunes. However, on the flipside, we saw the worst mileage compared to the other tunes when we drove it like we stole it.

image shows three screens from the Livewire TS+ monitor. Shift firmness, Locked AT CT and Aggressive tow/haul

For those trucks that haul heavy loads, the Livewire TS+ allows for firmer shifts as well as two options for downhill braking assist. The locked AT CT and aggressive tow/haul modes can make a big difference in keeping your downhill speeds under control.

The SCT Livewire TS+ also comes with features that help dial in the tunes to your specific truck. We drove with the tunes exactly how they came and then we adjusted some of the specific options and saw great results. The transmission shift firmness adjustment was a great addition. The transmission in our Excursion never shifted well and the addition of the tuner seemed to exaggerate the poor shifting characteristic. Firming up the shifts slightly cleaned up the transition from one gear to the next leaving a nice quick shift with no awkward dips or surges. The SCT Livewire TS+ also allowed us to input our actual tire size. This made a noticeable difference to when the transmission shifted, resulting in smoother shifts and a better driving experience.

Since our Excursion is mostly used for daily driving (with occasional lightweight towing), our needs were focused mostly on performance gains with increased MPG and drivability. However, the SCT Livewire TS+ is extremely powerful and has many options and adjustments for enthusiasts that really want to fine-tune their truck. The first, second and third gear torque converter lockup feature can bump up MPGs, as well as help in certain drag race applications. For trucks that tow, SCT offers the Jake Brake and Locked AT CT options for assisting in slowing down or maintaining speed on downgrades. For racing and tuning, SCT offers a downloadable program that allows data logging to be imported into a computer. This can be a great asset for trying to diagnose a problem, as well as tuning at the drag strip.

image shows the SCT Livewire TS+ monitor displaying the review screen

The SCT Livewire TS+ provides a review screen before the adjustable parameters are locked into the tune. This allows for one last look before downloading the new tune to your truck.

To wrap up, the SCT Livewire TS+ is an amazing tuner that turns an average 6.0-liter Power Stroke into a beast of an engine. With huge horsepower and torque gains, it’s a great investment for anyone who wants a little more power for towing or someone who wants to turn their truck or Excursion into a real hot rod. With our Excursion, we found that the tow/haul mode was a great fit that gave us extra power without allowing us to completely empty the tank every time we laid our foot in it. However, the street tune would be a great way to get a significant bump in mileage while still having a lot of power on tap. With the additional shift firmness adjustment and tire size input, our Excursion drives great and provides the right amount of power, drivability, and MPG.

Article Sources

About the author

Jeff Beggs

Jeff’s passion for cars all started with the help from his dad, but he recognizes that most enthusiasts are not given the same opportunity to learn. He hopes that by contributing through editorial, he can share what he's learned with others.
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