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This paper presents design of an SI engine load torque estimator based on an adaptive Kalman filter. The adaptive estimator is characterized by a fast response and good noise suppression ability. The estimator is used to establish a fast load torque compensation path within a proportional-plus-integral (PI) controller-based idle speed control system. The proposed adaptive controller has been verified by means of experiments, and compared with PI, PID and polynomial controllers. The experimental results point out to favorable performance of the adaptive controller for a wide engine operating range.