2011 Ford F-150 Expert Review:Autoblog
As a race, we humans are obsessed with the notion of "best." Whether it's generations of on-point marketing or a strand of latent genetic code that pushes us to shack up with a better mate, we just can't shake the disposition. It's what drives our society forward – the quest for the latest product that promises a slightly improved experience or that one feature that eclipses the competition. It's why we can happily saunter up to the feeding trough at the local buffet instead of poking at wild boars with pointy sticks. It is, simply put, a good thing.
The domestic full-size truck segment provides perhaps the greatest study in "best" available. Each new model year gives the Big Three one more shot at outdoing each other in the areas of power, towing capacity, interior room and fuel economy. Neither Ford, General Motors nor Chrysler skips the chance to brag about its latest advancements over the other two. But as with everything, there can be only true king. In this feudal system, it's Ford F-150, which has attracted more buyers than the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Ram 1500 for years. Why? We took to the saddle of Ford's latest entry-level F-Series equipped with the company's new 5.0-liter V8 to find out.
Ford hasn't pulled any punches over the past 24 months. With General Motors and Chrysler both in the throes of significant corporate overhauls, the Blue Oval has unleashed a torrent of product updates that have included fresh styling, well-executed interiors and drivetrains that deliver both power and efficiency with little compromise. The F-150 hasn't missed out on any of that mid-cycle love thanks to four brand-new engine options, though the vehicle's exterior has remained largely untouched compared to the 2010 model. Ford shouldn't take that as a slight, however. The pickup received a slight fascia update just last year, and the grille, headlights and bumper still look fresh up front.
The F-150 may be much less in-your-face than the Ram 1500, but its nose seems more vertical and muscular than the squat lines of the Silverado. We aren't overly smitten with the squared-off grille and similarly angular headlights, but the treatment lends a dose of Super Duty presence to the half-ton pickup. Our tester came in SuperCrew configuration with a 145-inch wheelbase and an optional $1,600 chrome package, which threw in California cowboy treatments like flashy step bars, tow loops and 18-inch wheels.
As much as we'd like to scoff at those step-bars, the truth is that unless you're directly related to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you'll to need them to get inside. With a floor-height of around 24 inches, ingress is an exercise in mountaineering. Around back, our tester came packing a short box with a total length of just over 66 inches – not nearly as large as the optional eight-foot bed, but more than adequate for light-duty tasks like hauling gravel or other landscaping goodies.
Like most full-size trucks, the 2011 F-150 uses extremely tall bed rails that make it impossible for an average-sized adult to reach objects in the bed. At around 57 inches from the ground, the rails land at arm-pit level on the typical adult, rendering limbs all but useless to leverage grocery bags from inside. If you want to transport small items in the bed, be prepared to drop the tail gate or climb the tire to rescue them from their fortifications.
Still, that height isn't simply designed to help give the F-150 an imposing stance, though that's certainly a byproduct of the design. Instead, the extra lift minimizes wheel well intrusion into the box. As a result, there's more cubic volume to be had for loads of loose materials than if the bed sat lower on the frame. Ford has also included four heavy-duty tie downs that are sturdy enough to take the abuse of a ratchet strap. That's a good thing since the bed rails are incredibly thin and trimmed in plastic.
Despite the gentrified exterior accouterments, the interior remained appropriately utilitarian. We were treated to cloth captain's buckets up front with a cavernous center console. If you were struck with the notion, you could easily house two one-gallon milk jugs inside. The driver is met by an excellent multi-function steering wheel with a faux-leather wrapped appearance. The tiller feels suitably meaty and durable for a vehicle of this size.
Like other Ford products, the steering wheel also features a new five-way button for controlling a small, high-resolution LCD screen nestled between the tachometer and speedometer. Though somewhat distracting to navigate while in motion, the categories are logically assembled and provide information on fuel economy, vehicle systems and even pitch and yaw for your off-roading excursions. Needless to say, that last screen was our favorite.
Meanwhile, the dash is laid in well-grained, dual-tone plastic accented by chrome-bezel air vents. The center stack offers two cubbies sized for either a mobile phone or an MP3 player, which we found more accommodating than the usually lauded SYNC system. Despite our best efforts, the audio system refused to acknowledge our iPod and would only occasionally play music from a thumb drive. The good news is that when the technology decided to cooperate, the 2011 F-150 didn't disappoint in the sound quality department.
Thanks to our SuperCrew cab, rear passengers were afforded an impressive amount of space. There's easily enough leg, head and hip room for three corn-fed boys out back. Even better, the rear bench stows quickly with the lift of two under-seat paddles to provide a huge interior cargo space. With 31 inches between the front console and the bottom of the folded seats, and 57 inches from door to door, there's ample room for Ikea boxes or a large flat-screen television. It's simply impressive. What's more, the flat floor is perfect for safely transporting long guns under the rear bench while still ferrying passengers around.
Ford threw the engineering gauntlet down on the 2011 F-150 drivetrain, and as a result, buyers can have the truck with a range of new engine options. Ford offers a slew of powertrains for the F-150 depending on trim, including a new twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6, a naturally-aspirated 3.7-liter V6 and a more muscular 6.2-liter V8. Our tester came packing the line-up's middle child – a new 5.0-liter V8 engine with 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque coupled to a six-speed automatic gearbox.
A two-speed transfer case with electronic shift-on-the-fly control handles four-wheel-drive duties, too. Despite being only the second-most powerful engine choice on the option sheet, the twin-overhead cam V8 makes for an impressively quick truck. While perfectly content to burble around in the lower registers of the tachometer, quick right-foot thrusts will yield giggle-inducing propulsion.
At the same time, the engineers at Ford have managed to also squeeze respectable fuel economy out of the engine. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, our tester is good for 14 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. We managed 15.4 mpg during our time with the truck; just below the combined estimate of 16 mpg.
In a world increasingly awash with crossovers and neutered capability, the F-150 provides a refreshingly traditional driving experience. At no point are you under the impression that you're piloting anything other than a legitimate pickup. With its tall ride height, the vehicle affords plenty of visibility, and the dish-plate-sized sideview mirrors make for easy lane changes. Ford did an excellent job of properly weighting the electronic power-assisted steering as well. Low speed maneuvers are handled with just the right amount of assist, even in four-wheel drive. That's impressive given that our tester wore sizable 275/65/R18 Goodyear Wrangler rubber at all four corners. On the road, the steering avoids feeling overly light even at highway speeds.
Additionally, the column-mounted shifter is a well-thought out piece that allows for quick and easy gear changes from Drive to Reverse and back again, something that's essential for properly positioning a trailer or negotiating this big rig into tight spots off road. The shifter is built with additional resistance between Park and Reverse, which means the driver can simply lift the shifter to back up without having to lower his or her eyes from the task at hand. We approve.
The shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive is as simple to operate as flicking the dial on the dash from 4x2 to 4x4, though if you want to drop into low range you'll need to slide the transmission into Neutral.
When you aren't creeping around your front yard in low-range, the 2011 F-150 is fairly mild-mannered on the road. With an empty bed, the truck feels characteristically buckboard, though with comfortable seats and an effective cruising range of 684 miles, we could certainly survive a multi-tank road trip and still be able to walk afterwards. There's also surprisingly little road noise at highway speed, and while the stock exhaust sounds plenty throaty under hard acceleration, the back pipes are quiet under steady speed.
We did notice that the F-150 is graced with an incredibly lax traction control system. This is about as far from an electronic nanny as you can get. Familiarize yourself with the skinny pedal, crank the steering wheel and get ready for some tail-wagging glory with an empty bed. It's exactly what you want to see from a V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive creation, though we have to imagine the system would be a little less entertaining under wet skies and emergency acceleration.
The good news is that should you get too frisky with the go pedal, the brakes will do a bang-up job of bringing things under control. Ford built the F-150 with four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with 13.8-inch rotors, mashed by dual-piston calipers up front. The back axle is graced with 13.7-inch rotors held by single-piston calipers, and nose dive is kept to a minimum.
Thanks to the power on hand, a stout boxed frame and an optional 3.73 rear-axle ratio, this particular variation of the F-150 brings a 9,300-pound tow rating to the table. We were unable to strap a trailer to the pickup while it was in our care, though we settled for the next best thing to determine how the 5.0-liter V8 stood up under a load. After a quick visit to the local nursery, we loaded the bed with a cubic yard of mulch. The material weighs in at around 800 pounds per yard, which is a little more than half the pickup's 1,487 pound cargo capacity. You can check out how the truck handled the loading process in the Shortcut below.
The extra weight was barely perceptible on the road both in acceleration and braking, though the poundage did go a long way toward smoothing out the bumps brought about by the set of stiff rear springs. Still, the 5.0-liter V8 was happy to plug along in overdrive up a long grade without needing to drop a gear.
In fact, the 5.0-liter V8 would be the perfect engine for the 2011 F-150 if it weren't for one problem. In our configuration, the more powerful and efficient 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine is just $750 more than the middle-weight V8. For that stack of cash, you're rewarded with five additional horsepower and 40 more pound-feet of torque. More importantly, that twist comes on a full 1,750 rpm sooner, while turning out one mpg more in both city and highway driving. Our colleagues at AutoblogGreen even hypermiled an EcoBoost-equipped F-150 recently to over 30 mpg. It's hard to argue with more power and efficiency when combined with better delivery.
So why does Ford even bother offering the less efficient, less powerful V8? Our guess is that the move has something to do with some truck buyers proclivity to always prefer V8 power. Also, adding the 5.0-liter V8 to the F-150 lineup likely helps defray the cost of the engine for the Mustang GT, which helps keep the pony car affordable. Good by us.
Our 2011 F-150 XLT 4x4 SuperCrew wore an MSRP of $38,965, which included extras like the 3.73 axle ratio, tow package, keyless entry and various aesthetic and convenience packages, as well as a $975 charge for destination and delivery. That's no small chunk of money, but considering that the SuperCrew cab allows this pickup to serve both as a family hauler and a work machine, we can begin to forgive the price tag. Ford will let you get out the door with a four-wheel-drive work truck under $30,000, but you can forget niceties like power equipment, cruise control and media management.
While General Motors and Chrysler have both stepped up their full-size truck efforts in serious ways over the past few years, it's easy to see why Ford still holds the sales title. The F-150 is comfortable and tame enough to handle city traffic and mall parking lots with the family, and at the same time, it's also supremely capable of lugging a load of material back from the local co-op. It toes a fine line between civility and functionality and does it in an attractive, masculine package. All hail the king.
New Car Test Drive
New engines, more models.
The Ford F-150 lineup offers a plethora of models in dozens of permutations. All are highly capable trucks, even those loaded with luxury features. The F-150 was completely redesigned for 2009. For 2011, Ford F-150 features an entirely new engine lineup, and most 2011 F-150 models come with electric-assist steering.
Smooth and quiet, the F-150 is comfortable on bumpy streets around town, over rugged terrain like construction sites, farms and utility roads, and on the open highway. Its steering is nicely weighted and requires little correction on the highway making it nice for long cross-country tows. The cabs are comfortable, whether ordered with leather or cloth.
The F-150 lineup runs the gamut from wash-off vinyl flooring and a two-door Regular Cab to leather-lined premium four-door models with as much rear-seat legroom as the front of most luxury sedans: Within those extremes lies something for everyone. Yet even the least-expensive F-150 isn't boring; it leaves room for customization, does the work required and keeps overhead down.
With one of the deepest beds in the segment, the F-150 has generous cargo volume out back and a maximum payload rating of 3,060 pounds; most versions carry 1,600-2,100 pounds. Any cab model F-150 can be optioned to tow more than 11,000 pounds; the range varies from 5,500-11,300 pounds. (The Ford Super Duty line of heavy-duty pickups is covered in a separate New Car Test Drive review.)
Two V8 and two V6 engines are offered, all with six-speed automatic transmissions. Standard on 2WD is a 302-hp 3.7-liter V6. Other choices include a 360-hp 5-liter V8 for all cab/bed configurations, a 411-hp 6.2-liter V8 on SuperCrew short beds, and a 365-hp twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 on all but regular cab/short beds. Several axle ratios are offered with each engine.
A new 2011 F-150 XLT Custom package slots between XLT and FX models. On the upper end are the King Ranch, Platinum and Lariat Limited models. The Harley-Davidson edition returns for 2011 with a 411-hp V8, the same engine now standard on the serious off-road Raptor. The Raptor adds a SuperCrew version that carries more fuel and tows a ton more than the continuing SueprCab.
Other new features for 2011 F-150: larger image-in-mirror rearview camera, new instrumentation with a 4.2-inch screen, one-touch front windows, a telescoping steering column on upper trims, 110-VAC outlet, HD radio, an integrated key/fob with remote start, 7-lug 17-inch aluminum wheels for the heavy-duty package, and a new off-road package with locking rear differential.
The 2011 Ford F-150 comes in more than 50 configurations, so it's easier to find which setups you can not get: No luxury trim Regular Cab, no ultra-lux SuperCab, and no long-bed SuperCrew. Everything else is split amongst multiple wheelbases, three cab sizes, three bed lengths (one of which is available in two styles), four engines, ten trim levels, and rear- or four-wheel drive.
Regular Cabs are offered in standard bed (about 6.5 feet) and long bed (about 8 feet) XL, STX, or XLT grades. SuperCab trucks add higher FX and Lariat trim to choices plus SVT's Raptor, and a short-bed option (about 5.5 feet). A long-bed SuperCab is available only with the heavy-duty package. The SuperCrew F-150, available with either the short bed or standard bed, drops the STX grade and adds King Ranch and Platinum derivatives while Harley-Davidson and Lariat Limited are SuperCrew short bed only.
The F-150 XL (starting at $22,415) is a standard bed, Regular Cab two-wheel drive. It comes with 3.7-liter V6, 17-inch steel wheels, black bumper/grille/mirrors, and vinyl upholstery and floor covering. XL includes air conditioning, split front bench (and rear on four-door cabs), locking tailgate, tilt steering wheel, stability control, capless fuel filler and a stereo radio.
F-150 STX (from $26,245) models add body-color bumpers over a black grille, CD player, and cloth seats with driver lumbar. More equipment is available, including 18-inch wheels, Sirius radio, SYNC, cruise control, fog lamps and power mirrors.
F-150 XLT (from $26,685) adds chrome for bumpers and trim, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, automatic headlamps, carpeting, cruise control, power windows and locks, and better cloth upholstery. All manner of options are available on the XLT, including three wheel diameters, tailgate step, cargo management and towing equipment.
F-150 FX4 and FX2 come with a 5-liter V8, black grille and body-colored bumpers, trim and mirrors. Electric-shift 4WD is standard, as are fog lamps, a locking differential, towing package, 18-inch wheels, sporty cloth split bench seat (power driver on four-doors), Sirius radio, and the 5.4-liter V8/6-speed automatic powertrain. Options include infotainment and 17-inch (for more severe off-road use) or 20-inch wheels. F-150 Lariat (starting at $34,110) is the mainstream luxury F-150 and hence is four-door only with V8 or turbo V6 engines. Chrome trim and bumpers highlight monotone paint, and the Lariat adds heated mirrors with signal repeaters and auto-dimming on the driver's and inside, dual-zone climate control, heated power leather seats with driver memory, leather wheel with redundant audio controls, tow package, SYNC, trip computer, and power adjustable pedals. Options include 20-inch wheels, heated/cooled front seats, Sony sound and navigation, trailer brake controller, rear camera and park sensors, and moonroof.
F-150 King Ranch (from $41,790) is like a Lariat with a different attitude. It adds two-tone paint and KR badges, unique wheels, mesh chrome grille, Chaparral leather heated and cooled power captain's chairs with driver memory, running boards, and power folding, heated, signal outside mirrors with chrome caps. Options are essentially limited to a limited-slip differential, alternative axle ratios, 20-inch wheels, Sony sound and navigation systems, moonroof, chrome tube running boards and remote start.
F-150 Platinum SuperCrew (from $43,600) gets a unique satin chrome grille, body-color bumpers and wheel lip moldings, 20-inch wheels, power-deploy/retract running boards, satin chrome tailgate trim, tuxedo-stitched leather power captain's chairs, wood grain and brushed aluminum trim, rain-sensing wipers, power folding/heated mirrors, and unique console. Options are limited but you can get 17-inch wheels and all-terrain tires for luxury on the farm.
The most luxurious F-150 Lariat Limited ($47,195 2WD/$50,340 4WD) comes only with a 6.2-liter engine, 22-inch wheels, special paint and very few options.
A special F-150 Harley-Davidson edition ( $47,995 2WD/$51,140 4WD) is also 6.2 V8 only and decked out in colors and heavy chrome trim befitting the brand it's named after.
Ford's SVT division offers the Raptor ($41,550 SuperCab, $44,315 SuperCrew), intended for serious, high-speed off-road use. It comes only with the 411-hp 6.2-liter V8. Unique long-travel high-performance suspension, wheels and tires, and aggressive bodywork set it apart from any other F-150.
The F-150 option list is comprehensive and, although it has been simplified in recent years, it can still resemble the tax code to the uninitiated; there are, for example, six codes for running boards and four for trailer towing mirrors. Most options are dependent on the model and other options, and many features are standard on more expensive models. In addition, prices of options occasionally vary by trim level.
Mechanical options include engine upgrades, alternate axle ratios, limited-slip or locking differentials, larger tires and upgraded wheels, skid plates, towing mirrors, snow plow prep (with 6.2 V8), trailer brake controller ($230), 36-gallon long-bed fuel tank, tailgate step, heavy-duty payload package, and Ford Works systems like an in-dash computer. An engine block heater is available to fleet buyers and standard on Alaska and northern plains-state trucks. Other upgrades include captain's chairs bucket seats with center console, power sliding rear window, rear-view camera (with or without navigation) reverse parking sensors, tri-coat or two-tone paint, moonroof ($995), Sirius radio, sound systems, remote start, and navigation.
Safety features that come standard include antilock brakes, stability control (AdvanceTrac RSC), trailer sway control, frontal airbags, front side airbags, and side curtain airbags. Safety-related options include an integrated trailer brake controller, rear-view camera, MyKey, and reverse park sensors.
The angular lines of the Ford F-150 mean it's easier to clean, easier to park, and gives maximum inside volume for outside space. Some bulge to the hood and large grille openings imply power, as does the higher altitude of 4WD models; many models have big graphics to ensure everyone knows what it is. The F-150 is easily recognized by substantial blue ovals, stepped front window ledge, and the tall bed.
The front door edge that allows a lower glass line at the front is stylish but also very useful; it allows a better view of front quarters near the truck and means you can have a good-sized mirror that doesn't limit forward vision because you look over it rather than around it. The view rearward can be aided by extendable towing mirrors, a rear camera, and a power sliding rear window. We found the towing mirrors work very well.
Pillars between the doors (called B-pillars) and the rear hand-hold on the pillar may yield an awkward blind spot for some drivers, but everyone should appreciate the windshield pillars (called A-pillars) shaped to help preserve forward vision. Relatively square shoulders on the hood make it easy to see the edges of the truck, a bonus for tight parking lots, plow operators, and squeezing between trees or rocks en route to outdoor recreation.
With all beds you can get a locking tailgate and tie-down points. On many models you also get a bed extender and tailgate step (rated 300 pounds); the tailgate step makes stepping into the bed easier but it makes the tailgate feel heavier than some petite drivers will want to open or close. Some models offer a box-side step rated at 500 pounds; a pop-out, under-bed step behind the cab, but we needed considerable effort to return it and wonder how it will work after grounding on a rocky trail, having mud or snow thrown at it, or in freezing weather. Refueling is done with Ford's capless filler system so you will never lose another gas cap.
Most F-150 models have Ford's family-face horizontal three-bar aspect to the grille and the tailgate styling; the larger grille, squared headlights and more heavily contoured hood all add to the imposing size, though it isn't as imposing as Dodge's forward-leaning grille setup. On higher-level models the chrome is considerable, and extends to the front tow loops on 4WD.
The FX model has a multi-ribbed grille, blacked-out trim, plenty of decals and real truck tires if you choose the 17-inch off-road tire option. The chassis on 4WD models doesn't have anything mounted much lower than the frame rails, but if you intend to use four-wheel drive for anything more than snow or muddy roads the skid plate package should be considered.
Models with the heavy-duty payload package may come with 17-inch wheels with seven bolts holding each on. More attachment points are frequently used as truck weight increases but 7 bolts is a very uncommon pattern and may limit your choice in aftermarket or replacement wheels.
Ford has all bases covered inside the F-150, with plenty of patterns, textures and finishes, including new gauge cluster designs, and the choice of a 40/20/40 split-bench front seat or captain's chairs in many models. On those trucks with a bench seat, the middle passenger should be of a smaller size for both knee clearance and the narrow space between seat and belt brackets.
Mindful that you can't have everything for $23,000, the basic XL is quite respectable and a good value given a single option tab on a bigger pickup can be nearly half the XL's purchase price. Fleet drivers will appreciate that air conditioning is standard and the truck is quieter and more refined, in part due to a smoother 60-degree V6 and not one derived from a 90-degree V8.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Platinum is like a Lincoln Navigator with a pickup bed. The King Ranch chairs may look like a fine saddle (and require the same maintenance in some climes), but you'll want to ensure the jeans are clean and spurs off before you climb into this cowboy clubhouse.
Virtually everything you might need is either standard or available, and much the same degree of luxury in a more subdued style can be found in Lariats, which follow a more eclectic approach to decor and make one wonder if seven colors and surface textures on a rear door alone might be one or two too many. The speaker grilles on high-line models that look like metal really are (with the three horizontal bar theme molded in), and in some cases the trim is real brushed aluminum. The wood is faux but well done, perhaps to save trees.
The front bench is still split three ways: The center section flips down to reveal a console with storage and cup holders. The console is flat, so you can put a clipboard on top of it and it won't slide off until you stop, start or change direction quickly. Captain's chairs on FX and Lariat models, especially with power adjustment and the optional adjustable pedals (the switch is often hidden on the steering column), provide good driver positioning for virtually everyone. We found the seats didn't suffer from our earlier criticisms of lacking thigh support and aggressively tilted headrests.
Front and rear-seat room is very good; the rear is a vast, spacious area for three adults with a flat floor all the way across and full roll-down windows. On the down side, it could take a while to cool off in hot conditions, and the floor mats cover only a third of the carpet by our tape measure.
The rear seat cushions lift up to stow vertically, with four grocery bag hooks on the underside of the wider driver-side seat and, if equipped, the subwoofer for the Sony sound system under the right rear seat; rear cabin storage seats-up amounts to nearly 58 cubic feet. With captain's chairs up front there are vents in the back of the center console. There are three tethers and two anchor sets for baby seats, outboard rear headrests raise enough to protect tall passengers, and a smaller center rear headrest to preserve vision for those who use the window; you can also get a power sliding window with defrost.
We sampled a couple of trims, one with bucket seats and white-stitched black leather, the other a 40/20/40 bench in tan leather; the lighter color interior looked richer, but also busier since it had dual colors for the dashboard where the black truck didn't. Either seat is comfortable, the advantage of the bucket being goodies like heating/cooling on higher trim models. Most of the touch points on Lariat felt good, with a sort of rubberized texture to the door armrests, but there is still plenty of hard plastic in pillar covers and lower doors to ease cleaning.
The cloth upholstery in the STX feels comfortable and durable; in temperature extremes we'd prefer it to the leather on upper trims. Apart from seat coverings and the steering wheel, the STX doesn't feel overly budget conscious.
All models use the same basic dash layout, with tachometer to left (no marked redline), speedometer to right, and oil pressure, coolant temperature, fuel and transmission fluid temperature lined up between. On lower-level models the gauges are more traditional white-on-black and, on higher-line models, silver faces with dark numbers that light up green and are often easier to read at night than in daylight. The ancillary gauges are quite lethargic so you need to heed warning lights even if a gauge doesn't quite agree.
The new central screen provides a wider array of information called up by a thumb-switch on the steering wheel, including but not limited to transmission fluid temperature, fuel economy/range, gear selected, trailer profiles, and tire pressures.
Trucks with the Sony navigation/audio system have arguably simpler controls than those without it by virtue of the voice command, logical operation and system integration. Trucks without that option aren't bad, but even on some lesser trims we found plenty of white-on-black buttons on the center panel which could require some familiarization. Window switches are all lift-to-close but the power door lock bar is horizontal so if Rover puts his paw on the right part of the switch you could be locked out.
Bench seat models use a column-mounted shift lever, while most bucket seat models use a bigger console shift lever, both with a Tow/Haul mode. The floor-shift requires a button-push from D to N as you might at a long light or rail crossing, and the column-shift has a light detent so it's easy to go one-to-two gears too far. Manual gear selection requires engaging the M position and using a +/- thumb toggle to change, like GM's approach, but Dodge's layout is simpler and just as effective. Liberal chrome on the console can produce some distracting glare.
Headlights are to the left, four-wheel drive and the integrated trailer brake controller are to the right; the power adjustable pedal switch on the left side of the steering column is harder to find than dash switches but does keep you from leaning forward while trying to adjust your driving position. Four round omni-directional vents ensure airflow where you want it, front seatbelt anchors are height-adjustable, and our only ergonomic complaint was the lack of a sun visor that covered the length of the side glass.
The Sony navigation/sound system and Ford's SYNC system bring infotainment to a new level, integrating Bluetooth-enabled devices, 911 Assist, Vehicle Health report, Sirius travel link with real-time traffic, weather, 4500 movie theater listings and show times and 120 gas stations with fuel prices. Power points, a USB port and MP3 input jack are in the lower center dash. The Sony 700-watt 5.1 channel sound system provides very good sonic quality, even if the impact didn't feel like 700 watts. It has the usual assortment of graphics nonsense like the oxymoronic-titled audio visualizer, which we could live without.
Pickups without space are pointless and the F-150 won't disappoint. The Regular Cab is roomy enough to fit three adults across and has plenty of space for the miscellaneous debris and detritus that tends to accumulate in trucks. SuperCabs have a full-width back seat best-suited to kids and short rides for bigger adults since legroom is the squeeze point; it's similar in size and intent to the Chevy Silverado or GMC Sierra extended cab or the Titan King Cab. For larger families or routine four-passenger service, the SuperCrew's room and regular back doors will be welcome, with as many as 30 different places to put things.
The Ford F-150 is among the heavier trucks in its class, contributing to a solid feel and none of that empty metal box bang-and-clang that characterized pickups of old. There's an impression of substance and tight construction regardless of the road surface or the model.
What stands out most driving the F-150 is the relative refinement. Ford attributes much of this to the Quiet Steel laminate used in some body panels.
The standard F-150 engine is a 3.7-liter V6 with contemporary technology like variable timing for the four cams and four valves per cylinder. Although new to F-150 this engine has seen service in front-drive platforms and the new Mustang so it isn't a brand-new engine. In the F-150 it's rated at 302 hp at 6500 rpm and 278 lb-ft at 4250 rpm, just 8 hp less than the top 5.4-liter V8 of 2010. You have to get the revs up to get the best work from it but the transmission is well calibrated, so it's a realistic choice where cost or fuel economy are paramount and work is limited to relatively light towing or hauling on fairly level ground.
Also adapted from the Mustang but not revving as fast in the truck application is the 5-liter V8 of 360 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, more than GM's 4.8 and 5.3, Ram's 4.7 and Tundra's 4.6; the Ram Hemi and Tundra 5.7 rate higher power. The highest-payload F-150s use this workhorse, it can tow up to 10,000 pounds, and it sounds like a muscle-car, more authoritative than even the 6.2-liter.
The 6.2 debuted in the SuperDuty pickups, that's why it's the only iron-block engine (and hydraulic steering assist) in the line. In F-150 applications it rates 411 hp and 434 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm, the most powerful half-ton pickup engine, but is available only in short-bed SuperCrew trucks and the Raptor. GM's 6.2 is rated slightly lower and also limited to certain configurations.
New to F-150 is a revised version of the twin-turbocharged EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 from Ford cars. Horsepower is 365 as in the cars but torque is up to 420 lb-ft at a nice low 2500 rpm so unless you need the rumble of a V8 it's by far the best combo of performance and economy. There is no lag waiting for power to come up, it's the quietest engine with just a hint of whistle at moderate throttle (talk-radio would mask it), its at-altitude performance will be better than the others and it often carries more than 6.2 V8 trucks because the engine is lighter. You can't use boost and get good economy at the same time, but you can have both to work with in the same truck. The only negatives are it costs more than the 3.7 or 5.0 and it's grunt sometimes overwhelms rear traction when towing resulting in axle-tramp, a rough up-and-down motion of the rear axle until traction control intervenes or the driver lifts off the throttle.
The 6-speed automatic works smoothly, and is not overly anxious to get into that fuel-saving top gear as soon as possible; engaging Tow/Haul mode will stretch out the shift points, not require a carpet-flattening mash of the pedal to affect a downshift and provide some engine braking on descents.
The F-150 has a fully boxed frame, which is quite stiff and resistant to both bending and twist. The front suspension is a dual ball-joint design pioneered and still used by BMW and found on the Expedition sport-utility, while the rear suspension has long leaf springs and outboard shocks.
Electric-assist steering is used on all F-150 except those with the 6.2 V8. It makes for lighter effort at low speeds, better weighting at road speeds, never loses assist in extensive maneuvering as when backing a trailer, and is programmed to reduce fatigue from crowned roads or crosswinds. It should simplify engine service, requires no service of its own, and can add up to 4 percent in highway fuel economy.
The sheer mass of the F-150 combines with the suspension to deliver a very good ride (by pickup standards) and quiet composure. Sure, it will skip on bumpy corners and move around over dry wash scrabble at speed but it doesn't get upset or noisy. Longer wheelbases will still bob or pogo-stick on some expansion joints and expressway surfaces but it never becomes fatiguing. As is often the case, the standard-size wheels produce better ride quality and less road noise than the 20- and 22-inch packages.
Brakes get the job done with their ultimate performance based as much on tire choice and weight in the bed as anything else. Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are standard across the board. A locking rear differential is optional for the best traction, and in many cases the suspension tuning on an FX produces the best ride quality over marginal roads and city potholes.
Some of the factors that aid visibility also hinder it. The high stance of a pickup is good for more distant views but hides things behind the tall tailgate and this is a wide piece of equipment. Extendable towing mirrors include a flat upper element and separately adjustable wide-angle element for a superb view rearward and safe towing but they are big and will be easily smacked off if you forget they're extended or don't leave space for that motorcyclist.
The rearview camera is good for the view behind the tall tailgate and on the navigation screen has colored lines to indicate the width of the truck and centerline for hitching a trailer; however, this display is not predictive and does not move the colored lines with the steering wheel so it applies only in straight reversing. Rear park sensors also aid maneuvering in tight quarters, raising the frequency of audible beeps as you move closer. You'll want to turn that off when backing up to a trailer or in other situations, but that involves going through a couple of menus on the information screen, more tedious than the simple defeat buttons used by Toyota and others.
The payload rating for the F-150 models varies from about 1,560 pounds to 3,060, but that includes occupants other than the driver. A construction crew of four 200-pounders in a SuperCrew might have just 700 pounds of rated capacity left for tools and materials. The highest gross combined rating (truck, trailer, cargo, passengers) for any F-150 is 17,100 pounds and these pickups are among the heaviest half-tons.
Maximum tow ratings for most F-150 models range from 11,000-11,300 pounds. These are the highest tow ratings of any half-ton, but remember these maximums apply to an unloaded pickup; if you foresee towing more than 8000-9000 pounds behind a loaded F-150 you should consider stepping up to Super Duty.
The integrated trailer brake controller option is the ideal choice for smooth braking. We've tested it and it works much better than aftermarket systems. But verify that the integrated controller will work with the brakes on your trailer; some electro-hydraulic trailer systems are not compatible.
The Ford F-150 delivers a strong combination of style, interior comfort, performance, ride and hauling ability. The new engine lineup moves Ford from follower to leader in power and alternatives. With multiple choices in trim, drivetrains and body styles, there's an F-150 for every type of pickup owner.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Dallas and Los Angeles after test-driving many F-150 models.
Ford F-150 XL Regular Cab 2WD standard bed ($22,415); STX SuperCab 4WD ($32,175); XLT SuperCab 2WD long bed ($29,755); FX4 SuperCab standard bed ($36,625) Lariat SuperCrew 2WD standard bed ($35,470); SVT Raptor SuperCrew 4WD ($44,315); King Ranch SuperCrew 4WD short bed ($44,935); Platinum SuperCrew 4WD standard bed ($47,045); Harley-Davidson SuperCrew 4WD ($51,140).
Kansas City, Missouri; Dearborn, Michigan.
Options As Tested
Heated/cooled captain's chairs and console ($975); 3.5 EcoBoost V6 ($750); limited-slip rear differential ($300); Sony navigation radio ($2,495); Lariat Plus package ($950); trailer brake controller ($230).
Ford F-150 SuperCrew Lariat 4x4 short bed ($39,615).
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