A 325hp twin-turbo 2.7L V6, aluminum body, bigger frame, and refined interiors are just part of the advancements found in the new generation of Ford’s most popular pickups
By Bruce W. Smith
Pickups are the bread-and-butter tool for the working class and a necessity for those who have a passion for the active outdoor lifestyles that involves boating, RVing, ATVing, hunting and other pursuits.
The most recognized as the “American favorite” is Ford’s F-150. The first F-Series (F-1) rolled off the assembly lines in 1948, and now the 12th generation is upon us. And it’s a doozy.
Ford’s new ½-ton, with its all-aluminum body, reflects the biggest technological advancements between generations since Ford added the “F-150″ model to the F-100 line as a heavier-duty model some 40 years ago. (Ford dropped the “F-100″ designation with the 1984 model year.)
Although aluminum-bodied SUVs and cars have been around the luxury world for decades, convincing many blue-blooded Ford owners that an aluminum body is better than traditional steel isn’t an easy task when aluminum has a beer-can-like strength stigma.
But Ford has put the new trucks through more than a million miles of endurance testing in the lab and field, the most ever for a Ford product, before the very first early-production models I recently drove rolled off the assembly line. And I can tell you they are strong — and nicely engineered.
I drove 2015 F-150 SuperCrew and SuperCab models in and around San Antonio, TX, towing 9,000-pound trailers, off-roading, and commuting in both city and rural settings.
From that seat time it’s clear Ford’s gamble to switch the body from steel to aluminum is every bit as good a bet as it was bringing in a twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 or building their own 6.7L PowerStroke diesel. Ford did their homework: The new F-150’s ride, handling, durability, capacities and performance are a world better than the current (2014-earlier) models.
The ride is much more pleasant, the handling crisper, the braking more robust. The cab interiors are bigger, they are quieter inside, the fit and finish nicer, and the list of safety and electronic features as long as the new truck’s towing and hauling capacities are big.
FOUR ENGINE OPTIONS
They are also more powerful and fuel-efficient, and there’re four engines from which to choose. The base is a 283hp 3.5L V-6 that’s a carry-over from the previous generation and good engine for those who just want a full-size pickup at the lowest price.
But I’d skip right past it and spend the small up-charge for the all-new 325hp 2.7L EcoBoost V-6. My eyes widened when I took a 2WD SuperCab for a drive with newest Ford V-6 under the hood. Its fast-spooling twin turbos dole out torque just like a small-block V-8 as soon as you roll into the throttle, emitting a gratifying small-block V8 exhaust note to boot.
Ford rates the 2.7L EcoBoost with up to an SAE-J2807-certified 8,500 pounds towing capacity and 2,250 pounds payload in some models, making it an ideal engine for those who tow boats, ATVs, smaller horse or travel trailers.
Those that need more power can step up to the 365hp 3.5L EcoBoost V-6, which has proven itself to be a tremendous performer under the hood of F-150s (and other Ford vehicles) for a couple years now.
It’s also the engine Ford gives the highest tow rating: 12,200 pounds (SAE J2807 compliant) in 2WD models equipped with the Max Trailer Tow Package. The tow package comes with a locking 3.55 rear axle, heavy-duty front sway bar and integrated brake controller.
Then there’s the venerable 5.0L V-8. But the 2015 version has some nice upgrades that give it noticeably better performance the previous version. The 385hp 5.0L Ti-VCT, new intake and variable cam timing among other changes, isn’t quite as quick to put the power down as its 3.5L EcoBoost counterpart. But once it does, it pulls noticibly stronger than the 5.0L of old.
I towed identical 9,000-pound-plus box trailers back-to-back over several miles of two-lane Texas hill country road behind a 2015 3.5L EcoBoost Super Crew 4×4, 2015 5.0L Super Crew 4×4, 2014 5.3L Silverado 1500 Crew Cab 4×4, and 2014 Ram 1500 Crew Cab EcoDiesel 4×4 to feel the differences. All four trucks were equipped with weight-distributing hitches per Ford and the other manufacturer’s towing requirements.
The 2015 F-150 with the 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 was the smoothest, fastest accelerating, and most responsive of the four trucks, with both of the new Fords feeling more stable, smoother and more comfortable while towing than either the Ram or Chevy half-ton crew cabs.
BIGGER CAB, MORE COMFORT
That smoothness, comfort and towing stability are the result of Ford doing a frame-up redesign on the 2015s.
The frame is bigger, lighter, stiffer and stronger. That solid base, and the aluminum body structure sitting atop, allowed Ford designers to make the new models bigger on the inside, with noticeably more comfortable seats and quieter interior than their predecessors.
The new cabs have more headroom to the sides than the previous model, a wider interior (door panels are thinner), and on the SuperCabs the rear doors open 170-degrees, giving way to easy access to the rear seats and flat load floor.
Then there’re the new features that help make the trucks an even more productive as work tools: optional remote tailgate release; a tailgate with the step and assist handle built inside so the tailgate’s inner face itself remains flat; and Ford’s optional BoxLink storage system with cleats that can hold loading ramps and other tools tight to the bedsides.
Electronic innovations abound, as well. In the upper-trim levels (XLT-Plus and above), there’re a host of options and packages that increase safety, convenience and connectivity through just about any source one requires for commuting, work or recreational needs.
Those who tow trailers will appreciate the rear-view camera that incorporates a dotted line to show the exact path between hitch ball and trailer tongue for easy trailer connections.
Another optional convenient item is a small single-row bank of four LED spot lights in the side mirrors that can be tilted outward to serve as work lights—and an LED light under the tailgate handle that illuminates the hitch and area immediately behind the bumper.
The 2015 F-150s also have 110V, 400-watt outlets in the cab to run all sort of electronic devices from laptops to battery chargers; a must for anyone who brings along passengers with phones and tablets.
There are so many advancements and options on the 2015 F-150s that it’d take a book to cover them all in detail. The short take: I have little doubt this new generation of F-150s is going to make a lot of very happy customers — be they first-time pickup buyers or long-time F-Series owners.