By Larry Printz
Everyone has had a Ford F-150 in their driveway pulling up to their home to do a job for them, be it a plumber, an electrician, a drywall guy or any type of home repair person. And there's a reason for that. Nobody hates you when you drive an F-150 because it's so much a part of the American landscape.
It's been America's bestselling truck for 40 years, as well as its most popular vehicle for 35 years. No doubt that's due to its many iterations, which includes seven trim levels (XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, Limited and Raptor), three cab styles (Regular Cab, SuperCab or SuperCrew), three bed lengths (5.5-foot, 6-foot and 8-foot) and 13 exterior colors.
Better yet, Ford engineers managed to get this heavy hauler to accomplish what most Americans cannot: lose weight. Thanks to a 2015 redesign, the F-150 shed more than 700 pounds of weight through the increased use of high-strength steel and military-grade aluminum-alloy. With less heft to haul, engineers pared pounds, not to mention cylinders, from the engines to improve fuel efficiency while maintaining the F-150's legendary towing and hauling capacity.
What's under the hood
The base powerplant is a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 282 horsepower and 253 foot-pounds of torque that can tow up to 7,600 pounds of your favorite plaything. It can also haul 1,910 pounds of accompanying lifestyle debris. There's also a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine with two fewer cylinders, but more brawn: 325 horsepower and 375 foot-pounds of torque to be exact. This mighty mite is capable of pulling 8,500 pounds while schlepping 2,210 pounds.
For those who feel a pickup isn't a pickup without a V8, there's Ford's tried and true 5.0-liter unit rated at 385 horsepower and 387 foot-pounds of torque. This provides 10,100 pounds of towing ability and delivers a payload capacity of 3,270 pounds.
While those engines carryover unchanged, the top-of-the-line 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 has been shipped off to the health spa and returns for 2017 with 10 more horsepower and 50 more foot-pounds of torque. Rated at 375 horsepower and 470 foot-pounds of torque, this engine provides 12,200 pounds of towing ability and 3,220 pounds of payload capacity. Although the certain parts of the engine are unchanged, such as piston displacement, much of it is truly new, including its turbochargers, cooling system and fuel-delivery system.
Of course, if that's not enough, there's always the Raptor, Ford's Baja off-road warrior and resident wild child. Far different from its tamer siblings, it has the most power of any F-150 with the second-generation 3.5-liter high-output EcoBoost V6 engine producing 450 horsepower and 510 foot-pounds of torque.
Of course, the Raptor gets more that merely a bit more brio under the bonnet. It's built using its own high-strength steel box frames, as well as a modified suspension with larger Fox shocks, 13 inches of suspension travel up front and 13.9 inches in the rear. With its higher ride height, the Raptor boasts an impressive 30-degree front approach angle, 22-degree breakover angle, and 23- degree departure angle. Best of all, its four-wheel-drive system can automatically send torque between the front and rear wheels, yet also employs a mechanical lock to engage 4x4 high and 4x4 low. Finally, there's a terrain management system that adjusts the engine, transmission, braking, and stability control depending on the terrain.
A new-for-2017 ten-speed automatic gearbox, built by Ford and co-developed with General Motors, is standard on all F-150s.
Yeah, but what's it like to drive?
Regardless of which F150 you choose, you'll find that it's fairly easy to maneuver on a job site, in the brush or in a big-box store parking lot. And when a road trip is called for, you might be surprised to find that it comfortably and confidently dispatches its duties.
When it comes to engines, you'll find the second generation 3.5-liter EcoBoost is particularly muscular, with the new ten-speed delivering significant punch off the line. Its eager nature endows the truck with a lively feel, even better than that from the V8.
Better yet, given the gearbox has ten speeds rather than six, the engine speed seems lower in each gear, resulting in the turbocharger being used less often. This should improve fuel economy, since the less you dip into the turbo, the less fuel you'll use. Yet plant your loafer off the line, and you'll find the tranny shifts decisively through all of the gears. It's a very willing dance partner, and includes a tow/haul mode for heavier duties.
If you don't need all that grunt, and don't plan on any truly heavy hauling, you'll find the 2.7-liter engine to be surprisingly capable for life's lighter moments, and it's surprisingly fuel efficient. If the engine seems small for a pickup, try it. It will surprise you.
Making the drive easier
Parking a full-size pickup can feel as if you're docking an aircraft carrier, especially if you're backing up with a trailer. With Ford's new Pro Trailer Backup Assist, you turn a knob in the direction you want the trailer to go and the truck assists. Easy, right? And the F-150's four exterior cameras provide the driver with a 360-degree view around the vehicle. Or, if you need to parallel park without a trailer, the truck can do that for you as well.
Once underway, you'll find the adaptive cruise control can automatically maintain your vehicle's distance from those in front of you. It will even warn you if a collision is imminent and pre-charge the brakes. Other safety features include Curve Control, which automatically reduces torque and applies the brakes if the driver takes a corner too quickly. There's a blind spot information system that warns the driver when another vehicle is in their blind spot, or alerts the driver if a vehicle coming down an aisle while the driver is backing out of a parking space. A lane keeping assist system alerts the driver of the truck has strayed from its lane, while the smart trailer tow module shows the driver which lights aren’t working on the trailer being towed.
The inside story
The thoughtfully designed interior has big beefy knobs and buttons that are effortless to hit, even while wearing work gloves. The seats were all-day comfortable, while the rear folded for carrying cargo rather than people. If there's any knock against the F-150, it's that while the interior has a number of soft-touch surfaces, its ambiance is merely OK for the price. Plastic and switchgear quality feels durable.
One last thought
Given it's comfort and capabilities, no one could blame you for thinking of the Ford F-150 as a modern day Model T. After all, Henry Ford sold the first ones back in 1925, alongside the Model T. And like Ford's famous flivver, the F-150 performs many different roles, be it utilitarian work truck, posh family hauler, or high-performance off-road warrior. Overall rating: 4.9 out of 5.
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