Are modern trucks sexy? Well, it’ll depend who you ask. It’s like horses – ask a group of people and you’re likely to get a whole spectrum of answers – some will consider them beautiful animals, some will consider them working beasts and some? Well some just consider them downright delicious. I recently had the opportunity to spend a week driving a new Ford F-150. Not just any F-150 – it was the “Platinum” edition, which makes it the almost best-equipped and spankiest-looking model and soars to the upper echelon of the model line – the only way up from Platinum is to sacrifice a kidney and pay the exorbitant entrance fee for the Harley-Davidson edition. Also, this truck was equipped with the new Ecoboost twin-turbo V6, which Ford is flaunting as a V8 killer. Together, the Platinum Ecoboost combination rang in as sexy – in my humble truck opinion. This sexiness doesn’t come cheap though – list price on this bad boy is CDN $64,419, not including GST. That includes the Platinum trim level, the Ecoboost engine, the max tow package, and a couple of little options such as the box extender and skidplates. You and I know that you can do much better than that – in reality, you’d probably be paying something closer to CDN $55,000.
As long as I’ve been around, the mentality has always seemed to be that you need a V8 in a half-ton in order to get any “real work” done. Of course, anyone with a brain realizes that a light-duty diesel would be the answer here, but somehow we haven’t figured that out in North America. Hello? Anyone home? A V6 half-ton truck was always the red-headed stepchild that everyone was embarrassed about and kept hidden in the garage.
Ford has set about bringing change to this mentality, and after having spent some time with the Ecoboost engine, I can see where they’re coming from. Built in the legendary Cleveland Engine Plant, it’s a twin-turbo 3.5 Litre V-6 – although it looks very similar on paper to the engine motivating the Taurus SHO, it’s not. This engine has been engineered specifically for the F-150 and has been tweaked all over the place to suit this application. The theory behind this engine, and why it’s a suitable alternative for a truck, is that it should provide that all-important torque at a much lower RPM than any normally aspirated V8 can, and it should provide the driver with better mileage in the process. The Ecoboost is rated at 365 HP @ 5000 RPM and it makes 420 lb. ft of torque at 2500 RPM. 90% of that torque, which is what gets things going from standstill and what helps with towing, is available at a very low 1700 RPM. A V8 couldn’t do that at that low of an RPM count. This engine is rated at 16 mpg (14.7 L/100 km) for city driving and 22 mpg (10.7 L/100 km) for highway driving – using regular fuel. Those are pretty impressive numbers for a truck – especially a capable hauler like this one. So impressive that Ford touts its fuel consumption as improved by 20% over last year’s 5.4 Litre V-8 F-150. 20% is a big deal. Under the hood, you shouldn’t expect much more room in the engine bay than a V-8 takes up – with all the plumbing from the twin-turbos, you’re left with a sizable lump under there.
How capable is this hauler, you ask? It’s rated to tow a maximum of 11,300 pounds, and can carry a payload of 3060 pounds in the box. I couldn’t confirm this with all competitors, but as far as I can tell, those are both best-in-class figures. Nothing to sneeze at.
I was given a DVD that contained several professionally-produced episodes of a lengthy torture test that was applied to the Ecoboost engine – if you can look these videos up online, it’s fascinating to see what they did to test the reliability and performance of this engine. We’re talking 160,000 km dyno test, 24 hours of NASCAR-style driving full-throttle while towing 11,300 pounds, doing the Baja 1000 and other brutal torture tests. I firmly believe it’s up to the task and that it will last with the best of them.
Now, here’s the rub. As with any factory-supplied ratings, those are rarely achievable, unless you’re coasting down an 8% downhill grade with a gale-force tailwind. I kid, but realistically, you won’t ever see the rated mileage on vehicles. Same holds true for this one. I spent a week with it – commuting to work, some horrifying bumper-to-bumper drives, a few mild freeway jaunts, almost exclusively city driving. I didn’t try to drive economically, but wasn’t stepping on it from every red light either. I averaged 12.8 mpg (18.3 L/100 kms). That’s not good. But I don’t think half-ton drivers expect mileage to be much higher than something like that, and I firmly believe you’re resigned to getting crappy mileage with a vehicle that is this size, weighs this much, and can do this much.
The transmission is a 6-speed automatic. I believe the F-150 line is the only one in the industry that offers a 6-speed transmission across the whole line. It’s a decent transmission – it doesn’t do anything special, but it’s not bad at anything either. It is relatively smooth, although I did feel the 1-2 shift jolt me more often than I’d have wanted. The transmission shifts up sooner than later, obviously programmed to save fuel where it can. It can be manually controlled with the weird rocker switch on the shift lever – it’s an up-down toggle and has never felt natural to me. I suppose there might be value in holding certain gears when towing, etc, but I’m guessing the manual function would see limited use in a half-ton truck. It does have a Tow/Haul function, activated by a button on the shift lever – this will optimize shifting patterns and help avoid the higher gears on hills, etc. to make the towing experience a smooth one.
This is a nice truck – from both the outside and the inside. The Platinum trim level dresses it up quite a bit, with chrome trim on the sides and the back. The current F-150 has a lot of straight lines in its styling. I know vehicle styling is very subjective and this is just my opinion, but the current F-150 line’s styling leaves me wanting more. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing bad about it. It’s just not head-turning in any way – if I saw an F-150 driving by, I wouldn’t be looking after it regardless of the trim package on it. I guess it’s ho-hum for me. The front grille is bright with chrome-colored plastic and grabs your attention. Unfortunately, when the hood was open, I found the vertical part of the grille to be the only thing I could reach to hold on to and bring the hood back down, and the plastic grille felt very flimsy when I was pulling the hood down with it. The front end also has a nicely-styled air dam, and 2 meaty tow hooks underneath.
There are four doors, but the cab doesn’t seem overly big from the outside – which is nice. What surprised me was the exceptional amount of room inside the cab, which I’ll get to in a moment. Other things that caught my attention, exterior-wise? Well the wheels are very nice, and shod with excellent Pirelli Scorpion tires that didn’t disappoint during any driving I threw at it. Also, I wish manufacturers would find a way (as if it’s not possible!) to finally, once and for all, get rid of the ridiculous traditional whip antenna. This truck has one on the fender, where they’ve been for a 1000 years. It also has a little plastic bump/dome on the roof, which I’m guessing incorporates the satellite antenna for radio and navigation.
The box is a sanctuary of utility, in part due to the more than 3000 pound payload capacity. When your tailgate is flipped down, you can slide out a flip-down step, as well as fold up a handle – this seems silly at first, but makes more sense than many other “innovations” I’ve seen in the past. It makes stepping up into the box a breeze, and my 70+ year-old dad jumped up there like it was a Viagra ad. It makes a difference, and it’s something you wouldn’t want to be without once you’ve used it.
To make the short box a more useful place, there are excellent bed extenders. They are made of nice solid hard plastic – they fold and pivot to the sides of the box and out of the way, and when in use, they make a usable extension of the box with the tailgate down.
When it comes to the interior of the F-150, I can honestly say it is a very pleasant place to be – and that applies to any of the five seats in the house. The interior is very roomy, regardless of where you’re sitting. The dash and door materials are visually appealing, although the dash is constructed of a hard plastic that doesn’t have any kind of give or pleasant texture to it. Strangely, and this might be a Platinum trim thing, the eyebrow dash over the gauge cluster has a soft, faux-leather vinyl covering with nice stitching. There are inserts throughout the interior made up of a glossy black-ish faux wood with a faint grey grain to it. It looks pretty, but both it and the hard plastics throughout collected plenty of dust within that week. There are also nice brushed aluminum-looking accents and trim bits throughout. This may be optional, but this sample was equipped with a very thick, ribbed rubber matting throughout that would be excellent in all four seasons and provided great cushioning underfoot. There is a great ambient lighting system that Ford has been going with, and the F-150 is no exception. There are lights throughout the cabin throwing a glow of color into certain areas of the footwells – you can change the color of the ambient lighting, choosing between about 6 colors. My kids loved this!
The seats are very comfortable, and I’m certain would make great butt-buckets for longer road trips. The leather on this truck was a great-looking and feeling brown leather, with the PLATINUM logo stitched into the seatbacks. The front seats are power-adjustable, and the driver’s seat has two memory positions. The front seats are heated and cooled, controlled by 3-position buttons on the lower console stack, and both have excellent amounts of knee and leg room. The left and right rear seats are heated as well – I guess if you’re the middle child (in terms of the back row), you got screwed over again. I could wax poetic about the front seats, but these days, at this price range, you expect great seats in the front. And you get that. It’s the rear seating that I was really enamored with.
If you’ve followed recent developments in my life, you might know that I have to evaluate vehicles in terms of family friendliness now, and had to give up a favorite vehicle because of a lacking rear seating area. So this is a really big deal to me. The rear bench is a very expansive place, with seating for three adults – meaning we were easily able to get all three of our kids in there, with their assortment of child seats. With room to spare. The seatbelts are well thought-out and placed. The legroom is shocking – we had all three kids in there and they had plenty of legroom, and we still put a row of grocery bags in front of their feet. I would consider it a very pleasant place to spend time, even on a road trip.
The rear seats split 1/3 – 2/3 – and can easily and individually be flipped up and out of the way, creating a massive cargo area. The middle seatback can flip down to become an armrest for 2 back passengers. Other than the seating, there is little to keep back passengers occupied. There is a ceiling light, a couple of air vents and cup holders on the back of the of the centre console, and a 110-plug (a fantastic idea that should be included on every vehicle!) and a 12 volt plug. There is some nice ambient lighting back there as well.
Okay, let’s head back to the front. The driver’s seat is a great place to be in the F-150. There is a nice set of traditional gauges, and in the middle of the main two gauges you’ll find something that Ford has become rather fond of, which is a 4.2″ LCD screen that serves as an excellent information center. But first, when you fire the truck up, it plays a quick “Built Ford Tough” video, to remind you of how awesome your truck is. Cheesy? Maybe. Infinitely entertaining? Definitely. I’ll admit it – I started the truck a whole bunch of times to show that off to admiring onlookers. The information center serves up whatever you need to know in terms of fuel economy, trip computers and even details on your towing situation if that’s applicable. I wanted to mention that I loved one of the fuel economy options on the screen – it showed your instant mileage with a moving bar graph, and a line crossed the bar graph to indicate your average mileage, which it also showed in numerical form. Very useful. You can see it in the picture below. All the functions on the screen are accessed by steering wheel buttons.
In the centre of the dash, you’ll find a large touch-screen which is run by a slightly stripped-down version of the MyFord system I’ve used in the Ford Explorer. I’ve detailed my feelings on the MyFord system in other reviews, and won’t go over them again. Suffice it to say that, although the system is incredible in its depth and breadth, it isn’t for me. I prefer some traditional buttons – for ease of use, tactile response, and frankly that’s just how my brain works. The system in the F-150 was excellent! The screen can be viewed in a “Home” mode, which will split the screen three ways – the left half is for navigation, and the right half is split in half again, displaying media/stereo information and climate control information. Touching any of the three screen partitions will make that particular area take over the whole screen, and will give you further options and controls. You can also control your phone and sound options through this screen. Although this SYNC system would be considered a reduced offering versus the MyFord juggernaut, I much preferred its simplicity and functionality and the ability to quickly access certain things with physical buttons, instead of being forced to dig through layers of menus to get to my seat-heater settings. Bravo on this one, Ford!
The stereo is a Sony-branded system – I’m not sure how many speakers it has, but it sounded good. Full sound, with a little subwoofer under the right rear seat. There are exposed USB and auxiliary plugs at the bottom of the center stack to plug in media devices.
Further conveniences include a nice tilting and sliding sunroof, and a power-activated rear center window – hold the switch and it slides over. Endless fun for the kids. Also, the rear side windows are powered. Endless fun for the kids. Not so much for the parents. There is a 3-button HomeLink transmitter to program in your garage door openers. The side-view mirrors are power-folding, which is more a necessity than a convenience when it comes to parking this behemoth. There is a big 12 volt plug with a swing-away door front and center on the dash. Convenient, but almost too prominent. You’ll also get a remote starter built into the key FOB.
The center console is huge and very usable. It includes clips on the inside of the lip – for a cell phone, a media player and pens, and there is a sliding tray on the top of the bin. You’ll find a good amount of storage throughout the cabin, including door pockets (front and back) and cupholders aplenty – 2 in the front and 2 in the back of the center console, and 1 in each of the four doors. One detail I appreciated was that every little nook and cranny Ford defines as storage space had a little removable rubberized mat on the bottom, helping keep your things quiet and in their place.
When it comes to safety, there is a full complement of airbags in the truck. And that’s about it. There was no blind-spot monitoring system as far as I could see. More of a necessity than a performance or safety feature is the back-up camera – complete with audible distance warnings – which pops up on the screen when you put the truck into reverse. Unfortunately, especially in light of this vehicle’s size, there are no moving trajectory lines on the back-up view.
Final note on convenience features – this truck has deployable, motorized running boards. This isn’t a brand-new innovation, but I have to say they work very well, and they are the coolest thing. Plenty of onlookers would notice them silently move down in subservience to their masters, allowing themselves to be stepped on, and then retract back into the body without a complaint. People always smiled and appreciated the coolness factor, as well as the convenience. Here’s a video of the running board action.
So, what’s it like to drive? Well it’s a truck. Somehow, we still haven’t moved forward from axles and leaf springs – and I suppose until there’s a real innovation there, it’s the price we have to pay to have the ability to tow and to put 3000+ pounds of cargo in the back. The ride was compliant, but as any truck with leaf springs is, got unsettled on washboards, rough corners, etc. For normal road irregularities, such as potholes and dips, the suspension was great – it soaked it all up. The truck, considering its heft, handles very well and inspired confidence to pick up the pace. The steering is highly boosted, and therefore quite numb, but for this purpose, that’s fine and it makes for easier low speed maneuvering – parking, once you get over the sheer size of this beast, is relatively non-eventful and even the turning circle was very good. Acceleration is great, and I think this would keep up to any base V8 on the market – I’d estimate the 0-60 mph sprint to take about 7 or 7.5 seconds. That’s great for a truck. The nice thing is that low-end torque – if the truck stays in the lower gears and you’re stepping on it, the torque almost feels as linear as a diesel engine’s.
In terms of towing, I think this would be a capable and competitive truck. I did not tow anything, but the towing rig includes a nice hidden hitch receiver and both standard trailer plug outlets. You’ll find a trailer brake booster control on the lower part of the dash, nicely integrated. The truck has a built-in anti-sway control system as well, where it will pulse the rear brakes separately to control any sway it senses happening.
I also didn’t do any off-road driving, but there is a standard 2 Hi, 4 Hi and 4 Lo knob on the dash, allowing you to control where the torque goes when you need to add extra traction. The suspension, transmission and gutsy low-end torque monster under the hood all make me believe this would be a capable off-road machine when called upon.
As with any vehicle, I do have a couple of issues. The headrests on the rear seats are enormous. I’m certain that the Jack-In-The-Box guy’s head would be well-protected from whiplash if he were in there, but the size of these things creates a big problem in terms of rearward vision. Looking out the back while using the rear-view mirror is an exercise in looking around headrests. On that note, the passenger headrest is huge too, and maybe it’s just me, but I had a tough time shoulder checking to the right, without staring at the passenger headrest. The exhaust has a clamped-on chrome tip – I have always felt this looks added-on. You can see that it’s just an added exhaust tip from a mile away, especially when the clamp is highly visible. That’s another thing that truck manufacturers should work on – making exhaust tips look good. I suppose that easier said than done when the last 2-3 feet of the pipe are exposed and visible. Lastly, I was put off that this truck has normal headlights – not HID ones. I felt that, at this price, it should have them. It should look expensive, when it IS this expensive, and HID lights make vehicles look deluxe. Finally, the V-6, with all its impressive torque and driveability, still sounds like a turd. I haven’t heard a V-6 that I’ve liked yet, and this is no exception – it puts out a rather flat, lame sound. I know that doesn’t make or break a vehicle, but I do love the rumble that V-8s put into our hands. I guess it’s the price we pay for the progress we’ve made.
One last point – I’m sure it’s not a reflection on the typical truck driver, but Ford sees fit to equip the F-150 with a true-blue, real-life cigarette lighter. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was in a vehicle with a lighter. The hilarity continues as you find one of the rear cupholders occupied by a portable ashtray with a hinged lid. It’s designed to be taken out and will fit into any of the cupholders for your smoking convenience. Maybe it IS a reflection on truck drivers – do they smoke more than us mere mortals do?
I truly enjoyed my time with the F-150. I’m certain the Platinum trim level helped, and certainly the Ecoboost engine made a difference. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this as a serious consideration if you’re in the market for a half-ton truck. Keep in mind that it can get pricey, and if you can do without some of the toys and the nice trim, you can save significant dollars. Either way, I’d say the F-150 is deserving of its best-selling truck title. I’m not a truck driver – never have been and probably never will be. Heck, this Miss Piggy doesn’t even fit in my garage. But if I were looking for a truck, I’d give this one serious consideration and I give it an 8 out of 10. WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was quite high – it’s a classy truck, and it worked great for our family.
That’s about it – feel free to ask any questions you might have.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Ford.
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