On the Road Review: Ford F-150 Ecoboost XLT

The competition inherent in capitalism — always striving to build a better mousetrap — has brought us to the current elevated status of today’s pickup truck class. Where once these were workmen-like vehicles for ranchers and tradespeople — with very basic accommodations — the pickup trucks we find in showrooms today are vastly improved.

Of course, the public has “demanded” some of these enhancements. Yet the automakers’ role in providing near luxury-class accoutrements and features in vehicles that still use traditional ladder-style steel frames and leaf spring rear suspensions is impressive to witness. Today’s trucks — no matter which brand you favor — have become incredibly competent multipurpose tools to fit the active lifestyles of American users.

For decades, the pickup sales battles were populated by just four brands — Ford, Chevy, GMC and Dodge. Nissan entered the full-size segment in 2004 with the Titan, a truck that brought enhanced handling and steering dynamics to the class. Toyota made the leap to a true full-size pickup in 2007, with the third generation Tundra. The Tundra proved that dependability and stout performance could reign in the segment, as all trucks were getting markedly better each year. Although the Titan and the Tundra have been marginal sellers in a segment over 2 million vehicles strong each year, they have made an impact.

All of which leads to the latest Ford F-150, a truck that now features an aluminum-intensive body, atop a steel frame, in an effort to shed excess pounds. The Ford was the previous heavyweight among half-ton pickups, tonnage that affects mileage, performance and payload. By shedding 700 pounds (Ford claims), the F-150 is now comparable to the Chevy/GMC trucks in total girth. Our sample XLT Crew Cab still tips the scales at 5,500 pounds.

As part of the overall effort to be more efficient, Ford has also gone all-in on turbocharged engine power. The latest F-150 lineup, with regular cab, SuperCab and SuperCrew cab configurations, features four engines across the board. Base power is a 282-hp 3.5-liter V-6 engine ($26,315 in a 2WD regular cab). Next up is a new 2.7-liter Ecoboost V-6 spinning out 325 hp, while the Ecoboost 3.5-liter engine makes a strong 365 hp and 420 pound/feet of peak torque. This motor will be the “performance engine” in the lineup, and is used exclusively in the new Expedition as well as the Lincoln sibling.

At the top of the scale is the traditional V-8 motor, the same 5.0-liter engine used in the Mustang GT — the 5.4-liter V-8 is gone. In the F-series, it will produce 385 hp but have less torque than the Ecoboost V-6 — 387 pound/feet. All engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, while electric shift 4WD is available across the board. Ford is also working on a new 10-speed truck automatic transmission along with GM.

There are now six trim levels, stretching from workman-like XL, to top-selling XLT ($31,615) and Lariat ($39,660), to King Ranch, Platinum and new Limited, $58,580.

Along with revised chassis settings, including a stronger double-wishbone front suspension, the latest F-150 has greater steering feel, a better ride, plus enhanced road manners. The newest F-150 also has maximum payload capabilities (up to 3,270 pounds) as well as the ability to pull up to 12,200 pounds of trailer when properly equipped. These numbers were once the provenance of heavy-duty pickups.

Many readers will wonder how does a V-6 engine make that much power in a full-size pickup — and how does it all work? The Ecoboost engine is a seamless partner. It never feels ruffled, even with your foot planted in the firewall. The Ecoboost engine spins out smooth, quick power with ample torque just a toe-tickle away. In our 1,100 miles together, in all sorts of driving conditions, the Ford was often traveling at 10-15-mph over the recommended pace and you just don’t sense it — the truck is that composed, that quiet, that efficient.

Ford has made a big deal out of the Ecoboost engine’s ability to deliver great power and elevated fuel economy. In the spring, we saw some of this potential in a 2.7-liter Ecoboost SuperCab sample, but the truck was very new and still quite “tight.” Our attractive Ruby Red Metallic SuperCrew rolled into town with over 16,000 miles on the odometer, so this truck was well broken in. The multiple fill-ups reflected the potential, and the on-board trip computer — part of a comprehensive center-cluster information panel that is excellent — illustrated how good the mileage could be, with throttle restraint.

On days when it was calm, sunny and mild, with speeds in the 50-60-mph range over relatively level surfaces (the EPA testing scheme), the Ford’s trip computer showed up to 25 mpg for miles on end. However, throw in some commuting duty, some hurried highway travel, and over 30 miles of rutted dirt road exploring, and our net average for the week dropped to a still very good 19.5 mpg.

At the working end of the F-150, our SuperCrew carried a 5.5-foot pickup bed atop a 145-inch wheelbase. You can opt for a 6.5-foot bed and still get the four full-size doors, but there is no 8-foot bed available with the SuperCrew. Lacking any kind of bedliner, the Ford did have multiple anchor points, including some locking cleats, plus there are now LED lites available inside the bed-walls. The tailgate, a heavy item, now sports the slide-out step and handle familiar to HD truck buyers. The step is handy — along with the pole handle — for climbing into the rear of the Ford, but it does require multiple hand actions to implement where as the GM pickups employ a simple step in the bumper that requires no hardware deployment acts.

Inside, however, is where the Ford makes a bigger statement. The front doors have the cut-down styling at the front that allow the mirrors to be mounted lower — so occupants can see over them. Several passengers commented on this. The new textile upholstery is supportive — and far superior to leather in my mind, especially when the heating elements were necessary in the autumn crispness. Controls are logical, convenient and even MyFord Touch is becoming more intuitive to use. Power outlets, including a 110-socket, as well as input ports abound.

In the rear, the bench seat splits to fold and then reveals a flat load deck that is expansive. Legroom is ample here, the view is excellent, and a sliding power rear window lets the operator vent the cabin on sunny days when A/C just isn’t necessary. The cabin is hushed at all road speeds.

Our SuperCrew featured the huge center console that is popular in new pickups. Cavernous, to a fault, the console has slots for road gear and beverages plus it houses a huge shifter, with manual action, for the automatic. Several riders commented on the girth of the console and how it divides the cabin. A column-mounted shifter and the flip-down console option provides six-passenger flexibility and greater interior space.

Favorites from the Ford include the smooth power from the Ecoboost engine, the quiet ride, the revised instrument panels and the plethora of information available, plus the subtle pieces of the fabric heated seats and the power sliding rear window. Adorned with 20-inch wheels, the Ford also looked “right.” These larger wheels used to exact a ride penalty; even with the FX4 off-road chassis, the Ford did not raise any concerns about drivability. In fact, I was saddened to see the Ford leave.

Your next truck, my next truck, will have more content than your current pickup. From the Ford’s new safety features — a Five Star Crash rating — to new engine options, our next trucks will continue to push the envelope no matter if you prefer a Bow-tie up front, a Blue-Oval or a Ram-head. As consumers, we all benefit from this constant competition, this effort to beat the other guys.


Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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