New engines make the F-150 better than ever
For 33 years, the Ford F Series has been the best selling full-size pickup. At several points during that time, it could be argued that there were better trucks offered by other automakers. But the F-150 was redesigned for the 2009 model year, adding capability and refinement that the competition couldn't match. For 2011, the F Series gets a whole new engine lineup, improving both power and fuel economy. Now, there is no argument. Not only is the Ford F Series the best full-size truck available today, it is the best pickup ever offered.
Photos courtesy of Ford
Ford offers a cab, bed length and trim level for every purpose, from the most basic work truck to the most rugged off-roader to a plush six-passenger pickup that you could take to the opera. Cab sizes consist of two- or three-passenger regular cab, five-six passenger SuperCab with rear access doors, and five-six passenger SuperCrew with four full-size doors. Bed lengths are 5.5, 6.5 and 8 feet.
The model lineup starts with the simple and basic XL and progresses through STX, XLT, FX/2/FX4, to the upper-end Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, Lariat Limited, Harley-Davidson and off-road race ready, SVT Raptor. The XL offers no frills, coming with vinyl floor covering and vinyl upholstery, crank windows and manual locks on regular cab and SuperCab bodystyles, and steel wheels. More amenities are added as you move up the line including (for the Lariat) dual-zone automatic climate control, power adjustable pedals, leather upholstery, power front seats, Sirius satellite radio, Sync entertainment system, power sliding rear window, towing package, Productivity Screen and 18-inch wheels.
All models come with the following safety features: dual front airbags, front side airbags, curtain side airbags, a tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control.
The big news for 2011 is an entirely new engine lineup that offers more power across the board and up to 20 percent better fuel economy. The base engine-standard in XL, STX and XLT models-is a 3.7-liter V6 producing 302 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Ford's new 5.0-liter V8 (also found in the Mustang) is standard in FX2/FX4, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum, and optional in XL, STX and XLT. Horsepower comes in at 360 and torque is 380 pound-feet. The high-end Lariat Limited, Harley-Davidson and Raptor models come with Ford's new 6.2-liter V8, which cranks out 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque. Lariat customers can order the 6.2 as an option.
All engines come with a six-speed automatic transmission. It offers manual shift capability and, for towing purposes, the ability to lock out up to the top four gears.
Starting in early 2011, and offered as a $750 premium over the 5.0-liter V8, the 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 provides more power and better fuel economy. In our opinion, the EcoBoost is the best engine offered in a full-size, half-ton pickup. Thanks to direct injection, it provides immediate grunt with no detectable turbo lag. Still, power comes on strongest over 4000 rpm, and passing is a breeze after a short pause for a downshift. Improved midrange response helps make an EcoBoost-powered F-150 quicker than the 5.0- and even the 6.2-liter V8s. Zero to 60 mph comes about a half second quicker than the 6.2 and a whole second quicker than the 5.0. In our test, the EcoBoost also performed well while towing. It had plenty of low-end torque to get the trailer moving and enough response across the rev range to keep up with traffic and get up to speed for highway merging. Fast, efficient and capable, the EcoBoost is more than worth its $750 upcharge.#7. The other F-150 engines aren't bad either
Ford's 3.7-liter V6 replaces last year's 4.6-liter two-valve V8 as the new base engine. At Ford's product launch, we found the V6 to be satisfyingly strong for most light-duty needs, and quicker than GM's 4.8-liter V8. However, it is a bit lacking at low rpms and it gets awfully gruff at high rpms, where it makes its best power.
The new 5.0-liter V8 is far better than the 4.6-liter three-valve V8 it replaces. It has the low-end torque the V6 lacks as well as improved midrange passing response. We also found it to be comparable in performance to the Ram's 5.7-liter Hemi V8. It makes a classic American rumble, builds revs nicely, and provides as much or more towing capacity than all competitors.
The 6.2-liter V8 that comes standard in higher line models is a torquey beast. It doesn't rev as freely as the EcoBoost V6, so it doesn't build speed as quickly.
Engine for engine, the F-150 is the market leader in capability. The 3.7-liter V6 can tow up to 6100 pounds and haul up to 1900 pounds of payload. The nearest competitor's V6 can pull up to 5400 pounds. The 5.0-liter V8 can pull a trailer weighing up to 10,000 pounds and carry up to 3060 pounds of payload. Surprisingly, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 is even brawnier. It can pull a class-leading 11,300 pounds while carrying the same 3060 pounds of payload as the 5.0. The 6.2-liter V8 matches the EcoBoost's towing, but can haul only 1770 pounds due to lack of proper package and cab offerings.
Ford also offers two four-wheel-drive systems. Both come with low-range gearing that will help the F-150 get through rough terrain. The base system works part time and should not be engaged on dry pavement. A full-time system is offered for higher line models that can be used on dry pavement.
Ford's new electric assist power steering (EPAS) is excellent. This system provides lots of assist at low speeds to make the truck more agile in parking lots and less assist at high speeds to increase highway stability. It also compensates for the crown of the road, so drivers don't have to make as many little adjustments when driving in a straight line. We were impressed with the natural feel of the steering. It's fairly quick for a pickup, direct, and provides excellent feedback. No other pickup steering compares. Plus, by eliminating the hydraulic components, the steering system creates less drag on the engine, resulting in a fuel economy improvement as high as four or five percent.#4. The Ford F-150 is more controllable than most other pickups
Today's full-size pickups are big, cumbersome vehicles that are hard to maneuver. However, among these big beasts, the F-150 is among the most controllable. The F-150 feel is more stable on the road and exhibits less lean in turns than most competitors. Braking is also more linear and inspires more confidence than the competition, especially the GM pickups. The F-150's ride is fairly comfortable, though like other trucks, it is susceptible to bounding and jiggling on bumpy roads. The RAM 1500, with its coil spring rear suspension, does a better job of quelling those motions, but the tradeoff is less towing and hauling capability.#3. Interior ambiance in the 2011 F-150 runs from basic to luxurious
The F-150's interior is comparable to that of the Ram 1500 and more refined that the rest of the competition. It is among the quieter trucks on the road, and while it uses quite a few plastics, they look good and fit together well. We'd like a few more soft-touch surfaces in areas that drivers touch, especially on the door tops.
Most noteworthy is the 4.2-inch Productivity Screen, which is standard on Lariat and above, provides some interesting and useful information. Located in the gauge cluster, this screen can be used to control gauge settings, display trip computer and fuel economy readouts, and provide information about the physical state of the vehicle. Off-roaders will like the displays that show four-wheel-drive power distribution; pitch, steering and roll angles; and grade angles. We also found many of these displays to be interesting on paved roads during towing and normal driving. The Productivity Screen is a helpful element that other manufacturers don't offer.
The SVT Raptor is built to handle the rigors of off-roading. It has a unique body that is eight inches wider than a standard F-150's, with wider fenders and pronounced black fender flares. Underneath, the track is seven inches wider, and the front suspension has new upper and lower A arms, tie rods, and half-shaft joints. It also boast special shocks that become stiffer as they travel to prevent the truck from bottoming out. Compared to the FX4 model, suspension travel is improved by 3.2 inches up front, for a total of 11.2 inches, and 1.4 inches in the rear, for a total of 13.4 inches. Tires are 35-inch diameter BFGoodrich All-Terrain TA/KOs.
The SVT Raptor has Ford's full-time four-wheel-drive system, but it adds a driver-selectable electronic locking rear differential. Ford says the differential doesn't disengage at higher speeds to help the truck get through sand. Hill descent control is standard. Also standard is a driver activated off-road mode that modifies throttle mapping and the transmission shift schedule to improve off-road performance. For additional capability, the interior features four prewired switches for aftermarket electrical accessories such as winches and extra lights. If you want a ready-made off-roader that looks cool and is still fairly comfortable on the street, the Raptor fits the bill.
If you're in the market for a full-size pickup, the Ford F-150 should be at the top of your list. Since it was released, this generation of the F-150 has topped the class in capability and been at or near the top in refinement. A wide array of models also means there is a truck offered to fit your needs. With its new engine lineup, the F-150 now offers class-leading power and fuel economy at every step. In our view, the 3.5-liter V6 is actually the best truck engine on the market this side of a heavy duty truck's diesel. For all those reasons, Ford won't have to worry about losing its 33-year stranglehold on the full-size pickup sales race.