Marketing executives within the truck industry have told us they have identified a large segment of truck buyers they refer to as "never nevers." These are truck buyers who want trucks for the image, they have no intention of ever towing, hauling or doing any offroading. Simply put, they will never use their truck for any of the things it was built for. This doesn't make us mad, just disappointed.
We had a pair of F-150s for our Truck of the Year testing that represent two of the more popular trim levels: a Platinum Edition EcoBoost and an XLT 5.0-liter V-8. New for this year, but not on hand, are Ford's entry-level 302-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 and the range-topping 411-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 from the Raptor now available in the Lariat, Platinum, and Harley Davidson Editions.
We extensively tested all four engine options early this year, including strapping each one down to a chassis dyno, so we're very familiar with power levels and delivery of the entire lineup.
The testers who drove the 5.0-liter first were bigger fans, at least until they drove the ecoboost.
The EcoBoost is the obvious orange in the apple crate here. Ford's throwing a gasoline direct-injection, twin-turbo-fed V-6 under the hood of a full-size truck is almost enough to knock the earth off its axis. What's even more shocking is that an engine that looks like it would be at home mid-mounted in a sports car is actually better than any of the eight-piston offerings in maybe any company's lineup. It clearly checks the box for Engineering Excellence, one of the key criteria for any Of The Year competitor. Truck Trend editor Allyson Harwood noted, "On the road, the EcoBoost makes the 5.0-liter look like obsolete technology. The twin-turbo V-6 is incredibly quick and eager, power is abundant throughout the rpm range, and I didn't really notice any lag."
All our testers had similar remarks, and for good reason. The EcoBoost delivers more torque to the ground than the big 6.2-liter up to roughly 5000 rpm and more than the 5.0-liter all the way up to 6000. In loaded, towing, and uphill testing, several judges noted how hard the 5.0-liter was working. "Power seems opposite of where you want it in a truck" to "had to keep the throttle mashed while the transmission hunted" were typical comments.
To be fair, the testers who drove the 5.0-liter first were bigger fans, at least until they drove the EcoBoost. "Moved over a half-ton with ease at very impressive NVH levels," logged Lieberman, adding that the V-8 sounds "good and burbly." Kiino loved the "musclecar engine note" and wondered if this is the "boss of trucks." The V-8 is obviously still a good engine, but it's overshadowed by a great engine. This is often the problem with advancement: People don't know what they've always wanted until after they've experienced it.
It seems as though Ford's big marketing push with the EcoBoost is centered on fuel economy. During our testing, the EcoBoost turned in almost identical numbers to the 5.0-liter V-8. Most consumers will look at that and think there isn't really an advantage to buying the slightly more expensive twin-turbo V-6 if the efficiency benefits prove negligible. Were the performance between the two the same, we'd agree, but the smaller engine's performance is closer to the 6.2-liter V-8's. If they could just make it sound like a V-8, everyone would be happy.
Regardless of the drivetrain, the judges were unanimously impressed with the F-150's ability to earn its keep. In towing or hauling, the consensus was both trucks only got better the harder they were working. "It rides even better at 80 mph with a payload than without. It carries out its business like there's nothing there," wrote Jurnecka. "As nice as the ride was unloaded, it got even better loaded," agreed Harwood.
Even in handling tests, the F-150 feels more planted and better balanced with a payload in the bed. Some trucks feel as though the load is trying to peel the truck off the asphalt and roll it over, but in fast turns, the F-150 is still using both rear tires to put power down. We aren't delusional about how people will use these trucks; no one is buying one as a sports car. However, our performance driving translates directly to how an F-150 will handle in emergency situations. We'd be confident to throw one of these, even loaded, through an emergency lane change.
Ford tells us there are roughly 650,000 different ways to equip an F-150, including engines, cabs, beds, wheelbases, and assorted options, but not paint color. The moral of the story is, if you're seeking a truck and can't spec out an F-150 to suit your needs, you may want to look into buying your own personal freight train. Our judges found the XLT a more honest approach to trucks, with Kiino calling it "clean and functional." Jurnecka referred to it as "cheap, but palatable with the reduced MSRP." The V-8 XLT comes in at $38,745, which was considered about right for a work truck and seemed like a steal compared with the $50,115 Platinum Edition EcoBoost.
Ford insists it gets crossover customers from some of the luxury brands who tell them the interior is nicer in their F-150 than in the sport sedan they traded in. While that might be a stretch, we agree the Platinum is certainly nicer than the standard truck, although we'd still go for something more utilitarian.
Both the SuperCrew and SuperCab body styles offer plenty of room in front and back. The Platinum's front seats are bisected by a center console with enough storage for files, a large lunch, or even a medium-size pet. The shifter is console-mounted, which a few judges found un-truck-like. Others more accustomed to cars deemed it sporty and familiar. The XLT retains the traditional column shifter with a bench seat in front and a folding center backrest with cupholders. Clearly, Ford's marketing department has missed a golden opportunity for yet another acronym with this feature. We'd have called it the Storage On Demand Active Center Accessory and Nutrition Holder, or SODACAN Holder for short. Yeah, Ford, that one is free.
Storage cubbies abound throughout the interior, along with such other thoughtful design touches as extra power outlets and wide-opening doors. We still have mixed feelings about Ford's Sync system, but it seems to be evolving into something more useable than the first iteration. The new gauge cluster features a 4.2-inch driver productivity display for monitoring fuel economy, towing, and off-road driving data.
Platinum and XLT front-seat configura-tions offer plenty of space for two or three passengers, and all the judges, who range in height from under 5-to 6- feet, were able to find a comfortable seating position with good visibility. Both cabs offer three-across seating on the rear bench with fold-up seat bottoms for a huge amount of storage inside the SuperCrew.
Entry and exit are relatively easy, though still require a step on the runningboard or a good pull on the steering wheel or O.S. handle for passengers. Which brings us to one of the few ergonomic complaints with either truck. The Platinum edition includes power runningboards that swing out when the door is opened. Just about every judge complained of bruised shins, as the boards pop out during the roundhouse leg kick up and into the truck. Yes, the runningboards are electronically defeatable, but why have them if they just stay tucked up under the body?
It was hard finding fault with design elements or overall execution of any of the F-150s. Several judges remarked that, were they in the market, the EcoBoost F-150 SuperCrew would be their choice, hands-down. The more utilitarian XLT or even something like an FX2 or FX4 trim level would likely be chosen for value over something like the Platinum Edition. Besides the 10 trim levels, Ford offers four engine choices: three that represent solid traditional options, with the EcoBoost truly a step forward in performance. The two transmission choices are six-speed automatics with the higher-end option offering select-shift manual modes. We all agreed the F-150s are built to work and felt better the more they were challenged.
Ford offers an enormous variety of configurations and designs, making the truck tailorable to just about any need. It's the combination of advancement in design, engineering excellence, efficiency, safety, value, and the performance of intended function that has earned the Ford F-150 the title of Motor Trend's Truck of the Year.