For years, we have been hearing about what might be coming with the next-generation Ford F-150, and after that long wait, the veil has been lifted. And it turns out the rumors were surprisingly accurate: both the truck’s bed and cab will be made almost entirely of various grades of aluminum. However, that does not carry through to the frame, which is still made of steel. And while towing and payload capacities weren’t yet announced, you can expect that both will increase by roughly the same amount of the savings in body mass, said to be “up to 700 pounds.”
As you would expect, it’s that change from a steel body to an aluminum one that accounts for most of the weight loss -- 70 percent of it -- but when it comes to what cab layout benefits most, it depends on which ones were heavier to start with. We anticipate that the short bed SuperCrew, which is also the highest volume F-150, will lose close to 700 pounds; the longbed may lose more. With a regular cab and a short bed, weight savings might be closer to 500 pounds as a guess. And while most of the body sheetmetal is aluminum, there is one component in the body that isn’t: that’s the laminated Quiet Steel sound-absorbing firewall. Aluminum didn’t do as well at isolating engine noise.
Ford hasn’t released detailed information about the specific alloys that it is using in the F-150’s body, but we understand that the ones the company has chosen are the same as those that are used in aerospace applications, as well as in military HMMWVs. The engineering team assisted with the development of the original aluminum Jaguar XJ, which is where they first learned hands-on about aluminum in vehicles. According to Ford, aluminum will resist dents better than steel does, and hence it shouldn’t cost significantly more to repair, so insurance shouldn’t be substantially costlier, either.
By increasing the percentage of high- and ultra-high-strength steel alloys that were used in the chassis, up from 23 to 77 percent, roughly 70 pounds of weight was saved in the chassis alone. The ultra-high-strength steel alloys are up to 70,000-psi tensile strength. These alloys are said to outperform standard steel in terms of overall rigidity.
While use of aluminum in the body contributes about 70 percent of the F-150’s weight savings, other changes contributed as well. One notable example is the use of a lighter transfer case. But since capability cannot be compromised or reduced, even though the truck weighs less, Ford couldn’t make as many components lighter-weight as you could in a passenger car. As an example, the brakes still have to be prepared to stop the same mass, as the truck as designed to carry a significant amount of gear. But when the truck is empty -- when it isn’t towing or hauling -- the changes will save fuel.
But that’s not all the big news about the new F-150. While there are still four engines being offered, and all four will be backed by six-speed automatic transmissions, the lineup has been rejiggered. The base engine, which had been the 3.7-liter TiVCT V-6 (it currently accounts for 15 percent of F-150 sales), will be downsized to 3.5 liters, yet is said to outperform the 3.7 in every way. Next is a brand-new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, and according to it Ford isn’t related to the 3.5-liter engine. This engine features a compacted-graphite iron block, which is light but tough, and the engine is optimized for high fuel economy. The 2.7-liter is designed for buyers who won’t need to tow 8000 pounds. The well-known 5.0-liter V-8 returns, and the new king of the hill is the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. So those fans of the 6.2-liter V-8 better get to your local Ford dealership, as that engine will no longer be a part of the lineup. Ford hasn’t announced output ratings yet. Ford also says that it will start rating its trucks’ towing capacities according to the SAE J2807 standard, which was recently revised. You can expect Ram Truck and GM will also follow suit.
Even though the new 2.7-liter isn’t designed for heavy hauling, it has certainly been tested in extreme conditions: Ford put it through a trial-by-fire durability test in the 2013 Baja 1000 race. It was mounted in a prototype body that ran with the 2015 frame and all aluminum body -- which was stamped to look like the 2013 pickup. The truck survived the race without issue, and afterward the team installed a Plexiglas windshield and drove it home.
Those who were hoping the new F-150 would look like last year’s Atlas concept will be happy, as the production truck stays somewhat faithful to the concept. The truck keeps the basic shapes of the grille and headlights, and the top models will get LED headlights (a segment first) that use a single LED and “ice cube” optics for each of the low and high beams. There will be LED signature light pipes that will visually differentiate the upper-trim-level F-150s. While the “double-bubble” roof is gone, the “roof tongue” of sheetmetal, the piece that extends down above the rear-view mirror remains. Outboard sections of the windshield now extend farther up, improving visibility. Also aiding visibility, the lower side window beltline is now an inch lower, the drop-down notch in the front window beltline is 2 inches lower, and the front edge of the side window extends forward nearly 4 inches. To aid in aerodynamics, the base of the windshield was moved forward for more rake, the rear glass is now flush mounted, there will be grille shutters on all models and a deeper front airdam, and there is a 6-inch ridge on top of the tailgate that helps separate airflow.
Thanks to that new feature on the tailgate, Ford engineers had the opportunity to make some changes to the tailgate step. For 2015, the optional step can deploy with one hand in one motion, without having to make a second move to unfold the step. In addition, the railing telescopes out and pivots up, and stows in the tailgate when not in use. This means you can now more comfortably sit on the tailgate, and dirt and materials won’t get caught in the crevices. Making things even more convenient is that the tailgate can now be opened with the push of a button on the key fob. (That’s another first in the segment.) The button doesn’t close the tailgate, however.
The innovative new BoxLink system of four mounting points can accept tie-down cleats midway up the bed wall. That is often an easier spot for using tie-downs than at the corners of the bed floor. The cleats are removable, and a set of telescoping motorcycle or ATV ramps can attach there. Since the 2015 F-150’s truck bed uses a bed with an upper lip that’s about an inch lower, it’ll be easier to reach in to grab gear. Also, bedside steps will be available, even on short beds. There are LED spotlights to light the bed, but these seem inferior to GM’s under-rail rope lighting. And the aluminum construction means the entire box is considerably more dent-resistant.
Plenty was done to the cabin as well. The front seats were moved out 0.8 inch, allowing the center console to be 1.6 inches wider. There are more features too, such as a 400-watt, 110-volt plug, and slots for two USB and one SD-card. All F-150s benefit from high-definition color screens in the instrument cluster and on the dash (4-inch ones on the lower models, and ones that are twice that size on higher models). The pickup has been set up with cameras all around, for 360-degree around-view monitoring and 180-degree forward visibility for when you need to see while inching forward out of a blind alley.
Other cool features include lane-keeping assist, forward collision mitigation, blind-spot monitoring radar, plus self-parking and a panoramic sunroof, both of which are segment firsts. Ford even gave the SuperCab some love, designing the rear “suicide” doors to open 170 degrees, a huge improvement from the 90 degrees the current models’ doors open. That will help a great deal when getting people and gear into and out of those rear seats in parking lots with small spaces.
If it sounds like the cabin is on par with that of a luxury car, you’re right. From the high-quality standard and optional equipment available, to the materials and craftsmanship, the topline Platinum model that was on display was beautiful. The interior is filled with soft-touch materials, and there were luxe details like stitching, knurled aluminum knobs on the stereo and climate control, real-looking wood trim (real on some models), and an attractive variety of colors to choose from. There are 13 exterior color choices: Tuxedo Black, Oxford White, Ingot Silver, Magnetic, Race Red, Ruby Red, Blue Jeans, Blue Flame, Green Gem, Caribou, Guard (gray/green), Bronze Fire, and White Platinum tri-coat.
So much new standard and optional equipment was added to the 2015 F-150, we wonder how much weight the truck actually saves over the previous generation. We are eager to put an alloy F-150 onto our scales and see what the real-world weight savings are. Kudos to Ford for taking such a huge step forward. This is an incredibly bold and technically challenging move. Now we will have to see how the competition responds.