2015 Ford F-150 First Look
Can Aluminum Beat Chevy and Ram Attempts at Pickup One-Upsmanship
The veil has been lifted, and the questions about the 2015 Ford F-150, debuting at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show, have been answered: Yes, the next F-150’s cab and pickup box will be almost entirely made of various grades of aluminum. Yes, magnets will still stick to the steel chassis frame. So yes, towing and hauling capacities (not yet announced) can be expected to increase by roughly the body-mass savings, which are only quantified as “up to 700 pounds.”
Let’s start right there. Because it’s the switch from steel to aluminum in the body that accounts for 70 percent of the weight savings, the bigger the bodywork, the bigger the savings. Hence: short-cab/short box, probably 500 or fewer pounds saved. SuperCrew long-box—maybe a bit more than 700. The big volume SuperCrew short box should come in around the 700-pound mark. The only major piece of the body sheet metal that is not aluminum is the Quiet Steel laminated sound-absorbing firewall -- aluminum just can’t match its performance for hushing engine noise.
While Ford is being coy about defining the alloys used, we’re told they’re the same as used in military HMMWVs and aerospace applications. The engineering team learned about aluminum when assisting with the development of the original aluminum Jaguar XJ. We’re assured that it will resist dents and dings better than steel, and that it will not be substantially more expensive to repair (and hence to insure).
Roughly 70 pounds were saved in the chassis, by increasing the percentage of high and ultra-high-strength steel alloys (up to 70,000-psi tensile strength) from 23 to 77 percent. These alloys reportedly outperform aluminum in terms of overall rigidity and other factors. The rest of the weight savings come from things like a lighter transfer case. There isn’t much “cascade effect” light-weighting of other components due to the lighter bodywork, as you typically get in a passenger car, because there’s little or no downscaling of the gross vehicle weight or gross combined weight ratings. So brakes still need to be able to stop the same mass, for example. The idea is, you can save fuel when the truck is empty, or you haul more weight.
There’s more big news under the hood, where four engines are still offered. The entry 3.7-liter TiVCT V-6, which accounts for 15% of current sales, gets downsized to 3.5 liters while outperforming its predecessor in every way. Next up the ladder is a brand new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 that is reportedly unrelated to the 3.5. It features a light-but-tough compacted-graphite iron block and is optimized for high fuel economy for customers who do not need to tow 8000 pounds. The familiar 5.0-liter V-8 occupies the third rung of the ladder, and the top engine is now the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, as the 6.2-liter gets put out to pasture. No output ratings have been announced as yet, and six-speed automatic transmissions will back all engines. Oh, and speaking of tow ratings, Ford says it will rate its trucks according to the recently revised SAE J2807 standard, after which we can expect GM and Ram to follow suit, putting an end to the difficult-to-compare ratings we’ve heretofore enjoyed.
Fun fact about that 2.7-liter: It received a trial-by-fire durability test by running incognito in the 2013 Baja 1000 desert race, mounted in a prototype body running the 2015 frame and all aluminum bodywork stamped to look like the 2013 truck. The truck reportedly survived the race without incident, after which the team installed a Plexiglas windshield and drove home.
Styling-wise, the new truck is a pretty faithful production of the Atlas concept from last year’s NAIAS. The basic grille and headlamp shapes are retained, and top models will indeed get innovative (segment first) LED headlamps that employ a single LED and advanced “ice cube” optics for each of the low and high beam lamps. LED signature light pipes will identify upper-series F-150s from the front and rear. The “double-bubble” roof is gone, but the “roof tongue” of sheetmetal extending down above the rear-view mirror remains, with outboard sections of the windshield extending farther up for better visibility. The base of the windshield is moved forward to provide several degrees more rake, in the name of aerodynamics. Also on the visibility front, the lower side window beltline has been lowered an inch, the drop-down in the front window beltline plunges 2 inches lower, and the front edge of the front side window is extended almost 4 inches forward. Similarly, the rear glass is now flush mounted. Other aero tricks include grille shutters on all models, a deeper front airdam, and a 6-inch plateau on the top of the tailgate to aid in airflow separation.
That wide spot at the top of the tailgate also enabled some handy upgrades of the optional tailgate step, which now deploys with one hand in one motion, no second-stage unfolding of the step necessary. And the assist railing now stows inside the tailgate, telescoping out and pivoting up instead of remaining visible on the tailgate, making it uncomfortable to sit on the tailgate and fussy to shovel mulch out of. Oh, and that tailgate can now be opened by pressing a key-fob button (another segment first). You’re on your own to hoist it closed, though.
There’s loads more innovation in the bed. A BoxLink system of four mounting points can accept tie-down cleats midway up the bed wall -- often a more convenient location for tying down than the floor corners. These cleats can be removed, and a set of (segment first) telescoping motorcycle or ATV ramps can attach there. The upper lip of the bed is about an inch lower, making it easier to reach into the bed, and bed-side steps are now available even on the shortest boxes. LED spotlights illuminate the bed, though these seem inferior to GM’s under-rail rope lighting. And of course, just being constructed of aluminum means the entire box is considerably more dent-resistant.
Inside, the front seats are moved 0.8 inches outboard, so the console can be 1.6 inches wider and more versatile. It boasts slots for two USB and one SD-card plus a 400-watt 110-volt plug. All F-150s get lovely high-def color screens in the instrument cluster and infotainment center, small 4-inch ones on the cheaper models, and big ones twice that size on top models. Cameras all around provide 360-degree around-view monitoring and 180-degree forward visibility for poking out of alleys, there’s forward collision mitigation, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring radar, and (two more segment firsts:) self-parking and a panoramic sunroof. Another nice touch: SuperCab model rear “suicide” doors now open 170 degrees (up from 90), offering some prayer of exiting the vehicle in a tight-ish parking lot.
In keeping with the Lexus-like level of standard and optional equipment, the interior trim, materials, and craftsmanship on the top-flight Platinum model on display were exquisite. There are soft-touch materials everywhere, stitching, knurled aluminum knobs on the radio and climate controls, reasonable looking fake or genuine wood trim, depending on model series, and a nice palette of available. Even the base XL looks fairly dressy in basic black. Exterior color choices number a lucky 13: Tuxedo Black, Oxford White, Ingot Silver, Magnetic (think charcoal gray), Race Red, Ruby Red, Blue Jeans, Blue Flame, Green Gem, Caribou, Guard (gray/green), Bronze Fire, and White Platinum tri-coat.
That roster of newly added standard, optional, and segment first equipment almost sounds like 700 pounds’ worth, so we’re dying to roll an alloy F-150 onto our scales and see what the real-world weight savings are. We applaud Ford for taking such a bold and technically challenging step forward, and we can’t wait to see how the competition responds. Maybe a carbon-fiber Silverado?