2015 Ford F-150 First Drive
Newsflash: The Beer-Can F-150 Feels Just Like a Truck
After a day spent in the Texas Hill Country driving and riding in the full range of 2015 F-150 trucks, the most striking thing about the world's first aluminum-bodied mainstream pickup is how unremarkable its aluminumness is. It doesn't crumple like Belushi's beer can when you lean against it. The door doesn't fling open when you give it steel-door effort and it closes with a conventionally solid thwunk. The truck doesn't fly any farther off a sharp railroad crossing than a normal truck. You'll basically have to study the numbers to appreciate what the 500-700-pound weight difference does for you -- or wait for your kid to fling a car door into it in the garage (it's actually way more dent resistant), or drive it for ten Michigan winters to notice it hasn't rusted out.
Studying those figures, you notice that power and torque ratings may not lead the class, and the gross-vehicle-weight ratings are similar, but the payload and towing stats favor the Fords by roughly the difference in curb weights. Also, when you look at pound-feet-per-pound of curb weight, the new 2.7-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 edges out the Silverado 5.3-liter V-8, both Ram's 3.0-liter EcoDiesel and 5.7-liter Hemi by a few percentage points and the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 widens that gap to 13-18 percentage points. You'll also see that the new truck is enough lighter to allow the new base 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V-6 to power a four-door 4WD pickup.
To demonstrate all of this, Ford set up a little 400-foot drag race where we could sample said competitors back-to-back (all four-door cabs with rear- or four-wheel drive matched across like competitors), and indeed the top result for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost was a 5.5 seconds (set by yours very truly), while the best Chevy 6.2-liter time was 5.9, and the top Ram Hemi result was 6.3. Results for the lesser comparisons were not posted, but the rump-o-meter suggested that the 2.7 EcoBoost easily paced the torquier EcoDiesel (sounding remarkably similar in its engine note), while the 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 seemed to run away from the 5.3-liter Chevy. Only the Ram 3.6 seemed as quick as or quicker than the 3.5-liter base Ford six.
That little drag chute led into an autocross handling circuit, and here again the lighter Ford trucks easily edged the Chevys in nimbleness, though the dynamic handling benefits of the coil- or air-sprung rear axles in the Rams seemed to mask their inherent weight disadvantage. Ride quality, while noticeably improved over the 2014 F-150 (which we drove from the airport to the event), does not appear to have surpassed that of the Ram. Of course, a more scientific and extensive back-to-back comparison is required before we can definitively make that call.
One back-to-back Ford-Ram test I did conduct was towing a 9000-pound trailer, and here the 5.7-liter Hemi seemed to rank in between the 5.0-liter V-8 and the 3.5-liter EcoBoost in the ease with which it pulled its burden. All three trucks utilize a variation of tow-haul transmission programming, which holds gears longer when accelerating and grabs lower gears when braking or descending a grade. The Ford system seemed a bit more aggressive about downshifting, which helped the Ford rigs remain closer to the 65-mph I'd set on the cruise-control. Multiple trailers can be programmed for brake gain and saved to the F-150, and a screen indicates trailer-brake gain, truck pitch attitude and steering angle. There's even a checklist of trailer-attachment tasks.
Plenty of F-150 owners will take their trucks off road — especially in these parts (in the 10 minute drive from the San Antonio airport, I saw two civilian F-150s with bent up running-boards). On a couple-mile course of mud, ruts, and severe frame articulation, a 2.7-liter 4WD crew-cab demonstrated impressive structural rigidity. Sighting down the bodyside in the most severe tire-lifting twists, the bed didn't appear to move at all relative to the cab. Chief engineer Pete Reyes confirms that an awful lot of work went into beefing up this steel frame (while making it 70 pounds lighter), with special attention paid to tuning its natural frequencies to avoid exciting vibrations. The body itself is also stronger and its tuned hydraulic mounts are spaced wider. Driving across a batch of half-buried horizontal telephone poles illustrated the degree to which the aforementioned reinforcements help quell secondary body vibrations (changes to the spring geometry and the staggered outboard shock arrangement also help with this). An off-road screen monitors body pitch and roll angles plus steering angle.
Rolling along on the freeway permitted a chance to test out the ergonomics, which seem well-tailored to truckers. Big knobs for radio volume and tuning bracket an array of big, easy-to-hit buttons for radio presets, media, and seek while just below them a similar pair of temperature knobs bracket a similar batch of climate control mode and fan speed buttons. The shifter is still mechanical, and the console lever is perfectly placed to rest your hand on when tuning the radio -- something a rotary shifter can't provide (bench seat trucks still get a six-on-the-tree column shift).
The attention to detail lavished on this moneymaker is impressive. Every square millimeter of chrome in the interior was computer sculpted to prevent large reflections from dazzling the driver's eye, and every light-up switch and display is angled so as to prevent it from reflecting in the side glass at night. Then of course there's the laundry list of innovations and pickup-truck firsts, including
- Remote tailgate locking and release
- BoxLink tailgate attachment points that accept standard attachments used in moving trucks and trailers
- Stowable loading ramps that attach to the above BoxLink points
- All-around LED lighting (optional), including side mirror "campsite flashlights," a trailer-hitch spotlight, in-bed lighting with in-box switch, and even tail lamps and quad-beam headlamps
- 170-degree opening half-doors on SuperCab models
- Flat rear load floor in SuperCab and SuperCrew cabs
- 360-degree camera view with split view and dynamic trailer-hitch alignment line
- Driver-assist technologies like adaptive cruise, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot warning
- A panoramic sunroof (made possible by a ring of aluminum extrusions that bear side-impact loads)
This is not only the newest Ford F-150 in a generation, it could be the newest, most radically changed American pickup truck period. Based on a single day's drive, I'm willing to bet most customers will be delighted with its performance -- in any powertrain combo -- and its amazing roster of new equipment. Oh, and about that equipment: many of those new features will put back a lot of the weight the aluminum saved, so don't be shocked if your new truck isn't fully 700 pounds lighter than your trade-in. It also still remains to be seen whether all the great things the engineers have done to improve crash-repair ease can offset the added cost of repairing the aluminum bodywork. Stay tuned for much more on this exciting new truck in the weeks and months to come.
View more than 90 additional 2015 Ford F-150 photos on the second page of this review.
|2015 Ford F-150|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD/4WD, 3-6-pass, 2- or 4-door truck|
|ENGINES||3.5L/283-hp/255-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6; 2.7L/325-hp/375-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6; 5.0L/385-hp/387-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8; 3.5L/365-hp/420-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||4050-5150 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||209.3-250.5 x 79.9 x 74.8-76.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.5-8.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||December 2014|