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First Drive: 2011 Ford F-150

The EcoBoost Challenge: Can a V-6 Really Replace a V-8?

Allyson Harwood
Sep 29, 2010
It wasn't all that long ago that the all-new 2009 Ford F-150 took our Motor Trend Truck of the Year honors. When it won, the Ford received praise for its best-in-class towing capacity, rigid frame, and broad spectrum of models -- everything from the basic work truck to the upscale Platinum -- with three cabs to choose from. The engines were fine, but not spectacular. So it may seem surprising that just two model years later, the 2011 Ford F-150 lineup has undergone a significant update, with several key improvements to an already stout truck.
Photo 2/27   |   2011 Ford F 150 Front
There are even more trim levels in the F-150 range than when it won Truck of the Year. It starts with the base XL, then moves up to STX, XLT, FX2 and FX4, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, Harley-Davidson Edition, and Lariat Limited. That doesn't even count the SVT Raptor, now with two cab choices. But as of the 2011 model year, those who loved the 4.6- and 5.4-liter V-8s will either have to consider an Expedition or adapt: in the F-150, they're gone. And given what's coming, they're no great loss. Prospective F-150 buyers will have the choice of four new engines, and for the first time since 2008, there are V-6 engines available, and two at that. Ford's six-speed TorqShift is the only transmission available in any F-150, and Ford is the only half-ton builder to make a six-speed automatic standard.
Of the four new engines, two fight for top-of-the line status in the F-150. The highest-horsepower engine, the 6.2-liter, 411-horse, 434-pound-foot V-8, was first introduced in the Super Duty, and then in the Raptor. It's now the only engine for the SVT truck, whether it's a SuperCab or SuperCrew. The V-8 has a terrific, deep rumble, and gets the truck moving in a hurry. Ford sees it as a small-volume seller, and will only make it available in the Harley-Davidson Edition and Raptor (standard) and optional in the Lariat and Platinum. Ford expects 10 percent of buyers will opt for this engine.
Photo 3/27   |   2011 Ford F 150 XLT Towing
The real king here, at least as Ford sees it, is the F-150's EcoBoost engine, a version of Ford's twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 that puts out 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet. The EcoBoost features a diesel-like 2,500 rpm peak torque number (2,000 rpm less than the 6.2-liter) and like the 6.2-liter can tow a mighty impressive 11,300 pounds. Oh, and it runs on regular unleaded. The EcoBoost six, which is spidering its way through the Ford and Lincoln lineups, also features direct injection and twin-independent variable cam timing (Ti-VCT).
Acceleration from a stop is seemingly instant. There's no noticeable turbo lag and power is just as generous throughout the rpm range. It's not just that there is comparable power to a V-8, either -- this engine makes the F-150 really fast. That stays consistent when towing, too. When we tried the EcoBoost with a 6700-pound trailer hooked up, the engine didn't struggle in the least and felt as capable as a traditional V-8. Towing with the EcoBoost was effortless. If you drive it gently, fuel economy is impressive. We used the productivity screen, a feature inherited from the Super Duty, to gauge mpg on a stretch of the drive. There were grades and stops, and some traffic, but the EcoBoost we tested got 22.8 miles per gallon (official EPA numbers haven't been released), and that was without hypermiling or turning off the air conditioning. And this drive was in Texas in summertime. For the most part, it does what Ford claims: When doing hard work, the V-6 has the power of a big V-8. When driving around town and cruising on the highway, it has the fuel economy of a V-6.
Photo 10/27   |   2011 Ford F 150 V6 Ecoboost
There are concerns with the EcoBoost. Some may be resolved by the time the engine becomes available in the first quarter of 2011, and some may be resolved over time. While we were driving the pre-production engine, there was a noticeable whiny whistle, presumably from the turbochargers. It wasn't overly loud, but we have a feeling that may be quieted by the time it goes on sale.
Photo 11/27   |   2011 Ford F 150 XLT Rear View
The next concern is pricing. New technology like this often doesn't come cheap. Ford hasn't officially announced pricing, but two of the EcoBoosts we drove had price sheets with estimates inside. One was an XLT SuperCrew, as-tested at an estimated $37,960, the other a fully loaded Platinum model with an eye-watering $51,450 sticker. Ford hasn't yet released a specific breakdown of how much the EcoBoost option will boost the price. It will be available in XL, XLT, FX2/FX4, Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum trims.
Photo 12/27   |   2011 Ford F 150 King Ranch Towing
The third concern is durability. Ford has done extensive testing with this engine, and recently announced it's going to promote the EcoBoost's strength with webisodes showing the same engine undergoing the equivalent of 150,000 miles of testing, then getting installed in an F-150 on the production line and being driven up to Oregon, where it will do work at a logging company. After that, the same engine will be put in a race truck and run in the Baja 1000. Even with all of that, it's going to take time before truck buyers can accept a V-6 as being as capable or reliable as a V-8 doing the same amount of work, and we're not sure the engine will be received with open arms by hard-core truck people. Over time, though, they may warm to it. It'll be tough for Ford to change the V-8 versus V-6 perspective.
Photo 13/27   |   2011 Ford F 150 V8 Engine
For EcoBoost skeptics, Ford's all-aluminum 5.0-liter V-8 with 360-horsepower and 380-pound-feet -- a version of which first made its debut in the 2011 Mustang -- should do nicely. The 5.0-liter has 40 more horses than the departing 5.4-liter V-8, and it also has Ti-VCT. Throttle response feels much quicker than the outgoing V-8s, and while not quite as fast as the EcoBoost or the 6.2, it has plenty of power for towing up to 10,000 pounds or hauling as much as 3060 pounds of payload. The 5.0-liter is available in the XL, STX, XLT, FX2/FX4, Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum.
Photo 14/27   |   2011 Ford F 150 V6 Engine
The new base engine for the F-150 line, which comes standard under the hood of the XL, STX, and XLT, is Ford's normally aspirated 3.7-liter V-6 with Ti-VCT, which we've tried out in the 2011 Mustang and Ford Edge Sport, and expect to see expand into other products in the company's lineup over time. It has 302 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque in the F-150, which is better than the outgoing two-valve 4.6-liter V-8's 248 horses and 294 pound-feet, although peak horsepower comes at a significantly higher rpm (6500 as opposed to 4750).
The 3.7-liter isn't phenomenally fast, but it is a surprisingly good base engine. That it comes with a six-speed automatic helps. At Ford's event, we had the chance to drive the 3.7 back-to-back against the Chevrolet Silverado with GM's 4.3-liter V-6, an engine that has been around forever and is in more dire need of a replacement than anything that was in the F-150. Not surprisingly, the 3.7-equipped F-150 felt quicker, and the transmission's shifts were better timed to respond to changing conditions, whether on a grade, accelerating, or slowing down. It also did a fine job of holding gears going uphill. There was no significant hunting, which would've been a problem if this were a too-small engine in a too-big vehicle. But it can take some throttle-mashing to get the 3.7-liter to that magic 6500 rpm and 302 horsepower, and towing is limited to 6100 pounds.
One of Ford's main goals was to improve fuel economy across the 2011 F-150 line. Weight reduction measures, including a switch to electric power-assisted steering and all-aluminum engines, certainly don't hurt the MPG cause. Ford anticipates a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy overall. In addition, the updated electric steering setup makes it easier to maneuver at low speeds, say, through a parking lot, and it's quick to respond on the highway without feeling twitchy.
Photo 21/27   |   2011 Ford F 150 Front Seats
There are plenty of other changes to the F-150 for 2011, many of which were inherited from the Super Duty range. The new TorqShift transmission has manual mode and Progressive Range Select -- you can choose what the top gear is, which can be helpful when towing -- and tow/haul mode is now standard. The gauge clusters are new, and flank the Super Duty's cool productivity screen, which shows fuel economy, off-road data, and more, based on what you choose to toggle through for the display. New features include a 110-volt outlet, telescoping steering, and HD Radio. The brakes were upgraded for the 2010 model year and stay the same for 2011; pedal response is quick and feels grabby compared with the F-150's competitors.
Official pricing hasn't been announced, but Ford hinted that there will be no change in pricing on the Lariat, for example, and that the XLT SuperCrew will cost $450 less. The 2011 Ford F-150 lineup has a lot to offer, namely more power, capability, and better fuel economy. But for the EcoBoost to be a success, two things have to happen: first, truck guys have to become convinced that these V-6s have the capability and the durability to be a better option than the V-8s they replace, and the price has to be right.

2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost
Drivetrain layout Front engine, RWD/4WD
Engine type 60-deg twin-turbo V-6, aluminum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 213.3 cu in/3496 cc
Compression ratio 10.0:1
Power (SAE net) 365 hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 420 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
Weight to power 13.6-15.8 lb/hp
Transmission 6R-80E 6-speed automatic
Axle/final ratios 3.15:1, 3.31:1, 3.55:1, 3.73:1/1.92:1, 2.02:1, 2.17:1, 2.28:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs
Steering ratio 17.0:1, 20.0:1 (depending on wheelbase)
Brakes, f;r 13.8-in vented disc; 13.7-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 17-, 18-, 20-in cast aluminum
Tires 245/75R17, 255/65R17, 275/65R18, 275/55R20
111S Pirelli Scorpion ATR M+S
Wheelbases 125.9, 144.5, 156.5, 163.1 in
Track, f/r 67.0/67.0 in
Length x width x height 213.2-250.4 x 79.2 x 74.8-76.7 in
Turning circle 41.7-52.3 ft
Curb weight 4950-5750 lb
Seating capacity 3-6
Headroom, f/r 41.0/39.7-40.3 in
Legroom, f/r 41.4/33.4-43.5 in
Shoulder room, f/r 65.9/64.6-65.4 in
Pickup box L x W x H 67.0-97.4 x 65.2 x 22.4 in
Width btwn wheelhouses 50.0 in
Payload capacity 1760-2080 lb
Towing capacity 8000-11,300 lb
Base price range $25,440-$48,770
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/r curtain
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Roadside assistance 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Fuel capacity 26.0, 36.0 gal
EPA city/hwy econ Not yet rated
Recommended fuel Unleaded regular
2011 Ford F-150 6.2-liter
Base price range $42,525-$52,115
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD/4WD, 4-6-pass, 4-door truck
Engine 6.2-liter/411-hp/434-lb-ft SOHC V-8
Transmissions 6-speed auto
Curb weight 5600-5850 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 144.5 in
Length x Width x Height 231.9 x 79.2 x 74.8-75.9 in
0-60 mph 6.5-7.1 sec (MT est)
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Econ Not yet rated
On sale in U.S. Late 2010
2011 Ford F-150 5.0-liter
Base price range $24,390-$44,575
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD/4WD, 3-6-pass, 2+2- or 4-door truck
Engine 5.0-liter/360-hp/380-lb-ft DOHC V-8
Transmissions 6-speed auto
Curb weight 4800-5700 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 125.9-144.5 in
Length x Width x Height 213.2-231.9 x 79.2 x 74.8-75.9 in
0-60 mph 7.5 sec (MT est)
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Econ Not yet rated
On sale in U.S. Late 2010
2011 Ford F-150 3.7-liter
Base price range $23,390-$31,285
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD/4WD, 3-6-pass, 2+2- or 4-door truck
Engine 3.7-liter/302-hp/278-lb-ft DOHC V-6
Transmissions 6-speed auto
Curb weight 4700-5350 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 125.9-144.5 in
Length x Width x Height 213.2-250.4 x 79.2 x 74.8-76.7 in
0-60 mph 8.9 sec (MT est)
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Econ Not yet rated
On sale in U.S. Late 2010



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2011 Ford F-150 3.7-liter
Base price range $23,390-$31,285
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD/4WD, 3-6-pass, 2+2- or 4-door truck
Engine 3.7-liter/302-hp/278-lb-ft DOHC V-6
Transmissions 6-speed auto
Curb weight 4700-5350 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 125.9-144.5 in
Length x Width x Height 213.2-250.4 x 79.2 x 74.8-76.7 in
0-60 mph 8.9 sec (MT est)
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Econ Not yet rated
On sale in U.S. Late 2010