2011 Ford F-150 Comparison: V-6 vs V-8

Brains Vs Brawn: What's Better -- High Tech or Big Displacement?

Allyson Harwood
Aug 6, 2011
Photographers: Wesley Allison
When this generation of Ford's F-150 was introduced for the 2009 model year, it was impressive enough to win Motor Trend's Truck of the Year honors. That was despite its one big downside: an aging lineup of engines, all three of which were V-8s. They included a two-valve, 248-horsepower, 294-pound-foot 4.6-liter V-8; another 4.6-liter V-8 with three valves per cylinder that put out 292 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; and a 5.4-liter V-8 offering 310 horsepower and 365 pound-feet. Making things worse, the two-valve -- was backed by a four-speed automatic, and fuel economy wasn't good enough. Many different clues pointed to the same conclusion: It was time for new engines.
Fast-forward two model years, and all three V-8s have been swept aside. In their place are two V-6s and two V-8s, all with variable valve timing. All but one (the 6.2) feature all-aluminum construction, and all are backed by the same six-speed automatic. Fuel economy has improved across the board, except for the 6.2. And in what seems a major contradiction, power has increased as well: Even the base V-6 has more horsepower than the three-valve 4.6-liter, falling only 8 shy of the 5.4.
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We wanted to know how these new engines perform, so we wrangled together four F-150s with four different attitudes: a 3.7-liter-V-6-powered regular cab STX, a 5.0-liter SuperCrew XLT, a 6.2-liter Harley-Davidson Edition SuperCrew, and a 3.5-liter EcoBoost SuperCrew Lariat. We took the quartet to the track in El Toro, California; on the road; and to the dyno at K&N Engineering, to see how the F-150 fares with the new engines. We also wanted to find out if the horsepower, torque, and fuel economy data match up with the manufacturer's numbers, and whether it makes sense to get a twin-turbo V-6 instead of a good old American V-8.
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A couple notes about our test procedures: Unfortunately, we couldn't get all four trucks with exactly the same equipment. As you will see, there are two different axle ratios, 3.55:1 and 3.73:1; two trucks are rear drive; and one has a shorter wheelbase. Associate editor and certified tech nerd Mike Febbo made the following observations: All graphs represent the trucks being tested in second gear. The high and low run were thrown out and one of the remaining runs was chosen as representative. We were surprised by just how consistent the engines dyno-ed. Power and torque varied only by a few percent from pull to pull. It was determined that third-gear pulls would be significantly longer, and heat soak would be higher on the dyno than in real-world conditions with proper airflow.
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All trucks began with at least three-quarters of a tank of 87-octane gasoline, the minimum requirement for all engines tested per Ford. A SuperFlow eddy current dyno was used for testing all trucks. (Eddy current dynos generally show lower numbers than inertia dynos.) Although it is possible to theoretically calculate crank horsepower numbers from wheel horsepower numbers, we're using the wheel horsepower numbers to measure the trucks against each other and not against factory claims.
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3.5-liter EcoBoost Twin-Turbo Lariat SuperCrew
This is the first time in a long time that a V-6 has been the engine at the top of a half-ton's lineup. The EcoBoost doesn't come standard on any F-150, but pricing is aggressive: The upgrade from the 5.0-liter can cost a mere $750, depending on trim level. For that money, you add only 5 horsepower (which peaks at a lower rpm). Big deal, right? The true benefit is with torque, where the gain is 40 pound-feet (420 versus the 5.0's 380), and peak torque is at 2500 rpm as opposed to the 5.0's 4250. The EcoBoost engine doesn't sound like a V-8, but it certainly pulls like one. The twin-turbo's power delivery is much smoother than expected, with no noticeable turbo lag, and much quieter. You can hear the diverter valves, which give it a slight turbodiesel-like sound.
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At 17.2 mpg, our fuel economy was within the EPA estimates at 16 mpg city/22 highway, and best of the test. Febbo feels "this is the perfect truck engine. A torque curve you can lay a ruler on and decent mileage--why do we even mess around with V-8s anymore?"
When we first set up this story, the idea was to see whether it makes more sense for buyers to get the twin-turbo V-6 or the 5.0-liter V-8. From the results at the dyno and the track, the EcoBoost's performance data makes it a better rival for the 6.2. The EcoBoost F-150 was the fastest of the test, reaching 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and finishing the quarter mile in 14.8 seconds at 95.0 mph. The last time we tested a 5.4-liter-powered F-150 (not a Raptor) was in 2009, when the four-wheel-drive Lariat took 8.1 seconds to hit 60. And we can only imagine what a regular-cab EcoBoost would feel like. That combination is available -- and would be like a modern-day Lightning.
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Things got a little more complicated at the dyno, where the guys at K&N said that this was the most finicky turbocharged vehicle they had ever tested. For dyno testing, the rear wheel speed sensors had to be disconnected. The traction control would not allow operation with the front wheels stationary. But K&N completed four successful runs. Febbo explains: "In early testing, it was clear the EcoBoost would use a less aggressive timing map if a proper amount of cooldown was not given. These runs were thrown out as nonrepresentative. We'd also be curious to see if higher-octane fuel would make a considerable difference in performance on the forced-induction engine."
The dyno showed 316 rear-wheel horsepower at a peak of 5000 rpm, with 347 pound-feet of torque at 4395. The torque peaked at a much higher rpm than predicted, but if you look at the curve at 3000 rpm, the torque there is very close to what Ford's numbers show when factoring in driveline losses. There, it makes 344 pound-feet of torque on this dyno -- the curve is so flat, you'd think this was a diesel. The runs showed that the turbos don't produce full boost until above 2000 rpm. Febbo tested this further at the track with a G-Tech performance meter, and got a real boost signal. However, the torque converter doesn't lock up until 2000 rpm, and after doing several experiments holding it in gear, etc., he couldn't get it to actually accelerate under 2000 rpm. But while driving around with the windows down, he heard the turbos start to spool at about 1800. The results: The 5.0- and 6.2-liter V-8s showed an average of 22-percent driveline loss in power and torque. If that number were to be believed, you could estimate that the EcoBoost engine is actually making closer to 385 horsepower instead of the Ford-rated 365. These are best-guess theoretical numbers and should not be considered fact.
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6.2-liter V-8 Harley-Davidson Edition AWD
So why isn't the 6.2-liter V-8 considered the best in the line? It didn't perform as well at the track, though the scant difference is probably attributable to the weight and friction of its 4WD system. It also achieved less impressive numbers at the dyno. Overall, it seems the EcoBoost has a lot more to offer as a daily driver. But the Harley-Davidson does truly shine: It is a big, raucous V-8--the last of the two-valves -- with a nasty grumble at idle and fantastic seat-of-the-pants feel. Its 6.4-second 0-to-60 time is nothing to sneeze at, and its braking is best of test -- it stopped in 117 feet from 60 mph, which can be attributed primarily to its 45-series Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires. When it accelerates, it gets to speed right away, and there is never a question about how many cylinders are under the hood here, based on how it drives and what it sounds like.
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Anyone who likes Harley-Davidson motorcycles will love the attitude this truck has -- even if you don't care for the styling. We're okay with the 19 different Harley-Davidson logos and branding on the truck, but wish that for $53,125 as tested, the orange decals were actual pinstripes. Another way to make this truck even more special would be to add a supercharger. There's plenty of room under the hood for one.
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It went through the quarter mile in 15 seconds flat at 94.6 mph, and the dyno runs showed 329 horsepower at 5745 rpm and 335 pound-feet at 4548 rpm. Peak horsepower is about 13 higher than that of the EcoBoost, but at a significantly higher rpm. Torque is 15 lower, also at a higher rpm. Its fuel economy on the road was 13.5 mpg combined, which is about what you would expect from the largest-displacement engine here.
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5.0-liter V-8 XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The level of refinement in this engine is very good, and the benefits of variable valve timing and dual overhead cams pay off. As Febbo writes, "This engine is constantly building power and it loves to rev. It's so smooth, it doesn't feel like it's working hard, even when you know it is. I love the sounds this thing makes. I haven't checked into it, but I hope Ford makes a performance exhaust for this engine. There's something about this truck in bright red and this engine note that always has me seeing the Mustang tie-in." This version of the Mustang's 5.0-liter has been detuned, with 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet, as opposed to the Mustang GT's 412 and 390.
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The Coyote-equipped F-150 goes from 0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds, and finishes the quarter mile in 15.3 seconds at 93.3 mph. That's slightly slower than the 6.2, but when you factor in the better as-tested fuel economy (15.5 mpg), only slight difference in performance, and $12,755 difference in base price, the 5.0-liter provides a lot of value for the money. This is a much better workaday hauler than the 4.6 or 5.4-liter V-8s that previously powered the F-150. Most half-ton buyers will be happy using this truck for towing and hauling, and it's a great daily driver, too. We have to presume that when towing, the EcoBoost will spend more time with the turbos at work, meaning more fuel consumption--and in that environment, this V-8 may produce similar or better fuel economy with a trailer hooked up. The best dyno run showed 286 peak horsepower at 5770 rpm, and 287 pound-feet of torque at 4390 rpm.
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3.7-liter V-6 STX Regular Cab
This work truck's plain cabin has gray cloth seats and few goodies. The STX comes in at an as-tested price of $27,570. Says Febbo, "The little engine that does. This is the utilitarian of the group. It kind of disappears, but in a good way. You don't have to think about it. It never feels fast, but it doesn't feel particularly slow, either. If you aren't towing, or towing anything big, this might be the perfect engine. I think it would happily tow a small boat or two jet skis."
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The lack of amenities and its shorter wheelbase turn into benefits at the track, where the truck's light weight -- the only one here under 5000 pounds -- gave the 3.7 the best possible chance to shine. Like the 5.0-liter Coyote engine, the 3.7 was detuned relative to its Mustang specification. Horsepower is 302 at 6500 rpm, torque 278 at 4000 rpm. It got from 0 to 60 in 7.4 seconds, and through the quarter mile at 89.4 mph in 15.7 seconds. Its best dyno run showed 232 horsepower at 6120 rpm, and 217 pound-feet of torque at 4240 rpm.
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There is no definitive winner here. All four engines in these four trucks show the breadth of the F-150 line: The 3.7 serves as a work truck base model, but it's far from a penalty to drive. The 5.0-liter V-8 is the volume engine, most similar to the 4.6- and 5.4-liters that were replaced, but is vastly better than both. The 6.2-liter gives you the sound and feel of a big V-8 -- it's the one for showing off. The EcoBoost has the potential for providing decent fuel economy, plus plenty of towing capacity -- just not necessarily at the same time. When it comes to fuel economy, those who tow frequently may prefer the V-8s, but for buyers who are looking for a daily driver and only occasionally tow, the EcoBoost is, as Febbo aptly stated, "the game changer for trucks. If they can get enough people in them, they will have converts left and right."
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The Four-Wheeled Harley A Brief History of Ford's Harley-Davidson F-Series Trucks
By Zach Gale
The F-Series truck and Harley-Davidson go together like Ford and EcoBoost technology. Before August 10, 1999, we might not have expected one of Ford's most iconic F-Series models to originate from a partnership with motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson. But on that date Ford unveiled the 2000 Harley-Davidson F-150 at -- where else? -- South Dakota's Sturgis Rally & Races.
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The first product of the Ford/Harley-Davidson partnership was the 2000 Harley-Davidson pickup, a rear-drive edition that was bolder and meaner than other F-Series pickups. Ford offered its first production 20-inch wheels on this $32,995 model. The automaker borrowed the SVT Lightning's muffler, with dual chrome 3.5-inch "slash cut" exhaust tips, plus a 1-inch suspension drop, and SVT Lightning shocks.
Ford added a Harley-Davidson truck with four full-size doors in 2001, and dubbed the special-edition F-150 SuperCrew "the world's only four-door Harley." In the Harley, a detuned supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 from the 2002 Lightning model made 40 fewer horsepower, but 80 horsepower more than an F-150 with the basic 5.4-liter V-8.
The 2004 model year was big for Ford and the Harley-Davidson series -- literally. Ford introduced the Super Duty model, a logical extension of a Ford truck sub-brand that had sold nearly 40,000 units from the original truck's debut until the announcement of the Super Duty model in February 2004.
When the original 2000 truck was revealed, the 20-inch chrome wheels were considered huge, but the 2006 truck moved things forward with 22-inch polished forged-aluminum wheels. By 2008, the F-150's 5.4-liter V-8 was beginning to feel dated. To fix this, Ford finally added a higher-priced supercharged version with 450 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque.
We loved the supercharger on the 2008 truck, but were disappointed with Ford's four-speed automatic transmission. On the next-generation F-150, Ford began to use a six-speed automatic, though the 2010 Harley-Davidson model still featured a non-supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 making 320 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque.
With its 6.2-liter V-8, the 2011 Harley-Davidson F-150 carries a starting price of nearly $50,000, making it more expensive than every other 2011 F-150 including the SVT Raptor, King Ranch, and Platinum.
What The Dynomometer Tells Us
3.7-liter: V-6 The peaks and dips in the 3.7-liter V-6's torque curve were consistent in every dyno run. Torque peaked initially at 2400 rpm, then fell off and began climbing again to another peak at 4200 rpm. While previous engines would produce peak torque and then fall off, Ford's extra efforts in variable valve timing, Ti-VCT, has made the engine more efficient across the rpm range.
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5.0-liter: V-8 As on the 3.7-liter V-6, the use of Ti-VCT spreads out the torque curve. While smoother on the V-8, definite peaks are apparent on the graph; unlike with the V-6, they are barely noticeable in real-world driving. While not the fastest truck in the test, the quickly climbing power curve makes it feel fast on the street. Downside is the need for higher-rpm operation when towing.
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EcoBoost: The dyno doesn't provide enough resistance to get a realistic torque reading at the low end of the chart. The EcoBoost can accelerate past 2000 rpm before the turbos are producing full boost. On the road, with more resistance, the truck would likely produce more torque than indicated below 2000 rpm. The later spool-up also means less heat in the beginning of the dyno run, so the torque beyond that point might be slightly inflated.
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6.2-liter: V-8 Based on a different, older family of engines than the 5.0-liter V-8, power and torque curves are nearly identical in shape on the 6.2-liter, just farther up the graph. Torque builds quickly below 3000 rpm, levels out, then starts to run up again up to a peak at 4500 rpm. On dyno and road, the V-8's behavior could be called angry. While EcoBoost and Coyote V-8 are silky smooth, the boss wants to jump out of the truck and bite someone at wide open throttle.
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Torque: As you can see here, the torque curves for all four engines are fairly flat. The EcoBoost has the best of all worlds: flat curve, most torque, and lowest rpm at which peak torque was achieved.
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Horsepower: EcoBoost engine had most power on the dynomometer, followed closely by the 6.2L, then the 5.0L, with the 3.7L closing.
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2011 FORD F-150
  STX (3.7L) XLT (5.0L)
Drivetrain layout Front engine, RWD Front engine, 4WD
Engine type 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads
Bore x stroke 3.76 x 3.45 in 3.63 x 3.65 in
Displacement 227ci/3.7L 302ci/5.0L
Compression ratio 10.5:1 10.5:1
Valve gear DOHC, 4 valves/cyl DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower 302 hp @ 6500 rpm 360 hp @ 5500 rpm
SAE torque 278 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm 380 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm
Transmission type 6R-80E 6-speed automatic 6R-80E 6-speed automatic
1st 4.17:1 4.17:1
2nd 2.34:1 2.34:1
3rd 1.52:1 1.52:1
4th 1.14:1 1.14:1
5th 0.86:1 0.86:1
6th 0.69:1 0.69:1
Reverse 3.40:1 3.40:1
Axle ratio 3.55:1 3.73:1
Final drive ratio 2.45:1 2.57:1
Wheelbase 125.9 in 144.5 in
Length x width x height 213.2 x 79.2 x 74.8 in 231.9 x 79.2 x 75.9 in
Track, f/r 67.0/67.0 in 67.0/67.0 in
Turning circle 41.7 ft 47.0 ft
Curb weight 4698 lb 5640 lb
Payload capacity 1752 lb 1560 lb
GVWR 6450 lb 7200 lb
GCWR 10,400 lb 15,100 lb
Towing capacity 5500 lb 9300 lb
Seating capacity 3 5
Headroom, f/r 41.0/- in 41.0/40.3 in
Legroom, f/r 41.4/- in 41.4/43.5 in
Shoulder room, f/r 66.6/- in 65.9/65.5 in
Bed LxWxH 78.8 x 65.2 x 22.4 in 67.0 x 65.2 x 22.4 in
Width bet wheelhousings 50.0 in 50.0 in
Bed volume 65.5 cu ft 55.4 cu ft
Suspension, f/r Independent, control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar/live axle, leaf springs Independent, control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar/live axle, leaf springs
Steering type Electric-assist rack-and-pinion Electric-assist rack-and-pinion
Ratio 20.0:1 20.0:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.8 3.3
Brakes, f/r 13.8-in vented disc; 13.7-in vented disc, ABS 13.8-in vented disc; 13.7-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 7.5 x 17-in machined aluminum 7.5 x 18-in cast aluminum
Tires P255/65R17 108S Michelin LTX A/S M+S P275/65R18 114T Goodyear Wrangler SR-A M+S
0-30 2.6 sec 2.4 sec
0-40 3.8 3.7
0-50 5.6 5.2
0-60 7.4 6.9
0-70 9.5 9.2
0-80 12.6 11.7
0-90 16 14.3
Quarter mile 15.7 sec @ 89.4 mph 15.3 sec @ 93.3 mph
Braking, 60-0 135 ft 130 ft
Base price $26,855 $37,255
Price as tested $27,570 $39,745
Airbags Front, front side, fr curtain Front, front side, f/r curtain
Fuel capacity 26.0 gal 36.0 gal
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy 17/23 mpg 14/19 mpg
As-tested fuel economy* 15.7 mpg 15.5 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.01 lb/mile 1.22 lb/mile
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded Regular unleaded
*All trucks driven on essentially the same 65/35-percent city/highway route, but on different days.

2011 FORD F-150
  Harley-Davidson (6.2L) Lariat (3.5L)
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD Front engine, RWD
Engine type 90-deg V-8, iron block/alum heads Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads
Bore x stroke 4.02 x 3.74 in 3.64 x 3.45 in
Displacement 379ci/6.2L 213ci/3.5L
Compression ratio 9.8:1 10.0:1
Valve gear SOHC, 2 valves/cyl DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower 411 hp @ 5500 rpm 365 hp @ 5000 rpm
SAE torque 434 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm 420 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
Transmission type 6R-80E 6-speed automatic 6R-80E 6-speed automatic
1st 4.17:1 4.17:1
2nd 2.34:1 2.34:1
3rd 1.52:1 1.52:1
4th 1.14:1 1.14:1
5th 0.86:1 0.86:1
6th 0.69:1 0.61:1
Reverse 3.40:1 3.40:1
Axle ratio 3.55:1 3.73:1
Final drive ratio 2.45:1 2.28:1
Wheelbase 144.5 in 144.5 in
Length x width x height 231.9 x 79.2 x 75.9 in 231.9 x 79.2 x 74.8 in
Track, f/r 67.0/67.0 in 67.0/67.0 in
Turning circle 47.0 ft 47.0 ft
Curb weight 6129 lb 5528 lb
Payload capacity 1571 lb 1572 lb
GVWR 7350 lb 7100 lb
GCWR 13,500 lb 16,900 lb
Towing capacity 7200 lb 11,300 lb
Seating capacity 5 5
Headroom, f/r 41.0/40.3 in 41.0/40.3 in
Legroom, f/r 41.4/43.5 in 41.4/43.5 in
Shoulder room, f/r 65.9/65.5 in 65.9/65.5 in
Bed LxWxH 67.0 x 65.2 x 22.4 in 67.0 x 65.2 x 22.4 in
Width bet wheelhousings 50.0 in 50.0 in
Bed volume 55.4 cu ft 55.4 cu ft
Suspension, f/r Independent,control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar/live axle, leaf springs Independent, control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar/live axle, leaf springs
Steering type Hydraulic-assist rack-and-pinion Electric-assist rack-and-pinion
Ratio 20.0:1 20.0:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.3 3.3
Brakes, f/r 13.8-in vented disc; 13.7-in vented disc, ABS 13.8-in vented disc; 13.7-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 9.0 x 22-in forged aluminum 7.5 x 18-in cast aluminum
Tires 275/45R22 112V Pirelli Scorpion Zero P265/60R18 109T Michelin LTX A/S M+S
0-30 2.3 sec 2.2 sec
0-40 3.6 3.5
0-50 4.9 4.7
0-60 6.4 6.2
0-70 8.6 8.3
0-80 10.9 10.4
0-90 13.6 13
Quarter mile 15.0 sec @ 94.6 mph 14.8 sec @ 95.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 117 ft 126 ft
Base price $52,500 $37,830
Price as tested $53,125 $43,155
Airbags Front, front side, f/r curtain Front, front side, f/r curtain
Fuel capacity 36.0 gal 26.0 gal
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy 12/16 mpg 16/22 mpg
As-tested fuel economy* 13.5 mpg 17.2 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.43 lb/mile 1.06 lb/mile
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded Regular unleaded
*All trucks driven on essentially the same 65/35-percent city/highway route, but on different days.


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Ford F 150

Fair Market Price
Editors' Overall Rating
Basic Specifications
MSRP: $25,800
Mileage: 18 / 25
Engine: 3.5L V6
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