The power situation, I mean. Mustang Sally has had her way with the F-150 pick-up truck – and the afterglow is something righteous!
Last year’s F-150 was a fine truck except for one thing. Its standard 4.6 liter V-8 made V-6 power – and the hp output of its optional, top-of-the-line 5.4 liter V-8 wasn’t much of an improvement. The F-truck may have had a high tow rating, but that was more to be credited to its girder-like frame and HD construction than the breathy engines it had to make do with. Both of its main competitors – the Chevy Silverado and Dodge Ram 1500 – could be ordered with bigger (and much stronger) V-8s than Ford offered.
But the 2011 F-truck’s new 3.7 liter V-6 (shared with the current Mustang) makes more power than last year’s standard 4.6 liter V-8. And it makes almost as much power as the ’10 F-truck’s top-of-the-line 5.4 liter V-8. And it absolutely crushes the standard sixes you’ll find cringing underneath the hoods of the 2011 Ram 1500 and Chevy Silverado – while the new F-150’s optional 5 liter V-8 (same basic engine as under the hood of the current Mustang GT) is stronger than the Chevy’s first two optional V-8s – and also massively outmuscles (by 50 hp) the Dodge Ram’s next-up 4.7 liter V-8 (310 hp).
Oh yeah – the Ford’s engines also get better gas mileage as part of the deal.
Ride, Sally ride!
WHAT IT IS
The F-150 is a full-sized (1500) pick-up available in regular, extended (SuperCab) and crew cab (SuperCrew) versions, with three available bed sizes and RWD or 4WD.
Prices begin at $22,790 for a regular cab 2WD work truck with V-6 engine and top out at $43,985 for a SuperCrew Platinum edition with 5 liter V-8 and 4WD.
A special off-road/high-performance SVT Raptor model with a 6.2 liter V-8 is available, too. Its base price is $44,700.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011
The major change for 2011 is under the F-truck’s hood. The previously standard 4.6 liter V-8 has been dropped; its replacement is a new 3.7 liter V-6 that’s much more powerful than the outgoing V-8 as well as easier on gas. Also gone is the formerly optional 5.4 liter V-8; a new (also more powerful and fuel efficient) 5 liter V-8 takes its place. Or, choose a twin-turbo 3.5 liter V-6 that makes slightly more power than the 5 liter V-8, while delivering fuel economy that’s in line with what the base 3.7 V-6 delivers.
No other 1500 series truck offers as much standard hp (and fuel economy).
New 3.7 liter V-6 effortlessly outguns competitors’ standard engines while also giving you more MPGs than some competitors’ optional V-8s.
New 5 liter V-8 turns the F-150 into a 4×4 Mustang GT.
Soon-to-be-here twin-turbo 3.5 liter “EcoBoost” V-6 is the only such engine of its type available in a 1500 series truck.
Tremendous towing and payload numbers.
Almost-endless variety of possible bed/body/trim/equipment combinations.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Ford’s “Belt Minder” system is obnoxious – and can’t be turned off.
Two-piece, RV-like outside rearview mirror can take some getting used to.
UNDER THE HOOD
The 248 hp 4.6 liter V-8 is gone and so is the formerly optional 5.4 liter, 320 hp V-8. In their place is a whole new lineup, starting with a 3.7 liter V-6 that’s now the standard F-truck powerplant. It has two fewer cylinders and is nearly a full liter smaller than the previously standard 4.6 V-8, but it makes 302 hp – 54 more hp than the 4.6 liter V-8 and almost as much power as the formerly optional 320 hp 5.4 liter V-8.
The F-truck’s new V-6 (which it shares with the current Mustang) is so much more powerful than the standard sixes in the 2011 Dodge Ram 1500 (3.7 liters, 215 hp) and Chevy Silverado 1500 (4.3 liters, 195 hp) that it completely outclasses them. In fact, the F150’s standard V-6 is as strong as the next-up optional V-8 in the Chevy truck (4.8 liters, 302 hp) and the Ram (4.7 liters, 310 hp). You’d need to upgrade to the Chevy’s second optional V-8 (5.3 liters, 315 hp) to edge out the F-truck’s standard six – or the top-of-the-line 5.7 liter Hemi (390 hp) in the Ram.
But then you’d be sucking gas in addition to hauling ass. Those big V-8s have big appetites; low teens in real-world city driving and high teens on the highway – if you drive it like there’s a Faberge egg under the accelerator pedal.
Meanwhile, check this out: The Ford’s 3.7 liter V-6 returns 17 city and 23 highway. Compare that to the Ram 3.7’s horrific 14 city, 20 highway (remember; that’s with 215 hp) or the even weaker (195 hp) Chevy 1500 4.3 liter V-6’s not-much-better 15 city, 20 highway… .
Or, how about this: The Ford’s V-6 gets better mileage than the Chevy’s optional 4.8 liter V-8 (14/19) even though both produce the same hp. The Dodge Ram’s optional 4.7 liter V-8 registers the same (dismal) 14 city, 19 highway.
Now, the F-150’s gas mileage isn’t Prius-like but it is significantly better than the base (and horrendously underpowered) V-6s in the competition and also better than their optional V-8s, while delivering equivalent power.
That’s no small feat.
But it doesn’t stop there. Ford has also upped the ante when the talk turns to V-8s. The F-150’s optional 5 liter V-8 produces 360 hp – 40 more than the previously top dog 5.4 liter V-8 and stronger – by a wide margin – than the next-up V-8s in the Ram and Silverado.
It also returns better fuel economy – 15 city, 21 highway. It’s not a huge difference – but when you factor in the hp difference (which is huge) you can’t help but admire the Ford.
At the very top of the lineup, Ford wins too. The SVT Raptor – a specialty model built for high-performance off-roading – comes armed with a 6.2 liter, 411 hp V-8 vs. the Ram’s top-of-the-line 390 hp Hemi and the Chevy’s top-of-the-line 403 hp 6.2 liter V-8.
Plus, there’s a wild card in the works. Ford is going to offer a version of the 3.5 liter “Ecoboost” twin-turbo V-6 that’s currently the heart of the Taurus SHO as an engine option in the F-truck. The twin-turbo V-6 will produce slightly more power than the 5 liter V-8 (365 hp) while returning gas mileage that’s about the same as the standard 3.7 V-6. It should be a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too deal.
All F-150 engines are paired with a new six-speed automatic and you can go RWD or part-time 4WD with low-range gearing (except the Raptor, which comes standard with 4WD).
Because of its new extra-healthy engine lineup, the F-truck’s already best-in-class tow ratings go up even higher for 2011. The base truck with 3.7 V-6 can pull 6,100 pounds; the maximum (with V-8) is 11,300 pounds – vs. 10,700 for the Silverado 1500 and 10,250 for the Ram 1500.
ON THE ROAD
All current 1500 series trucks are cowboy Cadillacs – easy to drive and comfortable to drive. No more three-on-the-tree, jumpy rear axle and bouncy bench seats. Having driven all three, I’d give the Best Ride award to the Chevy; second place to the F-truck and third to the Ram. But they’re all really close and it’s picking nits to try to say one’s meaningfully /noticeably superior to the others.
It’s the new engine lineup that gives Ford the edge.
The base/V-6 versions of the Chevy and Dodge trucks are massively underpowered in comparison. They may be ok for basic work truck service but most buyers will consider the extra-cost V-8s a necessary upgrade – and an unavoidable extra expense.
But unless you need 10,000 pounds-plus tow capacity, the base F-150 is more than adequate for everyday knocking around – and it can handle more load and do more work than the base versions of its competitors.
Probably the main consideration as far as driving the F-truck or any of the others is concerned is the sheer size of these things. Today’s trucks are monster trucks – all of them. Even a pretty big guy like me (I’m 6ft 3 and over 200 pounds) sometimes feels small dealing with one. The F-truck, for example, has very high bed walls. It took tip-toe standing just to reach in there – and I can barely do that, even. If you are not six feet tall the F-150 may make you feel 12 years old again. But, again, the same is true of the others and a couple of them – like the Toyota Tundra – are absolutely Exxon Valdez-like and not just in terms of how much gas they drink, either.
Ford does offer helpful running boards to step onto and and grab handles to pull yourself inside with – and once you are inside there’s so much space you won’t know what to do with it all. Supercrew (four full size doors) models especially. A six-footer can fully stretch out his legs back there without knocking up against the front seatbacks. And three burly men can sit side-by-side comfortably – including the man in the middle – because there’s no drivetrain hump in this truck. The floor is as flat as the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.
There’s also a built-in ladder to help you access the bed.
The new six-speed transmission has steep top-gear overdrive that drops engine RPMs to a fast idle at 70 MPH. Modern overdrive transmissions like this are among the chief reason why we enjoy not-bad fuel economy from vehicles that are much heavier – and far more powerful – than the big block muscle cars of the ’60s.
AT THE CURB
The standard F-150 now has the same heavy-duty exterior/interior look as the Super Duty (F250 and F350), such as the “stepped” door tops and the high-walled bed. It’s a rugged, manly-looking truck that looks just like a big truck ought to.
The interior has some neat features, including a digital odometer that clicks over the mileage increments just like an old-style analog odometer. There’s also an LCD digital driver info cluster that toggles through multiple functions, including an off-road menu (4WD models) that shows you angle of approach, side lean and compass heading, as well as the flow of power, depending on what mode the 4WD is in. The main gauge cluster includes a transmission temperature gauge – something that’s as important as oil pressure but which most trucks didn’t used to come with, leaving you to guess – as well as the usual gauges for engine RPM, speed, water temperature and fuel level.
One oddity is the absence of any redline on the tach – a “feature” you’ll find in all modern Ford trucks. It doesn’t really matter, because the computer makes it all-but-impossible to overspeed the engine.
The center console storage area is deeper than a 10 piece KFC bucket – and will hold even more. The optional back-up camera gives you a very helpful “hitch ball” perspective. You see not just what’s behind you, but how close you are to it from the edge of the bumper, as if you were sitting back there yourself. This lets you back the tailgate right up to the edge of small knolls, making it easy to roll a dirt bike into the bed or let your older dog walk into the bed.
You can order “Work Solutions” technology that includes Internet access, a lockable midgate storage area and an electronic inventory maintenance system (Tool Link) to keep track of tools and so on using scannable RFID tags; contractors will find all this gear extremely useful.
Special editions for 2011 include Platinum and Harley-Davidson themed F-150s, in addition to the well-known King Ranch, which comes decked out in true Ponderosa style with saddle leather seats and trim and (if you order all The Stuff) a nearly $50k MSRP.
In addition to the crush enemies/ see them driven before you/hear the lamentations of the women SVT Raptor, there’s also a milder FX4 version of the F-truck that’s set up for off-roading. It comes with off-road shocks, more ground clearance, underbody skid plates and so on.
The only thing I didn’t like about the F-truck is Ford’s annoying Belt Minder buzzer – another “feature” all current Fords are saddled with. I’ve got no beef with buckling up, but I don’t like being assaulted by an electric nanny. I live in the country and have a long gravel driveway leading to our mailbox. When I trundle down that driveway at all of maybe 5 MPH to go get the mail, I don’t feel the need to “buckle up for safety” – and hate that I either have to do just that or suffer the super-loud insistent dinging of the Belt Minder Fuhrer. There should be an off switch – or at least, the system should be programmed so that it doesn’t go off until the truck’s speed is above say 15 MPH or so.
Another small thing – the Euro (or RV) style outside rearview mirror. There are two mirrors, actually. One gives a wide-angle view, the other a close-in view. In theory, this gives you a better sense of what’s around you. In practice, some people may find it visually disorienting.
Final thing: You do have to pay a bit more to enjoy the F-truck’s newfound virility. The base standard cab XL lists for $22,790 vs. the base Ram’s $20,810 and the base Silverado’s $21,235. It’s not a huge price difference but for some it may be enough of a difference to make a difference – if you are looking for the lowest-priced truck you can get your hands on.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Given that the old F-truck managed to be the number-one best-selling truck despite being handicapped underhood relative to its rivals, the been-to-the-gym 2011 F-truck seems poised to administer a beat-down of epic proportions.
Throw it in the Woods?