To say trucks have changed is like saying phones are different nowadays.
If you grew up with trucks – three-on-the-tree, metal floorpans, bench seats, an inline six (maybe a V8, fed by a carb) roll-‘em-up windows and steel bodies . . . you will be amazed and perhaps slightly baffled by a truck like the 2017 Ford F-150.
It is the leading edge of What is Coming.
Which is very small for a truck this big.
There is also a ten-speed transmission.
And – an aluminum body.
The general shape remains familiar. But this is a truck like no other before it.
For good and for bad.
The F-150 is Ford’s full-size pick-up. It goes up against the Chevy Silverado 1500 and its GMC-badged clone, the Sierra 1500, the Ram 1500, the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan.
Though similar to all of them as far as general size and shape, cab and bed configurations and capabilities, the Ford is the only one of the bunch to have a body made of aluminum rather than steel. Which makes it lighter and less prone to rust.
But also makes it more difficult and expensive to repair.
Similar differences are to be found under the F-truck’s hood. You can still get a workhorse six – as well as a powerful V8 – but the F150’s top-of-the-line engine is, uniquely among big trucks, a turbocharged V6.
All of the others have big V8s as their top-performing engines. (The two Japanese trucks come standard with V8s – and don’t even offer six cylinder engines.)
The main reason Ford made the turbo’d V6 the F-truck’s top-of-the-line engine is the same reason it went with an aluminum body: To squeeze out a few more MPGs. But not so much for the sake of the buyer – the difference in MPGs is surprisingly slight; more on this follows below – but rather because when factored out over all the F-trucks Ford sells in a year, a 3-4 MPG uptick improves Ford’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) numbers. This matters to all car companies but especially to Ford as regards the F-truck, which is the best-selling 1500 series pick-up on the market.
When you sell a few hundred thousand each year – and the mileage of each one gets averaged in with the mileage of all your other stuff – a 3-4 MPG uptick adds up.
Whether it does much for you, as the buyer of just one F-truck is debatable.
Or maybe not.
We’ll get into that, too.
The F-truck is also the only 1500 truck available with a ten speed automatic, two more gears than the Ram’s optional eight-speed and four more than the Chevy’s standard six-speed (an eight-speed automatic is available in the Silverado) .
Sticker prices for the 2017 F-150 range from $26,730 for a regular cab/2WD XL with the base (not-turbocharged) 3.5 liter V6 to $63,220 for a top-of-the-line Limited Super Crew cab with 4WD, the twin-turbo’d 3.5 liter Ecoboost V6 and ten-speed automatic.
The Chevy Silverado starts at $27,585 for the base Work Truck with 4.3 liter V6 and 2WD; a top-of-the-line High Country Crew Cab with 4WD and the big gun 6.2 liter V8 (sourced from the Corvette) stickers for $57,120.
A Ram 1500 starts at $26,295 for the base 2WD Tradesman with 3.6 liter V6; a Limited crew cab 4WD with the top-of-the-line 5.7 liter Hemi V8 stickers for $56,295. You can also buy a diesel engine in the Ram 1500 – which (for the moment) is the only 1500 series truck that offers one.
The Toyota Tundra’s base price is $30,120 for a 2WD regular cab with a 4.6 liter V8; a top-of the-line Platinum trim crew cab with 4WD and a 5.7 liter V8 stickers for $50,130.
The Nissan Titan’s base price is $29,580 – topping out a $55,400. Regardless of trim (or whether 2WD or 4WD) all Titans come standard with a 5.6 liter V8.
Ford introduced the aluminum-bodied F-truck last year; this year, the big change is the new ten speed automatic, paired exclusively (for now) with the 3.5 liter Ecoboost V6 – which has been tweaked to make 10 more horsepower (375 now vs. 365 last year).
Next year, the ten speed will be used with both the 2.7 liter V6 and the 5.0 V8.
And – huge news – a turbo-diesel six will be offered.
The base 3.5 V6 will also be retired in favor of a new 3.3 liter V6.
Aluminum body (and bed) won’t rust.
Twin-turbo 3.5 V6 sounds like a V8 and pulls like a Budweiser Clydesdale.
V8 is still available (for now).
Helpful step-ladder built into tailgate.
Aluminum body is more vulnerable to damage – and more expensive to fix when damaged. It may cost more to insure for this reason.
Twin-turbo V6s (and ten speed transmissions) may cost more to keep up over the life of the truck.
Aluminum may not rust. But it does corrode.
All of these trucks are over-big. When you need a ladder to get up into the bed, you know things have gotten slightly silly.
The F-truck’s engine lineup starts out conventionally enough – with a six.
The V6 engines being used in trucks today are shared with – are sourced from – cars.
For example, the F-truck’s base 3.5 liter V6 (282 hp, 253 ft.-lbs. of torque) is basically the same engine used in Ford cars like the Taurus as well as a number of car-based crossover SUVs like the Edge. Same goes for the Ram 1500’s base 3.6 liter V6 (305 hp, 269 ft.-lbs. of torque) which is the same engine you’d find under the hood of a Charger or Chrysler 300.
The sixes trucks used to come standard with – before they began to market trucks to suburbanites – tended to be in-line and dedicated truck powerplants. They made less power, no doubt – but they had extra-beefy blocks and bottom ends; they were designed to be truck powerplants. Nothing sexy, but long-haul tough – in particular, tolerant of neglect and made to take abuse.
The jury is still out on the use of car-sourced V6s in big trucks. We’ll know how they stack up after they’ve been working hard for 15 or 20 years hauling firewood – and missing regularly scheduled service.
The Chevy Silverado is somewhat different in that its standard 4.3 liter V6 is direct kin to Chevy’s legendary small-block V8, just less two cylinders. Otherwise, it shares an identical layout (including a pushrod, overhead/two-valve configuration) and because of its kinship with the excellent small block V8, might be the pick of the litter as far as these trucks’ standard engines are concerned.
Well, except for the standard engines in the Tundra and Titan – which are both V8s.
The Tundra comes standard with a 4.6 liter V8 (310 hp, 327 ft.-lbs. of torque) and you can order a 5.7 liter V8 (381 hp, 401 ft. lbs. of torque) if you like. The Titan comes only with a 5.6 liter V8 (390 hp, 394 ft.-lbs. of torque) though a lesser V6 (also a car-based engine) is supposed to become available later this year.
Speaking of V8s . . .
The F-truck still offers one (5.0 liters, 385 hp and 387 ft.-lbs. of torque) but it’s a second-string engine now – like an aging quarterback they keep around for another year or two, until his contract runs out.
The big Kahuna – even if it’s small in size – is the twin-turbo 3.5 liter Ecoboost V6, paired with that new ten-speed automatic. All other F-truck engines are teamed with a six-speed automatic – although next year, both the mid-range 2.7 liter turbo V6 and the 5.0 V8 will also be paired with the ten speed automatic.
And the 3.5 liter engine’s actually not a small engine – in terms of airflow. And, power.
The turbos effectively increase their displacement (as well as power output) by stuffing more air into the engine when under boost. Thus, 375 hp and 470 ft.-lbs. of torque for the 3.5 engine – 10 more ft.-lbs. of torque than the Chevy Silverado’s top-of-the-line 6.2 liter V8 (460 ft.-lbs. of torque).
When under boost, the 3.5 V6 moves as much air – and so, makes about the same (or more) power as V8s close to twice its nominal displacement.
The 2.7’s no gimp, either: 325 hp and 375 ft.-lbs. of torque. That’s more power (and torque) than the Toyota Tundra’s standard 4.6 liter V8 (310 hp and 327 ft.-lbs. of torque).
Not a lot less, though.
Here are the stats:
The “EcoBoost” twin-turbo 3.5 V6 rates 18 city, 25 highway int the 2WD F-truck and 17 city, 23 highway with 4WD.
The F-truck’s second-string 5.0 V8 rates 15 city, 22 highway with 2WD and 15 city, 21 highway with 4WD.
So, the twin-turbo 3.5 liter six gives you – roughly – 3 additional MPG overall vs. the V8.
Chevy’s V8 (the top-of-the-line 6.2 available in the Silverado) is stronger (420 hp) and comes close to matching the mileage numbers of the EcoBoosted Ford: 15 city, 21 highway for the 2WD version and 15 city, 20 highway for the 4WD rig.
Still, the little big V6 is stout.
It can almost pull as much as the best-in-class Chevy: 12,200 lbs. vs. 12,500 lbs. Both of them completely outclass the Nissan Titan, despite its brawny name and big V8. Its maximum tow capacity is only 9,390 lbs.
The 5.7 Ram 1500 can pull as much as 10,640 lbs.
The 5.7 Tundra can go as high as 10,500 lbs.
With the 2.7 liter V6, the F-truck gives you arguably the best mix of power/performance and mileage: 19 city, 26 highway with 2WD and 18/23 with 4WD. The 2WD figure is outstanding vs. the Tundra 4.6 liter V8, which only rates 15 city, 19 highway in 2WD form and 14 city, 18 highway with 4WD.
A wild card – for now is the Ram 1500’s available 3 liter diesel. It makes 240 hp and a very strong 420 ft.-lbs. of torque (more than all the Ford’s available engines except the twin-turbo 3.5 V6). Equipped with this engine, the Ram 1500 is the most fuel-efficient 1500 series truck you can buy right now: 21 city, 29 highway. It can also tow a very solid 9,210 lbs. – vs. a maximum of 8,500 lbs. for the Ford with the 2.7 V6.
But, note the italicized text above.
Next year – this fall, actually – Ford will slot a 3.0 liter PowerStroke diesel into the F-150’s engine lineup. Specifications weren’t available as of early March, when this article was written – but word is it’ll be stronger and more capable and more fuel-efficient than the Ram’s available diesel V6.
Might be worth waiting a few months to see.
First, a preface.
We’re going to be seeing much more of these smallish engines – turbo boosted – as well as transmissions with ten speeds (maybe more) because it’s the only way big trucks will remain viable as mass-market vehicles, given the relentless upticking of both federal gas mileage standards and the soon-to-be-imposed emissions standards that – for the first time – target carbon dioxide, an inert gas, as a “pollutant.”
Which it only is if you buy the “climate change” religion.
Anyhow, the only way to “emit” less C02 is by burning less fuel – hence smaller engines and ten speed transmissions, like the F-150’s. The top several of which are overdrive speeds, each one a bit more so until you reach 10 – at which point the engine is hardly running, given the road speed. It generally won’t shift into 10th until you reach at least 45-50 MPH and have backed off the gas, are just cruising. When it does – watch the digital indicator in the main gauge cluster – engine speed drops to just over 1,000 RPM – a fast idle.
At 70 in 10th, light foot on the pedal, just maintaining your speed – the EcoBoost registers around 1,500 RPM on the tach.
That’s pretty cool, but the real trick – for the tranny (not Caitlyn) is dealing with all those gears below 10th when the time comes to put your foot down.
Some more-than-six-speed automatics are . . . busy. They have to think about it before they change gears. And they get confused. They shift up, they shift down. They sometimes skip up two or three gears to get into the top overdrive gear as quickly as they can, Because Fuel Economy – which isn’t bad per se but in some cases results in the vehicle feeling as though it is surging forward.
The F-truck’s ten speed tranny doesn’t do that. Even though it does jump through gears as quickly as Bruce ran the decathlon way back when – and even more smoothly.
Managing all those speeds had to be a programming challenge for the guys who set up the Ford’s ECU, but they did a really fine job. You can watch the progression on the digital LCD display, but the transitions up and down are almost impossible to tell by feel or sound.
Top drawer, well-played.
Speaking of sound. . . .
The EcoBoosted 3.5 V6 does one helluva V8 karaoke. Floor it (if you’re already running at highway speeds when you do this, the ten speed drops 4-5 gears, instantly) and the intake booms with the sound of atmosphere being Hoovered into the thing, almost as if there was a huge Autolite four barrel (remember?) sitting on top of a 460 under the hood.
There’s no sound of the turbos pressurizing the mix – which is probably very deliberate. Diesel people like whistle and wastegate pop. The rest like the bass notes produced by displacement – for which there is still no replacement (see above in re what turbos do). Some very attentive intake/exhaust tuning went into this package.
Only when you’re standing outside the truck and listening do you notice something’s different. Something’s quiet. There’s no V8 burble. Almost no sound at all.
Outside noise is kept . . . outside. No drafts from leaky seals. You can hear the tires a little but just barely and only if you turn down the radio, stop talking and deliberately listen.
Visibility is outstanding – as it ought to be, given the aerial view of your surroundings.
There’s some rear axle skitter on washboarded gravel roads, but that comes with the solid axle layout and all real trucks are susceptible. On pavement, the ride is – dare it be said – soft and smooth. Which is weird, like looking at Caitlyn’s chest. You do not expect to be . . . pleasantly surprised.
This is, after all, a truck.
You do become aware of its truckness when attempting U turns or are space-restricted in any way. Depending on the wheelbase (ranging from 122.4 inches to 163.7 inches) you have Mauritania-like and then Titanic-like turning circles to cope with, but this is true of all 1500s, all of which have enormous turning circles.
Ford will sell you both automated parallel parking and a trailer back-up system to cope, but if you really need these assists, you might want to up your game before buying something this big.
They are not for everyone – and shouldn’t be.
For also offers a steering assist system that I did find unnerving and turned off after playing with it for a little bit. It’s feels like it’s fighting you as much as correcting you. Painted lines on the road – which is what the system (via cameras) uses to decide when steering input is needed – are often skewed and then so is the steering assist.
The good news is, you can turn it off. Ditto the obnoxious automatic stop/start system that shuts the engine (and the AC and power steering) off whenever you roll to a stop, as at a traffic light – and then re-starts it when you take your foot off the brake and press on the gas. In stop and go driving especially, the constant engine start-stopping is annoying. It’s almost instantaneous, but it’s not noise-free. And it can’t be good for the long-term health of the battery, which now starts the car a dozen or more times each day instead of just the once or twice.
Push the Off button on top of the center stack to disable this “feature.”
Ford made a mistake back in the ‘90s when it decided to go non-traditional and gave the F-150 the “melted brick” look. Realizing its mistake, the current F-truck is righteously Squared Off again.
But the material it is made of – aluminum – is very non-traditional.
For touts the weight reduction – around 400 pounds vs. the previous-gen. all-steel F-150. It won’t rust, either although the frame – still made of steel – eventually will. And aluminum corrodes, too.
But the real problem – potentially – is what you will be dealing with if you damage those aluminum panels, especially the ones that do not bolt on, like the front fenders and hood. Welding aluminum is much more challenging (hence, expensive) than welding steel and bent/warped aluminum panels are tougher to fix than dented steel.
It may cost you more to insure an F-150 than its steel-bodied rivals. Check before you commit.
Another thing to check – if you haven’t been physically up close to a 1500 series pick-up lately – is how freakin’ tall they’ve grown. The bed walls are nipple height for a 6 foot three man and that means even standing on tip-toes, reaching stuff on the floor of the bed isn’t easy. Which is slightly ridiculous. And it’s not just a Ford Issue.
They are all like this now.
What’s next? Codpieces?
Ford’s field expedient fix is not to include a milk crate in the bed with every purchase (so you have something to stand on, in order to get at whatever is in the bed). It is to build a pop-out step-ladder (and a telescoping, pop-up grab pole) into the tailgate. You use these to climb up into the bed.
Clever engineering – but ridiculous that it’s necessary. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan all those years ago, Mr. Ford (and Mr. Chevy and Mr. Dodge) bring those walls down!
You can at least still buy a regular cab/long bed (eight foot) configuration, the kind of layout that’s useful for work, which is what trucks used to be used for.
Or you can buy Super Cab and Super Crew layouts, with various bed lengths.
Same for the domestic brand 1500s.
With the Japanese trucks, cab/bed configurations are more limited – which is one of the main reasons the Japanese have never had more than a toe-hold in the big truck market.
But they’re working on that.
It’s a shame that Ford won’t sell the F-150 Raptor’s version of the 3.5 V6 in other F-150s. In the Raptor, the twice-turbo’d V6 makes 450 hp and 510 ft.-lbs. of torque.
That kind of power would be useful in the regular F-150.
Not that there’s anything wrong with fun.
But with the Raptor’s hp and torque under the hood, the regular F-150 would be the Tow King in this class and also haul the most ass. It would topple the 6.2 Silverado off its perch as the hot rod of the segment (that can also out-tow and out-pull any other truck in the segment).
Ford has probably thought about it. But – probably – hasn’t done it because of the MPG Situation. The Raptor’s mileage is what you’d expect given 450 hp and 510 ft.-lbs. of torque: 15 city, 18 highway.
This is probably not a problem for the people who’d buy this engine. But it is a problem for Ford – see the little convo up above about CAFE averages. The Raptor is a low-volume model, so selling a few doesn’t do too much damage to Ford’s overall CAFE numbers. But if Ford sold a lot of 15 city, 18 highway Raptor engines in the regular F-150, it would have the same effect that getting a “D” in French had on your otherwise “A” and “B” high school transcript.
You can thank Uncle, then, for the Raptor’s hunky engine being limited to the Raptor.
Some things you can get that are very cool: an “extended range” 36 gallon gas tank, Ford’s unique/supplementary keypad entry system, panorama sunroof (Super Crew models), factory spotlights, heated rear seats and an outstanding 11 speaker Sony surround sound audio rig.
Also – and thank the Motor Gods – Ford got rid of those vile funhouse-style outside rearview mirrors that had two mirrors, each one giving a different perspective. The ’17 has big, useful, see-what’s-there one-piece mirrors.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is the most daring 1500 of the bunch.
The question is: Do you feel lucky?
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