Posted by Mike Levine
The Ford Harley-Davidson F-150 returns to the Blue Oval’s half-ton lineup for the 11th year, but with most consumer and media attention focused on the amazing F-150 SVT Raptor off-roader or other models powered by the all-new 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin turbo V-6, has the 2011 Harley F-150 lost some of its mojo? We spent a week piloting the latest HD F-150 around Los Angeles to find out.
One thing the Harley F-150 hasn’t lost is its ability to capture attention. Big 22-inch forged aluminum wheels with low-profile P275/45R22 tires and a six-bar billet grille give the truck a cocky stance that catches the eye.
In a Target parking lot, the Harley was carefully inspected by three generations of a family. On the freeway, it received an emphatic thumbs up. And while parking for an evening event, it drew the attention of some of the most jaded auto critics in Southern California — parking attendants. Three lot jockeys stared and conferenced for 30 seconds before approaching to ask if we were driving a Raptor. Oy.
Ford changes the Harley’s look almost every year, but the latest model’s bling is less enthusiastic than in some recent editions. Whereas last year’s truck featured a monochromatic metallic paint job with Lava-colored swooshes, the 2011 HD sports thin hot-rod-style “speed scallop” vinyl graphics that trail back from the front wheel flares. The flares are defined by orange borders around a brushed satin-finish design. Similar scallops appear on the hood.
Our four-door SuperCrew wore Ingot Silver Metallic paint, which is new for 2011, and traditional Tuxedo Black Metallic.
The biggest change is tucked away under the hood. The old 5.4-liter Triton V-8 — versions of which have been the heart of this truck since it debuted in 2000 — has been replaced by the new 6.2-liter V-8 rated at 411 horsepower and 434 pounds-feet of torque. That’s 101 hp and 69 pounds-feet more than last year’s mill.
The premium eight-cylinder engine pushed the Harley F-150 from zero to 60 mph in just 7.15 seconds, according to our VBOX testing hardware. That’s fast, especially for a truck weighing more than 5,000 pounds, but other (cheaper) F-150s armed with Ford’s EcoBoost V-6 can hit that figure in the upper sixes.
Towing is also improved. It’s been increased to 7,200 pounds for our all-wheel/four-wheel-drive tester, up from last year’s 5,100 pounds, though the 3.73 limited-slip rear axle remains unchanged.
But the performance improvements aren’t free. It’s unlikely that buyers of the Harley F-150 rank gas mileage high among their purchase criteria, but with gas prices stuck in the $4 range around Southern California, it’s disappointing to see the 2011 Harley’s fuel economy rating has dropped to 12/16 mpg city/highway from last year’s 14/18 mpg. We saw that drop in our observed mileage. In the 2010 model we drove last year, we averaged 13.7 mpg while we struggled to stay above 11 to 12 mpg in the 2011.
The 6.2’s exhaust note remains one of the Harley’s most attractive attributes in the tradition of Harley motorcycles. It’s a built-in character that EcoBoost F-150s can’t touch with their flat and muted-sounding, direct-injection six-cylinder engine.
On the freeway, extra throttle requests to the F-150’s 6R140 six-speed automatic powertrain were met with rewarding 6-5, 6-4 or 6-3 downshifts, depending on how aggressive we were with the pedal. The bigger the gap, the better the burble from the exhaust.
The six-speed gearbox also sports the new progressive range select feature. It allows the driver to reduce the number of available gears so it’s easier to let the exhaust note hang longer without worrying about the truck upshifting and squelching the fun. All it takes is pressing the +/- button on the console-mounted shift lever to set the top gear.
Despite the low-profile tires and big wheels, Ford has done an excellent job tuning the Harley F-150’s suspension and chassis so the truck doesn’t beat up its occupants when it’s empty, which is how we drove the truck all week and expect most owners will, too. In most situations, it was comfortable to cruise in, especially with the highly adjustable front captain’s chairs dialed in just right.
Inside is where the Harley F-150 differentiates itself from the rest of the F-Series lineup and most other full-size pickups. Polished Tuxedo Black trim around the instrument panel gives the HD a classy touch enhanced by scuffed metallic gauges and a brushed center console lid. The lid, which sports a pattern similar to the pattern on the exterior scallops, emphasizes appearance over functionality: Resting your arm on the Harley shield and VIN badging on the console felt uncomfortable.
Other unique touches include leather-trimmed seats with HD cloisonné badges. Ambient LED lightning in the cupholders and footwells changes colors with the touch of a button, including green, blue, orange and red. Slick.
Temperatures this past week in Los Angeles hovered in the 90s in many places, so the Harley’s air-conditioned front seats were used frequently to keep cool, especially after a long day driving Freightliner FL70 over-the-road trucks in preparation to get our commercial driver’s license. The Harley’s cabin was heaven after that rig’s beat-up, window-cooled interior. The front and rear seats also come with standard heaters.
Other standard interior highlights in our tester include a voice-activated navigation system with an 8-inch touch-screen, Sirius satellite radio, power moonroof, rearview camera and remote starter.
But does the Harley’s luxury-slathered interior, street-tuned suspension and 6.2-liter V-8 justify its $52,740 price tag? Here is where we wonder about the Harley’s value.
The base price of our all-wheel-drive/four-wheel-drive Harley was $52,115 plus $250 for the bed extender and $375 for the integrated tailgate step, for a grand total of $52,740.
Now, compare that price with a Ford F-150 SVT Raptor SuperCrew 6.2, which starts at $44,700. You won’t get a fancy interior for that money, but you will get a pickup truck that commands as much attention as the Harley with similar power and performance but with the added bonus of being able to show it off off-road as well as on the streets. It makes us wonder how much the Raptor is eating the Harley’s breakfast in sales, especially now that both trucks are available with four full-size doors.
Bottom Line: The 2011 Ford Harley-Davidson F-150 continues to offer truck buyers attention-grabbing style coupled with powerful performance straight from the factory, but the Raptor is stealing the Harley’s street cred while EcoBoost F-150s offer faster sprint times and significantly better fuel economy.