By Courtney Messenbaugh
Mother Proof September 13, 2011
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of people who drive pickup trucks like the 2011 Ford F-150 here in Colorado — ranchers (or farmers) and candidates for statewide political office who need the votes of those ranchers. I’m neither a rancher nor a candidate for political office, but after a week with the 2011 Ford F-150 SuperCrew King Ranch with four-wheel drive, I decided that ranchers and politicians may need to make way for one more kind of pickup truck person: the modern mama.
I may be accessorized with three small children and four-inch platforms instead of belt buckles and boots, but the F-150 is a surprising blend of passenger space, cargo space, convenient luxury and fun that gets the vote of everyone in my family, from me to my kids to my husband.
After a well-received redesign in 2009, the 2011 F-150 gets an engine overhaul across the lineup plus a few small design tweaks on the inside. The King Ranch trim that I tested is one of the higher trim levels and comes with a new 5.0-liter V-8 flex-fuel engine that is full of life and rousing to drive.
Alas, this five-seater is not perfect. Its fun-to-drive engine puts out dismal fuel economy numbers of 14/19 mpg city/highway. Combine that with its size and heft, which makes it tough to maneuver in many urban environs, and I was forced to occasionally reconsider my vote. I even experienced a public flogging in this truck as two aging hippies grabbed each other in fear and crouched down as I drove by them in a parking lot. It was as if the mere presence of the F-150 and its sizable, gas-guzzling ways signaled the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
However, I stand by my original vote. The 2011 Ford F-150 SuperCrew King Ranch is too much fun and family-friendly enough that I can’t deny it my love. The heft is something that one can become accustomed to. As for the fuel economy, I will simply hold out hope that Ford will find a way to improve it and give modern mamas like me a truck that doesn’t drink so much gas.
My test truck was the higher-level King Ranch trim. The starting MSRP is $45,565 and as tested, it came in at $49,395 with the addition of a power moonroof and navigation system.
We’ve established that the 2011 Ford F-150 may not be the first vehicle people expect to see a mama of three step out of, but I don’t want you to be fooled into thinking this isn’t a vehicle that a mama should step out of. The F-150 is without a doubt a supremely cool vehicle for any mama to be seen in. I’ve even been told that the F-150 has serious sex appeal; I’m pretty sure I got a few extra looks in it. My husband loved this truck, my kids loved this truck and the rest of the neighborhood kids and husbands loved this truck. The F-150 gets respect.
Besides being popular, the F-150 has some features that make family life in it easier. Ford’s Easy Fuel feature means there is no gas cap, and that means one less thing busy parents have to remember. Also, despite its heft and size — I’m 5-foot-8 and was dwarfed by this beast — the standard running boards and an integrated tailgate step ladder enabled a usually-successful entrance and exit for all but the youngest of my children. My 4-year-old could even get up on the running boards and open the hefty doors on his own.
One of only two serious issues I have with the F-150 is I never found a great long-term solution for my groceries. In the absence of a front passenger, I put the bags on the front passenger seat, but that’s not a long-term solution. One ill-fated mission to the store with my hubby in that passenger seat and the kids in the second row meant that the groceries went in the truck bed. We got home to a watermelon near death and some seriously wounded avocados. Everything flies around the bed’s cavernous space. I assume that the available cargo management system with side rails and other organizational compartments may be a solution, but it wasn’t on my test truck. The F-150’s typical payload may be rocks or heavy machinery, but now that mamas are in the F-150 market, we need to test it for its grocery-hauling abilities.
The only other concern I have is with the F-150’s fuel economy. It’s not good. The King Ranch trim that I tested has a 5.0-liter V-8 engine that delivers 360 horsepower and is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a thrill to drive and can zip around town, up mountains and past traffic. Driving the F-150 is a blast, but filling up the gas tank and getting 14/19 mpg is depressing. My test car was a flex-fuel vehicle, meaning it can take regular unleaded or E85 ethanol.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On
On the inside, the 2011 Ford F-150 is luxurious and spacious. My test car had cognac-colored leather seats trimmed with beige piping that were comfortable with just the right amount of bounce since you always need some bounce in a truck.
The instrument cluster is restyled for 2011 and the center stack includes a sharp-looking 8-inch screen to showcase the standard backup camera and optional navigation system. Large round buttons and controls make using the center stack easy. Being a Ford, the F-150 comes with Ford’s Sync system that enables you to control music, Bluetooth and other features via voice (oh, how I wish my children also came with such a system!) and offers a 911 Assist feature, much like GM’s OnStar.
There are also plenty of storage options in the interior including a center console that’s big enough to hold a laptop and some files (not that I have time to file anything, but still …), eight cupholders and enlarged door pockets. A miraculous flip-up second-row seat provides more storage space still, up to 57 cubic feet. With three child-safety seats installed on the backseat, someone like me isn’t able to routinely access this feature, but knowing it’s there is good enough for now and it could be put to good use to tackle the whole grocery-bag issue.
Head, shoulder and legroom for all passengers, front and back, was great. The second-row bench fit my three large child-safety seats like a dream, and even with the rear-facing infant seat installed, the front passenger had plenty of legroom. Since our regular family car is a minivan and the children are typically spread between two rows, I was surprised by how much they enjoyed — and I enjoyed — being right next to each other in one row. The truth is, my kids, my husband and I all really enjoyed the F-150 SuperCrew King Ranch.
IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
It’s not exactly reassuring when you get into a vehicle and one of the first things that catches your eye is a sticker on the sun visor that reads “Higher rollover risk, avoid abrupt maneuvers and excessive speed.” It helps, though, that the F-150 comes standard with Rollover Stability Control, which uses sensors to help detect and mitigate rollovers.
Despite the higher rollover risk, the F-150 with the crew cab has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It earned the highest scores of Good in frontal-impact, side-impact, rear and roof-strength crash tests. It also has an electronic stability system standard. If that doesn’t deserve a “yee-haw,” I don’t know what does.
The F-150 SuperCrew King Ranch has standard all-disc antilock brakes, traction control and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. The standard programmable keypad on the driver’s door adds security and convenience to the F-150.
The two sets of lower Latch anchors were easy to access and well-marked, two attributes that came as a surprise since this isn’t the typical family-mobile. Moreover, the ability to fit three child-safety seats across the second row was darn good.