Pickup trucks used to be for hauling stuff. You would not want to use them for anything else because they were uncomfortable and crude.
Today, you can get a truck that is as comfortable as any luxury car with state-of-the-art features. And while the comfort and features have increased, the amazing thing is that trucks’ capabilities also have risen. You can buy a half-ton pickup that can tow more than 10,000 pounds easily, without overheating or struggling.
The only downside seems to be price. A perfect example of the current state of pickups is our test subject today. The 2011 Ford F150 is the benchmark for pickup trucks today and Ford has done an amazing amount of work to keep it at the forefront of the competition. We got to test a 4-by-4 F150 Lariat SuperCab and were able to put this truck through some serious tests to see if it would break a sweat.
If you have been paying attention, the F150 has been getting better and better every year. It is safe to assume that the Ford engineers in Dearborn, Mich., are not taking long lunch breaks. They must be some of the hardest-working crews out there, trying to improve something as simple as a pickup truck. And every year they come up with things that make the F150 even better.
A complaint of previous owners was fuel economy. While it is difficult to get compact-car fuel economy in a truck that can tow more than 10,000 pounds, significant improvements have been made. The biggest is the debut of the new engine that came in our truck — the 3.5-liter EcoBoost turbo V6.
The 2011 F150 comes with a choice of four different engines. The base engine is the 3.7-liter V6 that puts out 302 horsepower. The 5.0-liter V8 from the Mustang is next with 360 horsepower. A 6.2-liter V8 comes out of the Super Duty F250 and is available with 411 hp. The EcoBoost is a little down on power compared with the 6.2-liter V8, at 365 horsepower.
However, the EcoBoost is a much more advanced engine utilizing direct injection and a 10:1 compression ratio, which is amazing for a turbo engine, and provides much better fuel economy. The EPA rates the 4-by-4 at 15 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, which is excellent for such a vehicle. The 6.2-liter V8 engine gets about 13 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway.
This combination of turbocharging and direct fuel injection delivers a wealth of low-end torque and maintains it across a broad rpm range, which is key in towing applications. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost truck engine delivers 420 pound-feet of torque and 365 horsepower to enable best-in-class towing of 11,300 pounds — more than enough to tow a fully loaded three-horse trailer or a 30-foot boat, for example.
Plus, the EcoBoost truck engine does it all on regular fuel and with outstanding fuel economy. Up to 90 percent of the EcoBoost truck engine’s peak torque is available from 1,700 rpm to 5,000 rpm. A typical comparable V8 competitor reaches peak torque at higher engine speeds — around 4,000 rpm — and holds it for a much smaller range.
The EcoBoost engine went through extensive testing, with more than 1.5 million hours of analytical time, more than 13,000 hours of dynamometer testing, including more than 5,000 hours at full boost and more than 2,500 hours at or above 5,000 rpm.
Engineers put the 3.5-liter EcoBoost truck engine on an extreme, accelerated pace. The thermal cycling test, for example, replicated conditions from the Arctic Circle to Death Valley to simulate 10 years of use in the harshest environments.
“On a thermal cycling test, for example, we want the engine to get hot as fast as possible, so the best way to do that is to go full boost at high speed,” said Kris Norman, power train operations manager. “To test the structure of the engine, we run it at full boost with maximum load. We run thousands of hours at full boost — conditions not attainable in a real-drive situation but important for proving this F-150 is ready to go the distance.”
All the testing has paid off, as the F150 accelerates like a sports car from a standing start. Ford does not publish acceleration numbers for this vehicle, but rest assured, you can surprise many sports car owners at a stop light. We also tried towing a heavy load of about 6,000 pounds with the F150 and looked for steep hills and long grades. Nothing would even upset this truck; it’s a beast.
The interior of the F150 has been receiving a lot of attention, with lots of gadgets and much better interior trim. Our Lariat package F150 had some terrific features such as leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated and cooled leather seats, power sliding rear window, rear-view camera, Sony navigation radio and Sync voice-activated system. Our truck also came with the towing package, which included the built-in trailer brake controller. Every truck should come with one of these.
About the only thing we didn’t like with the F150 was the Sync system that several times refused to sync up to an iPhone. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. Maybe the Microsoft-developed system just doesn’t like to talk to an Apple product. But when the two were being nice and talked to each other, the Sony stereo system was concert-hall quality with amazing sound coming from a truck.
We mentioned this earlier, but the biggest issue with the F150 is the price. Such a high-tech and capable truck is not cheap. A base F150 starts out at $22,990. The base price of our Lariat SuperCab was $37,255. That price does not include the EcoBoost engine, which, amazingly, is only a $750 option; that is a best buy. Other options on our truck brought the price to $45,000.
One way to think about the F150 is that for $45,000 you can buy one vehicle that does everything — it can haul your trailer, play sports car, act as a luxury car or serve as a family car.