Review: 2012 Ford F150 EcoBoost surprises with performance and efficiency

http://www.egmcartech.com/2012/01/31/2012-ford-f150-ecoboost-review/

Whenever anyone thinks about America and the automobile industry, one of the first things that should pop-up into mind is the pickup truck: an automobile that is synonymously iconic to our culture like the small roadster is to Great Britain or the executive saloon is to Germany. And when anyone thinks of a pickup truck, the ultimate buy word in the segment would arguably be the proverbial Ford F150. That should be a given considering that the Dearborn-based manufacturer invented the automobile when they produced the “Ford Model T Runabout with a Pickup Body” in 1925. Not to mention, the F150 is indubitably one of automotive history’s most iconic automobiles, racking up some astonishing accolades such as America’s best-selling vehicle for 24-years and best-selling truck for 34.

That said, the Ford F150 can be considered the car that ‘built’ America, much like how Jeremy Clarkson showed the world that the Ford Transit had “built” Great Britain. No matter where you go, you’ll always find some generation and some sort of variant of the Ford F150 running about doing all things utilitarian. I can go on and on about the F150’s prominence, but that would be similar to me rambling on about how famous Mr. Henry Ford is himself—gee, thanks Captain Obvious.

But truth be told, I have very little personal experience with pickups for my short time on Earth. The first and last pickup truck that I had comprehensively driven in-depth was a 2002 Dodge Ram 2500 with the 5.9L Magnum V8. And even though the Ram was uncomfortable, brash and tiresome to drive—on top of abysmal fuel economy that never went north of 15 mpg—the Ram’s commanding view of the road made it interestingly fun to drive and its practicality was hard to trump, considering that the Ram helped me move back and forth between college and home. Afterwards, the last pickup I ever drove entirely prior to this review was a 2005 Ford F150 King Ranch SuperCrew, complete with the top-of-the-line 5.4L Triton V8 during my time working at a used car dealer. Other than that though, pickup trucks never really appealed to my taste for refined and fun-driving performance and luxury cars. And that was due to their sacrifice for utilitarianism in place of luxury and driving pleasure. In other words, I felt one would be socially awkward pulling up to a fancy function in a workhorse pickup truck rather than a stately executive saloon.
2012 Ford F150 EcoBoost Lariat 4×2 SuperCrew V6 Specifications:

Style: Full-size pickup truck.
Drive Type: RWD / 4WD.
Seating Capacity: 5.
Base Price: $39,475.
Price As Tested: $45,380.
Engine: 3.5 liter twin-turbocharged, direct-injected EcoBoost V6 – 365-hp / 420 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: 6-speed automatic.
0 to 60 mph: 6.1 seconds.
Top Speed: 100 mph (electronically limited).
Curb Weight: 5,699 lbs.
Fuel-economy (EPA city/highway – egmCarTech Observed): 16/22 – 17/19 mpg.

Social awkwardness aside though, over the years numerous others have proven to take Ford’s recipe for a pickup and have perfected it in their own ways, the Ram being one of them. And over those same years, manufacturers, including Ford themselves, have evolved the pickup to be not only a workhorse automobile, but one of the most versatile vehicles money can buy. In order to continue keeping up with the times of fuel economy-conscious buyers and strict CAFE regulations, Ford had decided to gamble with a new engine top-of-the-line option for the 2011 F150: a twin-turbocharged 3.5L EcoBoost V6. It’s a boosted mill that Ford hopes will help improve the brand’s CAFE rating and sway the traditionalists from the typical pickup powerplant, so that the gasoline-guzzling V8 can slowly fade away into the pages of history (Oh dear God please no), or at least be the second choice. So, how does it fare and does it have what it takes to meet Ford’s and the buyers’ expectations?

Exterior:

There’s really not much to discuss when talking about the aesthetic aspects of pickups. Their designs are pretty straightforward. Though what differs Ford’s F150 from the more chiseled-down looks of GM’s GMT900 pickups and the sleek, refined muscle of the Dodge Ram is the F150’s Tonka Truck Toy-like looks. But it’s not outrageously childish or terribly offensive. In fact, I like the way the F150 looks. It comes off as thoroughly American, rugged and masculine—as if it could take on anything you can throw at it. It has every visual trait a real pickup should have. And who’s to argue? And what makes me appreciate the F150 even more is that its looks are also civil enough that once you were done with your dirty work, you could just take a hose and some suds to it and drive it through town like a boss. In other words, I wouldn’t feel ashamed to pull up in a clean, modern F150—like the one we had—at a fancy function. I couldn’t exactly say the same thing with the Ford F150 from several decades ago and earlier. And I definitely couldn’t say that about the 2002 Dodge Ram I drove several years ago.

Interior:

The same Tonka-like characteristics can be found inside the F150 as well. Where as the F150s of yesteryear often had flat, boring and monotone insides, the F150 of today (and ever since the 11th generation F150 from 2004 such as that 2005 King Ranch I aforementioned) dropped the straight-workhorse looks for some style, without any sacrifice or deviation from the F150’s tough, rugged utilitarian roots. And this latest F150 just takes it even a step further. So if you were like me, with the little experience I have with pickups, you’d be surprised to find a very comforting ambiance when compared to the F150s of the 1990s and prior. The responses elicited from me when I first stepped into the F150 were: “wow, this is pretty darn nice,” and “I’m really impressed.” Ford’s use of different colored materials is extraordinarily well executed making you think that you’re in a more civilized Expedition rather than an F150—and it’s definitely an exponential upgrade from that brash Ram. I simply love it.

Our tester was of the Lariat spec, which is one of the most commonly optioned trimlines of the F150. It surely isn’t the most luxurious model, nor is it the cheapest as Ford pins the Lariat just in the middle of the lineup, below (and in order from least luxurious and expensive to most luxurious and expensive) FX4, SVT Raptor, King Ranch, Platinum and Harley-Davidson Editions and above the base XL, STX, XLT and FX2. Ours was fully optioned up the wazoo complete with Microsoft/Ford’s collaboration called SYNC, their tow package, leather-trimmed 10-way heated and cooled seats with memory function—which also means the transmission shifter changes from a column stalk to a center console-mounted selector. All of the ergonomics were simple and easy to use. Admittedly, a lot of the equipment bespoke to pickups that help its owners tow and haul stuff did throw me off a bit. But I’m sure that’s purely from my lack of experience. Either way, Ford offers a lot of kit and the seats were wonderfully supportive and comfortable. Additionally, our F150 was optioned out with the 6.5-foot bed and the SuperCrew layout, which means four full doors and a rear bench to haul not just your friends or family, but their junk as well.

Performance:

Driving the F150 is where the real news is. For the first time ever, Ford’s iconic workhorse gets their latest twin-turbocharged, direct-injected 3.5L EcoBoost V6, which is the same engine that received some honorable mention and placement in cars like the current Taurus SHO and the Ford Flex EcoBoost. And even though the F150 EcoBoost V6 produces the same 365 horses as the Taurus SHO, the F150’s EcoBoost V6 produces 70 more lb-ft of twist for a whopping total of 420 lb-ft that’s best-in-class—and 90% of that is fully and readily available at 1700rpm, all the way through the rev range to 5000rpm. Mated to Ford’s SelectShift six-speed automatic, mashing the pedal from a standstill in the F150 EcoBoost would yield a 0-60 time of roughly 6.5 seconds, which is not shabby at all. In fact, during our week long test, Editor-In-Chief Omar Rana and I often found ourselves with our windows down in between quick stoplight drags with owners of older pickups and even some quick car drivers, all wondering what the hell just put them in the dust. And because that power is so readily available from the well-tuned and adjusted six-speed, highway cruising and overtaking is a breeze. Turbo lag was virtually nonexistent and traditional pickup purists would feel right at home with the EcoBoost V6. The only thing that would tell them that the F150 EcoBoost has two less cylinders would be the options list and the exhaust note, which was the sound of a muffled yet, meaty V6 with a slight hiss from the snails versus a throaty, rumbling V8. But for those who are truly committed to the seductive rumble of Ford’s V8 still have a choice to opt for their all-new 5.0L V8 mill—the same that debuted in the current Mustang 5.0—and 6.2L Boss V8, which is in the SVT Raptor. The only sacrifice with the V8s is for those seeking practicality in terms of tow capacity: the 3.5L V6 EcoBoost has the highest ratings out of all the other engine options.

Considering the F150 is no performance automobile, I completely relieved myself from any expectations of handling with the F150. But such a notion wasn’t exactly necessary because simply put, the F150 EcoBoost is truly wonderful to drive for being a full-size pickup. Sure, the handling is completely nonexistent when compared to something with a unibody and finely tuned suspension. But the F150, much like many other pickup trucks from the competitors, has thoroughly proven that utilitarian automobiles don’t have to be woeful to drive like they used to be. When compared to my 2002 Dodge Ram experience, the F150 felt like the Mercedes-Benz of pickup trucks. Refined, comfortable and composed describe the F150 EcoBoost’s ride and handling. The same could be said for the 2005 King Range Edition I drove too a while back. Highway speeds were quiet, relaxing and a complete dawdle making me think that it would be the perfect truck to take on a cross-country adventure. The steering for the entire F150 lineup except for the 6.2L Boss V8-equipped models was converted from the typical lifeless hydraulic setup to a more efficient electronically assisted power steering system. When comparing the two, the electronic system offered nothing in the way of feel next to the hydraulic setup I experienced in the 2005 King Ranch F150, but on the upside, the electric tiller was effortless with solid on-center feel, making any kind of maneuvering a breeze. Should you find yourself approaching a corner too fast, the F150 would respond with enough composure surprise to make you forget about the F150’s on-paper body-on-frame and solid-rear axle setup.

Unfortunately, for the time that we had the F150 EcoBoost V6, we weren’t able to put it in a situation to truly test the F150’s ability to haul or tow something. The closest we got though was a quick trip up into North Jersey to pickup a new couch for my apartment. And this trip led us to come up with a thing or two we could point out. Firstly, our fuel economy hovered around an average of 17-19 mpg, which is very respectable for a pickup truck and understandable when compared to the EPA’s rating of 16 mpg’s city and 22 highway. Though, we didn’t think it was much of an improvement over the alternative and more traditional engine, Ford’s new 5.0L V8, rated at 15 mpg’s city and 21 highway and even the 6.2L V8. That said, we were a little perplexed by the fact that Ford chose to opt for a traditional gasoline engine when diesel technologies are so readily available. Altogether, it raises a question for the brand itself too. Are they still betting on gasoline engines when 2/3rds of the world has been benefiting from the higher fuel efficiency of diesel-powered automobiles? Even on home turf, those who are well informed of the pickup market know that a Dodge Ram with a Cummins or a GM pickup with a Duramax, or even the Ford with a PowerStroke will yield far better fuel economy without a sacrifice in capability. Either way, I think “Big Oil” is still to blame. But that’s a whole ‘nother can o’worms.

Review: 2012 Ford F150 EcoBoost

Overall:

Altogether, I walk away from the F150 EcoBoost in complete awe as to how pickups have evolved over time. Forgetting my lack of experience aside, as a car guy, stepping into an F150 wasn’t overwhelming or intimidating whatsoever. The F150 was a breeze to get used to, especially for someone with my background…or lack thereof. In all, I see the F150 as a Swiss army knife, but one with a snakeskin holster that’s stylish and practical and is sure to elicit some conversation from others and you can take it anywhere without being terribly uncivil. And for that, I can now appreciate the appeal of pickup trucks and I’m sure those venturing into the market for the first time will too. You can haul your friends/family plus their junk and nearly go anywhere all while in good comfort and style of the mighty Ford F150. In other words, where as enthusiasts come to appreciate cars for their sense of value rather than how superior their performance and drive is, enthusiasts can appreciate the F150 for its gung-ho and do-nearly-anything capabilities. And even for those who are looking to buy the F150 for its utility, they are definitely going to feel right at home. Sure, the fuel economy may not meet the promises of exponentially better fuel economy like Ford is pitching. But Ford has apparently tested the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 to extreme ends so the V6 is sure to be as durable and reliable as the V8 it hopes to replace. Not to mention, those who are considering or have experience with pickups are used to getting cruddy fuel economy anyway. Let’s just hope that Ford’s push for the EcoBoost engines in this F150 and its other cars isn’t a harbinger of things to come, like the potential death of the V8. But simply put, the F150 is A+ all the way.

Oxmoor Ford Lincoln Louisville Kentucky, Oxmoor Auto Group Louisville Kentucky, http://www.oxmoorflm.com, http://www.oxmoorford.net.com, http://www.oxmoorlincoln.com, http://www.oxmoorautogroup.com

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