Ford silences its critics with a midcycle F-150 that is simply dominant
Ford gambled more than $1 billion USD and abandoned seven decades of steel bodywork to create a 2015 F-150 with an aluminum body. Dropping a claimed 700 pounds (317 kg) would improve fuel economy, increase towing capacity, improve power-to-weight ratios, and create a truck with fewer parts subject to rust.
The move was bold and expensive. Two truck plants closed for 13 weeks each to gut the body shop. Months of downtime meant the lost sale of 60,000 trucks valued at $40,000 USD or higher, followed by a slow rollout. Ford endured a year of lost market share and profits. Critics called it an unnecessary and costly mistake.
Ford fought back, saying reducing weight was just step one in a more comprehensive reimagining of the F-150. Still to come were a new powertrain lineup with new engines, improvements to existing ones, and a new transmission.
Patience, Ford pleaded. We’re just getting started.
Three years ago, we determined the new F-150 had a nice body but that not all the details had been sorted out. The F-150 lost the Motor Trend 2015 Truck of the Year title to the Chevrolet Colorado.
Fast-forward to today. For 2018 Truck of the Year testing, Ford gave us four variants to show the breadth of the changes under the hood. Ford has been busy; the interiors have gotten nicer, the infotainment system more intuitive, the steering better. The F-150 chassis is stupendous, the innovations have increased, and it has earned an NHTSA five-star safety rating.
It was unanimous. The Ford F-150 is Motor Trend’s 2018 Truck of the Year. “It was a pretty resounding win,” road test editor Chris Walton said. “Nothing really came close.”
The F-150 was once again up against its nemesis: the Colorado ZR2 Crew Cab with either a 3.6-liter V-6 or a 2.8-liter turbodiesel I-4. And there was the GMC Sierra Denali 3500 HD, a dually with a 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel V-8.
Ford proved its superiority with an impressive range of trucks with a different grille and wheel-tire combo for every taste and ride and handling that have come a long way since 2015.
2018 Ford F-150 4×2 Supercab XL
This rear-drive work truck with lots of rubber and vinyl, a front bench seat, an AM/FM radio, a CD player, and a slotted coin holder has an element of purity. There is a wisp of nostalgia listening to the 3.3-liter naturally aspirated V-6 work to produce 290 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque. It was visceral while delivering the lineup’s second-best efficiency at 19/25 mpg (12.4/9.4 L/100km) in city/highway driving. (The rear-drive 2.7 EcoBoost ups those numbers by 1 mpg each.) “I always fall in love with the base models,” editor-in-chief Ed Loh said.
We were not as misty-eyed about the carryover six-speed automatic. Executive editor Mark Rechtin experienced an abundance of gear hunting uphill, whereupon it stayed in sixth gear downhill and would only downshift in Sport or Tow mode. Associate online editor Alex Nishimoto also experienced weird gear choices—he once downshifted to second in Sport mode downhill at 40 mph (64 km/h). Some liked the start/stop system, but others found it a bit harsh and felt it paired better with the 10-speed.
Our entry truck has less ground clearance and no four-wheel drive, so it could not get to our washed-out quarry of choice for the dirt-drifting shenanigans that the four-wheel-drive F-150s enjoyed.
The XL is a champ with a trailer. It weighed less than the trailer it towed (not to mention the smaller Colorado) but tied for the second-fastest quarter mile while laden and was a handling master on the skidpad. Features editor Christian Seabaugh was impressed. “The little 3.3 has zero trouble towing its 5,000-pound (2,268-kg) trailer,” he said. “Tow/Haul mode keeps the gears low and the engine roaring. No shift shock. Rock solid and stable. Super easy to park this trailer, too.”
The bare-bones truck has a boxed steel frame, a locking removable tailgate, pickup box tie-down hooks, trailer sway control, hitch assist, hill-start assist, and curve control standard.
“I love the tiny screen that still gives you all the major features (except for navigation),” said Loh, who used USB and Bluetooth to play Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, and NPR One. “The backup camera works well and has a zoom feature that allowed me to connect a trailer with little help from the spotter. Everything works. Nothing is luxe. That’s the way it is supposed to be—functional.”
It’s easy to question this F-150’s value proposition when focusing on its $32,760 USD starting price, but when you look at its class-leading payload and towing capacity, the bill becomes easier to swallow. Trucks are made to work, after all. Still, the base F-150 is a few thousand dollars more than some competitive half-ton pickups when comparably equipped.
Our tester came to $36,285 USD with the must-have spray-in bedliner option, chrome appearance package, cruise control, and 17-inch painted aluminum wheels with Michelin LTX M/S2 tires.
2018 F-150 4×4 Supercrew Lariat
Seabaugh thinks the $995 USD bump for the 2.7-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 engine (325 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque) and the 10-speed transmission is money well spent. This is one of the new engines a lighter-bodied F-150 made possible. (Buyers can also opt for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, which we didn’t test in this variant because it was in play last year.)
“I can’t believe that such a tiny engine can produce this much power,” Motor Trend en Español editor Miguel Cortina said. “This is probably the one that I would get if it were my own money.” That will be $48,265 USD please, Mr. Cortina, if you want the base model; it’s $60,475 USD for our tester.
Walton was impressed. “It never fails to amaze me how well pickup trucks drive now,” he said. “The 2.7 is all the engine most folks will ever need, and the steering is shockingly precise.” On the sweeping curve of the Davis Dam grade where Walton measured steering input, the truck held its steering angle like it was on railway tracks. The Lariat’s strong brakes and street tires brought it to a stop from 60 mph in 119 feet—impressive for a truck weighing 5,265 pounds (2,388 kg). The chassis is fantastic, shining the way we think Ford originally wanted it to. “It is an absolute sweetheart to drift,” Seabaugh said.
Loh gave kudos to Ford for leading the way on safety technology with airbag-equipped seat belts for rear passengers and a lane keeping assist system that gently caresses (rather than nudges) the truck back to the center of the lane.
Where the 2.7-liter failed to impress was the downhill on the Davis Dam. With cruise control set to 65 mph (105 km/h), the Lariat’s small displacement meant insufficient engine braking for its cargo load—hitting 76.2 mph (123 km/h) in our test. Otherwise it did the loop with less drama than other trucks, exploiting the torque to its advantage.
The $48,265 USD base model has foglamps, BoxLink cargo management, a power-sliding rear window, an 8.0-inch screen, Sync 3, adjustable pedals, and heated/cooled front seats. Extras on our $60,475 USD tester include a bedliner, a twin-panel moonroof, 20-inch wheels with Goodyear Wrangler tires, active park assist, a 360-degree camera, blind-spot detection with trailer tow monitoring, remote start, and heated power-folding mirrors, steering wheel, and second-row seats.
A quibble: the console shifter’s too-soft detents. It is too easy to shift from park past drive and into Manual mode, Nishimoto found. Going the other way, it frequently zipped past reverse and into park—an anxiety on quick three-point turns. But we all liked the 10-speed automatic, which kicks down several gears instantly on acceleration, going from 10th to fifth at 65 mph (105 km/h) at wide-open throttle.
2018 F-150 4×4 Supercrew Platinum
Yes, a good old-fashioned V-8. The 5.0-liter has the same torque as the 2.7-liter turbo V-6 at 400 lb-ft, but it ups the ante with 395 hp and the rumble of a V-8, which was once the staple of every full-size truck. Emotionally, it’s the engine we want: relaxed, steady power.
We expected the Raptor to dominate the performance tests, but the 5.0-liter is right on top of it. It wasn’t much slower from 0 to 60 mph, and even though they tied in the quarter mile, the 5.0-liter was going 96.6 mph (155 km/h) to the Raptor’s 91.4—so it was passing like a freight train. “That kind of shocked me,” Walton said. The 5.0-liter sounds and hauls like a truck should. It did the quarter mile in 20.3 seconds at 71.9 mph (116 km/h) while dragging a 9,000-pound (4,082-kg) trailer. Going up the Davis Dam it dragged out shifts to the redline. Gear changes were smooth.
LED lighting, body-color bumpers, power running boards, and heated rear seats are now standard on a truck with a $58,875 USD base price. Our tester was $63,205 USD, adding the bedliner, twin-panel sunroof, and 360-degree camera to offer active park assist and adaptive cruise control. It also has a tailgate step and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels with Hankook Dynapro ATM tires.
“This truck is stupid expensive, but it at least feels like a luxury truck,” Seabaugh said. “It’s quiet and comfortable inside, with beautiful leather, nice wood trim, and a general high-quality feel. This is the first F-150 of the three I’ve driven that feels like its sticker price.”
2017 F-150 Raptor Supercrew
What a concept: a desert racer with a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 generating 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque that does 0–60 mph in 6 seconds flat and can do a burnout with a trailer attached. It’s a treat on good pavement, carving corners and provoking grins. The Raptor starts at $51,080 USD; our tester came to $64,745 USD.
“The nearest automotive equivalent—and this will sound weird—is a car that has been equally loved and sweated over, the similarly aggressive and goofy-looking yet oh so refined and sophisticated Honda Civic Type R,” Loh said. “The similarities are quite compelling. And yeah, I loved that one, too.”
“Acceleration is fantastic,” Nishimoto said. “You get a nice whoosh from the turbos shortly after hitting the throttle and then a rush of power. There’s also little turbo lag. I love the long metal paddle shifters on the steering wheel. I found myself dropping into Manual mode more often just so I could use them.”
Cortina loved the transmission, as well. “The powerful engine is well mated to the transmission, which provides fast shifts at the right time,” he said. “The fact it can skip gears to provide a faster downshift gives the feeling there’s more power.” But he doesn’t like placement of the Off-Road mode button on the steering wheel, where you can accidently engage or disengage 4WD with a misplaced thumb.
Off-road is where the Raptor is in its element, but it also sets well when cornering on pavement. However, the rear end gets skittery on imperfect roadways, and a trailer exacerbates it.
Few folks will tow with a Raptor, but we tested it anyway. In the quarter mile, the Raptor hauls a trailer in 18.2 seconds at 74.4 mph (120 km/h). But its fancy dampers and softer springs did not like the tongue weight of the 4,000-pound (1,814-kg) trailer. The rear sagged, so all you could see in the rearview mirror was tarmac. But it was the only truck that noticeably used brakes to slow it just before an automated downshift, taking the load off the transmission. It was effective at holding speed going downhill. At only 1.7 mph (2.7 km/h) over the 65-mph (105-km/h) setting, the Raptor was the best in test. It also had the best air conditioning while pulling under load.
Ford’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist, available across the F-150 lineup, alleviates anxiety while backing up a trailer, especially when there’s an impatient lineup at the boat ramp. Pairing the truck’s assist function with our trailer took 15 minutes, a tape measure, some stickers, and a pen. Then you just turn the knob on the center stack in the direction you want everything to go. PTBA takes care of the rest. Magic. Equally handy is a trailer hookup checklist on the instrument panel menu, which ensures you don’t forget a step.
In looking at the F-150 lineup, Ford kept its promise to lead the pack once it completed its transformation. Last year, Ford dominated our competition with the thunderous F-250 and F-350 Super Duty lineup. Now it’s Ford’s full-size light-duty pickups that grab the Calipers. And there is more to come. Ford will put a diesel under the F-150’s hood this coming summer and will offer a hybrid by 2020.
“Ford really sweats the small stuff on this truck,” Seabaugh said. “They know it’s their bread and butter.”
|2018 Ford F-150 XL (4×2 Supercab 3.3L)||2018 Ford F-150 Lariat 4×4 (2.7 EcoBoost Supercrew)||2018 Ford F-150 Platinum 4×4 (5.0L Supercrew)||2017 Ford F-150 Raptor Supercab|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, 4WD||Front-engine, 4WD||Front-engine, 4WD|
|ENGINE TYPE||60-deg V-6, alum block/heads||Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6, iron block/alum heads||90-deg V-8, alum block/heads||Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||203.7 cu in/3,337 cc||164.3 cu in/2,693 cc||307.2 cu in/5,034 cc||212.9 cu in/3,489 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||290 hp @ 6,500 rpm||325 hp @ 5,000 rpm||395 hp @ 5,750 rpm||450 hp @ 5,000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||265 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm||400 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm||400 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm||510 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm|
|REDLINE||7,000 rpm||5,800 rpm||5,800 rpm||6,300 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||15.7 lb/hp||16.2 lb/hp||13.6 lb/hp||12.7 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed automatic||10-speed automatic||10-speed automatic||10-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; solid axle, leaf springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.8-in vented disc; 13.2-in vented disc, ABS||13.8-in vented disc; 13.2-in vented disc, ABS||13.8-in vented disc; 13.2-in vented disc, ABS||13.8-in vented disc; 13.7-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||7.5 x 17-in cast aluminum||8.5 x 20-in cast aluminum||8.5 x 20-in cast aluminum||8.5 x 17-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||245/70R17 110T (M+S) Michelin LTX M/S2||275/55R20 113T (M+S) Goodyear Wrangler||275/55R20 113T (M+S) Hankook Dynapro ATM||315/70R17 113/110S (M+S) BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2|
|WHEELBASE||145.0 in||145.0 in||145.0 in||134.2 in|
|TRACK, F/R||67.6/67.6 in||67.6/67.6 in||67.6/67.6 in||73.9/73.6 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||231.9 x 79.9 x 75.5 in||231.9 x 79.9 x 77.2 in||231.9 x 79.9 x 77.2 in||220.0 x 86.3 x 78.5 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||47.1 ft||47.1 ft||47.1 ft||44.3 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,564 lb||5,265 lb||5,371 lb||5,711 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||57/43%||59/41%||58/42%||55/45%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.8/40.3 in||40.8/40.4 in||40.8/40.4 in||40.8/40.3 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||43.9/33.5 in||43.9/43.6 in||43.9/43.6 in||43.9/33.5 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||66.7/65.8 in||66.7/65.9 in||66.7/65.9 in||66.7/65.8 in|
|CARGO VOLUME BEH 1ST ROW||31.6 cu ft||51.9 cu ft||51.9 cu ft||31.6 cu ft|
|PICKUP BOX L x W x H||78.9 x 65.2 x 21.4 in||67.1 x 65.2 x 21.4 in||67.1 x 65.2 x 21.4 in||61.7 x 65.2 x 21.4 in|
|PICKUP BOX VOLUME||62.3 cu ft||52.8 cu ft||52.8 cu ft||52.8 cu ft|
|WIDTH BET WHEELHOUSES||50.6 in||50.6 in||50.6 in||50.6 in|
|PAYLOAD CAPACITY||1,840 lb||1,690 lb||2,080 lb||1,000 lb|
|TOWING CAPACITY||5,000 lb||7,600 lb||9,100 lb||6,000 lb|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.8 sec||2.5 sec||2.4 sec||2.1 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.7||3.7||3.1||3.1|
|QUARTER MILE||15.9 sec @ 88.2 mph||15.5 sec @ 89.5 mph||14.7 sec @ 96.6 mph||14.7 sec @ 91.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||129 ft||119 ft||120 ft||140 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.75 g (avg)||0.76 g (avg)||0.75 g (avg)||0.70 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.6 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)||28.4 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)||28.0 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)||29.2 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,600 rpm||1,550 rpm||1,450 rpm||1,550 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$36,285||$60,475||$63,205||$64,745|
|AIRBAGS||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||23.0 gal||26.0 gal||26.0 gal||26.0 gal|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||18.7/23.1/20.5 mpg||14.9/23.2/17.7 mpg||Not tested||14.3/18.6/16.0 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||19/25/22 mpg||19/24/21 mpg||16/22/18 mpg||15/18/16 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||177/135 kW-hrs/100 miles||177/140 kW-hrs/100 miles||211/153 kW-hrs/100 miles||225/187 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.91 lb/mile||0.93 lb/mile||1.06 lb/mile||1.20 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular||Unleaded regular||Unleaded regular||Unleaded premium|