2015 Ford F-150 First Drive [w/videos] [UPDATE]
Utilizing Lightweight Aluminum To Break Steel Traditions
EngineTwin-Turbo 3.5L V6
Power365 HP / 420 LB-FT
Curb Weight4,925 LBS
Warranty4 Years / 50,000 Miles
As Tested Price$61,000 (est)
To learn more about the all-new 2015 F-150 and get an early read on its potential hero-or-zero status, we flew to the heart of full-size pickup truck country, San Antonio, TX, to spend a day driving, towing and playing in the mud with an assortment of Ford's innovative new trucks.
First, a caveat – while we feel we have a reasonably good handle on the new F-150 after attending this first-drive event, we are far from ready to pass definitive judgment on the success of this radically new rig. Our time in the various models was lamentably limited and we felt rushed. With so much at stake and with so much to talk about and experience, we had zero alone time with the vehicle – there were Ford folks shadowing us at every moment.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let's get back to the elemental issue at hand: aluminum. Switching to this material is part bravery and part monumental risk. Ford's challenges stretch far beyond engineering, sourcing, manufacturing and cost control concerns to things like consumer acceptance, crash repair methodology and even insurance ramifications. The use of aluminum has never been attempted before on this scale, let alone in the hard-working pickup truck segment. There will be no bigger gamble in the auto industry this year from any manufacturer. The 2015 F-150 has the potential to be a game changer or, with a few subtle miscalculations, one of the biggest bungles in automotive history.
Let's get some potential misconceptions out of the way: first off, the metal used in the F-150 is nothing like the material in a dent-prone Coke can. Aluminum is offered in countless different grades based on its alloying elements and heat treatment and available in a variety of strengths. Done properly, it's tougher than steel and has many advantages – aluminum has about twice the strength-to-weight ratio, so panels can be thicker without adding weight or thinner while still retaining sturdiness. The metal is also highly resistant to corrosion, meaning rust should be less of a worry.
The aluminum used in the F-150 is nothing like the material in a dent-prone Coke can.
And it's not a totally new material for Ford. Dearborn has used aluminum before in some of its vehicles (hoods, fenders, etc.), and remember, Ford was the parent company of Jaguar and Land Rover, British brands that have embraced the alloy in a big way. Thus it should come as no surprise that its engineers have the expertise to craft the entire truck's body and bed of several different grades, varying the thickness based on expected use and abuse. The aluminum isn't spot welded, it's bonded with structural adhesives and boron rivets – the same way aircraft are made. The resulting components are permanently mated and incredibly durable. More importantly, Ford says the process saves upwards of 700 pounds off the vehicle's curb weight - model and trim dependent (the lightest version is the Regular Cab 4x2 122 with the 3.5-liter at 4,050 pounds, while the heaviest is the SuperCrew 4x4 157 with the 3.5-liter Ecoboost at 5,142 pounds).
Traditional steel still plays a big role in the fullsize pickup. It's used to build the new eight-crossmember ladder frame, the basic building block for this body-on-frame truck. Ford says the new fully boxed frame is the truck's strongest ever, with varying thickness of material, corrugated sections for additional strength, pass-through crossmembers (that run through the frame rails and are welded on both sides) and an increased thickness e-coating for additional corrosion resistance. Last year's F-150 frame utilized 23-percent high-strength steel while the 2015 claims 78-percent utilization, making it stronger and 60 pounds lighter.
Without a magnet, there is effectively no way of knowing if a truck's body and bed are aluminum – every panel is opaquely painted, offering no hint of the new construction. The aluminum-intensive build may be revolutionary, but the truck's appearance, with bold shoulders and muscular lines, is evolutionary – it's unmistakably an F-150. That's important in a segment that has proven historically resistant to change, valuing attributes like presumptive durability and ease-of-repair over innovation and sleek lines. Ford last took a big gamble on the F-Series' appearance in the late '90s with its much more streamlined tenth-generation truck, and it's unlikely to do so again any time soon.
The aluminum-intensive build may be revolutionary, but the truck's appearance, with bold shoulders and muscular lines, is evolutionary.
That desire to ease buyers into this brave new world also means that Ford will offer the F-150 in familiar trims, although each arrives with more standard features and a commensurate price increase. As we reported in July, the entry-level XL starts at $26,615 and XLT pricing ranges from $31,890 (XL and XLT trims cover 70 percent of F-150 sales). The upmarket Lariat trim begins at $39,880, while the lathered-in-leather King Ranch jumps to $49,460 and the range-topping Platinum rings up at $52,155. Of course, there are countless packages and options to drive those prices significantly upward.
There are three different cab choices, which include Regular, Supercab and Supercrew, three different bed lengths (5.5 feet, 6.5 feet and 8 feet), two drivelines (4x2 and 4x4) and four engines – we will discuss these in-depth momentarily.
An exterior walk-around of the 2015 F-150 reveals several new features, including available bi-LED headlights and LED floodlights in the exterior mirrors, a convenient kick-down step at bed's leading edge and a locking remote-drop tailgate with a cleanly integrated step and assistance pole. There are a brace of LEDs to illuminate the cargo box, too, and a rather trick optional Boxlink cargo management system employing easily configurable cleats to restrain loads or hang ramps out of the way. Lastly, there are tiny cameras all over as part of its new 360-degree camera system that offers a drone-like overhead view of the vehicle for maneuvering in tight quarters.
Climbing into the vehicle, occupants face a completely redesigned interior that's two inches wider than last year's model. Familiarity is again the theme, with nearly all primary controls in the same locations, albeit each featuring improved ergonomics, tactile feedback or convenience. Ford's round climate control vents have been replaced by larger rectangular units which appear to deliver more airflow, and all of the glove-friendly rotary control knobs have thankfully been retained. In between the two large analog dials on the instrument cluster, one for the tachometer and the other for the speedometer, there is a new eight-inch multifunction display highlighting auxiliary gauges, tire pressure, off-road mode, trip computer and other information.
The driver faces a meaty four-spoke steering wheel with an open slot at the six-o'clock position. Ford says the latter provides plenty of long-distance comfort for drivers even while wearing gloves, but your author's ungloved hand was a tight squeeze. Door sills are thoughtfully wide to rest elbows on with windows up or down, and lower armrests sit at the same height as the oversized center console, improving comfort. Rear-seat passengers enjoy more foot room and available airbag-equipped seatbelts. Lastly, clamshell doors on Supercab models – sans B-pillar – open a full 180-degrees wide to ease loading and avoid getting trapped in between the two open doors in parking lots.
Pressing the start/stop button fires one of four engines to life.
The base F-150 mill is a naturally aspirated, multiport-injected 3.5-liter V6 rated at 283 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. Rated to tow 7,600 pounds or carry a 1,910-pound payload, this downsized powerplant replaces Ford's 3.7-liter V6, and it's slightly less powerful than its predecessor. However, it also doesn't have to work as hard with the lighter platform to achieve similar performance. Consider it the price leader and fleet engine.
Ford expects the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 to be its volume engine, news that might've come as a shock just a few years ago.
Those who regularly tow big trailers or haul heavy loads will likely consider opting for the naturally aspirated, multiport-injected 5.0-liter V8. Now rated at 385 hp and 387 lb-ft, it's able to tow up to 11,100 pounds or carry a 3,300-pound payload.
A fresh arrival to the Ford family is a next-generation, twin-turbocharged, direct-injected, 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6. The engine features an aluminum and compacted graphite iron cylinder block (used for the first time in a gasoline engine) and aluminum heads. The impressively small engine features integrated exhaust manifolds to reduce turbo lag and stop/start to improve efficiency. Rated at 325 hp and 375 lb-ft, it's capable of towing 8,500 pounds or carrying a 2,250-pound payload. Ford expects the 2.7-liter to be its volume engine, news that might've come as a shock just a few years ago.
Of course, that's no longer a surprise thanks to the runaway sales success of the returning twin-turbocharged, direct-injected, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. Now the most powerful engine, it returns 365 hp and 420 lb-ft, netting a best-in-class towing capacity of 12,200 pounds and a maximum payload of 3,180 pounds. That'd be enough capacity to haul around a Porsche 911 Carrera, if only it could be shoehorned to fit.
The 3.5L EcoBoost's 365 hp and 420 lb-ft net a best-in-class towing capacity of 12,200 pounds and a maximum payload of 3,180 pounds.
All engines are mated to a six-speed Selectshift automatic with towing and sport modes. Ford hasn't released specifics for fuel economy, but the weight loss and other efficiency improvements should shave five to 20 percent off last year's figures.
An available off-road package, called FX4, adds hefty skid plates, off-road tuned shocks and an electronic locking rear differential to four-wheel-drive-equipped models.
Grabbing the keys to a range-topping Platinum model with the 3.5L reveals a truck bristling with technology. Its extensive list of convenience and safety features includes a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with sensors cleverly integrated into the rear taillamps, adaptive cruise, lane-keeping assist, self parking, rearview camera, backup sensors (with Dynamic Hitch Assist for trailers), auto high beams and rain-sensing windshield washers. These are items that might've seemed innovative on a Mercedes-Benz S-Class only a handful of years ago.
The driving position is commanding, with the new styling improving outward visibility thanks to the signature dropout in the front windows plunging even lower on 2015 models. Combine the more expansive windows with new 360-degree camera and parking sensors, and it would take proactive effort to hit something stationary on any side of this pickup.
The new F-150 definitely feels lighter and more agile than its predecessor. Acceleration with the turbocharged 3.5-liter is surprisingly quick (accompanied with wheel spin if the bed isn't loaded), but it understandably loses pep as taller gearing and aerodynamic drag bog it down above 70 mph. The new turbocharged 2.7-liter is only marginally slower, but it suffers from slight lag off the line.
Ford is seemingly making no attempt to take the "truck" out of its F-150.
Both V6 EcoBoost engines sound very good under full throttle, nearly mimicking the sound of a powerful V8. (We asked several Ford reps about the exhaust note – an engineer finally revealed that an augmented synthetic soundtrack is piped into the cabin on certain EcoBoost models in the same manner that the Blue Oval does with its 2.3-liter Mustang.)
The 2015 F-150 has a double-wishbone front suspension that's similar to the outgoing model, but its track has been widened by about an inch. The rear is still a live rear axle with multi-leaf steel springs and outboard shock absorbers, but the shocks are newly staggered to mitigate axle hop under hard acceleration.
The ride on the open road is firm, with small imperfections in the pavement clearly felt within the cabin. Part of this has to be blamed on our Platinum test model's 20-inch wheels with 275/55-series rubber. But some of the accountability is also aimed at suspension, which may have required stiffer tuning to accommodate heavier payload capabilities. While some rivals are pursuing SUV-like rides, Ford is seemingly making no attempt to take the "truck" out of its F-150.
While the loss of 500-plus pounds hasn't necessarily improved the F-150's ride quality, the benefits of its newly svelte shell are felt in corners and under braking. Push the F-150 into a bend and it doesn't feel as if the cab is rolling over in high seas. Instead, it sets up beautifully, with utmost steadiness, and hangs until the all-season tires throw in the towel. Push harder, and the nose-heavy truck will understeer predictably. The brakes have significantly less mass to halt, so they work better and stay cooler, which translates to increased capability with or without something in tow.
The benefits of its newly svelte shell are felt in corners and under braking.
As with the outgoing truck, the new F-150 features electric power-assisted steering. Most will be very happy with the helm in everyday driving, as it is nicely weighed and accurate. Its only downside is odd off-center feel – it appears the system has been tuned for utmost stability on the highway, so abrupt steering inputs above 60 mph feel particularly artificial in response.
In terms of overall isolation, the F-150 is very comfortable on the open road. The stiff new chassis and very rigid body equate to a ride free of squeaks and rattles, and there's almost no tire or road rumble. The only noises in the cabin are the aforementioned pleasing engine soundtrack and from the wind as it spins around the mirrors and rushes by the windows.
We spent equal time with the 3.5-liter and 2.7-liter EcoBoost engines (there wasn't enough time to sample the naturally aspirated powerplants). At one point, we took a short loop towing a 10,000-pound trailer with the 3.5-liter (remarkably effortless), and at another, we aggressively pushed a 2.7-liter FX4 on an off-road course, where it accepted its punishment with reckless abandon. We even tested the truck on an improvised short dragstrip and tackled an autocross. Both put the F-150 uncomfortably out of its element, but perhaps less so than its rivals.
Even without certain key specs in hand, we remain very impressed with the F-150. In addition to a slew of advanced driver aids, occupant conveniences and welcome safety technology, Ford has raised the bar by boldly embracing alloy construction. The adaptation sheds many hundreds of pounds of unnecessary mass – and not just in terms of bodywork. Lightening the sheetmetal has allowed for weight savings to cascade downward to other components – engines can be smaller and still achieve the same performance, meaning related accessories can be scaled down, too. So can other components, like brakes. The aluminum-intensive construction means that gains in efficiency, handling, stopping, payload capability and towing capacity can be simultaneously realized in one ingenious stroke.
We're not ready to crown the all-new 2015 F-150 best in segment without further testing, but Ford's newest arrival has successfully demonstrated that the future of fullsize pickups might not lay with heavy, corrosion-prone steel. Provided buyers readily accept the technology change when the truck rolls into showrooms during the fourth quarter of this year, the future looks bright, light and aluminum.
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Ford F-150 Information
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