Kleenex. Band-Aid. Photoshop. These brand names are generic trademarks, products that so dominated their competitors that they become eponyms – even verbs. Need to cook a pot roast? Use a Crock-Pot. Air conditioner stop working? Grab some Freon. Have a random question? Google it.
If Chevy and Ram don’t watch out, the Ford F-150 may become the generic trademark for pickup trucks. For 39 consecutive years, the F-150 has been the number one-selling truck in America. Barclays analyst Brian Johnson says it accounts for 31 percent of Ford North American sales and almost half its profit. Word on the street is that the company pockets $10,000 from every sale.
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That’s a profit margin even Rolex would admire. So what makes the F-150 tick? What sort of mechanical magic lies within?
The big news for 2017 is a second-generation 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine rated for 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. Thanks to a 10-speed automatic transmission, the big, burly engine makes 18 city / 25 highway mpg. Impressive, right?
Here’s an even more impressive feat: The 10-speed transmission was developed in partnership with General Motors. That’s right, the sworn rival of Ford Motors! General Motors will debut the transmission on its 2017 Camaro ZL1, where it claims to out-shift even the Porsche PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
But enough of Porsches and Camaros. Back to Ford. The F-150 (excluding Raptor) is available with four engines, ranging from a good ol’ 282-horsepower V6 to the Herculean EcoBoost V6. Automatic transmissions with tow/haul driving modes are standard across the lineup. Fuel economy ranges from 15/21 mpg to 19/26 mpg.
Towing and Hauling Capacity
Now, if you want to know exactly how much the F-150 will tow and haul, you’ll want to explore the specifications page on the company website. Ford lists almost 100 variations by cab style, engine, rear axle ratio and bed length. Good luck.
Long story short: Most F-150 pickups can tow a hippopotamus. Some can tow an elephant. If you need to tow a T-Rex, you’ll want the F-250 Super Duty.
Driving and Performance
Ye olde trucks drove like Panzers: jostling and jouncing with every pot hole and tree root. The modern Ford F-150? Not a bit. The silky smooth independent suspension absorbs every bump shy of a deer carcass in the middle of the road.
And of the 10-speed transmission? Ford must have wired a crystal ball to the gearbox, because the transmission almost anticipates the throttle input, jumping from tenth to fourth gear to hunt for extra torque.
If you eschew maintained roads, you’ll want the Ford F-150 Raptor, reviewed separately.
2017 Ford F-150 Raptor
The F-150 Raptor is engineered for extreme off-road traveling. A sophisticated 4X4 system, a raised suspension, and protective skid plates enhance the pickup’s ability to conquer rough terrain. Under the hood sits a turbocharged V6 engine, which is tuned to develop a monstrous 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. A combined fuel economy rating of 16 mpg makes it the least efficient model in the lineup. Despite the Raptor’s adventurous design, it is still comfortable enough for everyday driving. While Bluetooth technology and smartphone app integration come standard, Ford’s high-resolution Sync 3 infotainment system can be added as an option.
2017 Ford F-150 Lariat
Although the F-150 Lariat is not nearly as rugged as the Raptor, it does deliver a more luxurious driving experience. Not only does the Lariat trim come loaded with niceties such as ventilated leather seats, but it also benefits from blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Ford’s smaller 2.7L EcoBoost engine comes standard. It pumps out a satisfying 325 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque, which comes in handy when towing a load. Fuel economy improves to an impressive 19 mpg in town and 26 mpg on the highway. A 4WD system is optional.
2017 Ford F-150 King Ranch
If you are looking for even more luxury, step up to the F-150 King Ranch. Some of the key upgrades consist of a powerful Sony sound system, a surround-view camera, an automated parallel parking system. Meanwhile, forward collision warning gives drivers an extra peace of mind. Powering the F-150 King Ranch is a muscular 5.0-liter, V8 engine. It is rated to develop 385 horsepower and 387 pound-feet of torque. In terms of fuel consumption, you can anticipate getting 15 mpg in town and up to 22 mpg on the open road.
Safety and Security
Safety isn’t the sexiest measuring stick for a pickup truck. Nobody pulls up alongside a bonfire, drops the tailgate, and says, “This bad boy won a 5-star NHTSA safety rating.” Survive a crash, however, and you’ll trade torque for airbags any day.
By any measure, the 2017 Ford F-150 is one of the safest trucks on the market. It won both a 5-star NHTSA rating and a Top Safety Pick recommendation from the IIHS.
When Ford first announced it would make an aluminum-bodied truck, naysayers predicted that the softer aluminum body would degrade crash testing performance. Thanks to a fully boxed high-strength steel frame, however, the F-150 receives nearly perfect scores.
But wouldn’t it be better to never crash at all? That’s what Ford thinks, and that’s why, in addition to industry-standard features like side airbags and stability control, Ford includes the following two standard features:
- Trailer sway control. Ever see a trailer fishtailing? An improperly loaded trailer or strong crosswind can cause a trailer to oscillate until its amplitudes overpowers the tow vehicle and both trailer and vehicle wind up sideways in the ditch. Trailer sway control relies on two gyroscopic sensors to… well, you get the picture. It helps prevent trailer fishtailing.
- Automatic crash notification. You can sync two cell phones so both get an automatic notification in the event of a crash.
If you have the cash, Ford will gladly outfit your truck with forward collision mitigation, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert – technical mumbo jumbo for a suite of cameras that beep when other vehicles get too close – adaptive cruise control, and Ford-first inflatable rear seat belts to protect children in the backseat.
The Ford F-150 is the Swiss Army knife of trucks. If you want a Lincoln with a bed, get a King Ranch. If you want something you can hose out after a grueling day on the job site, get the XL.
Let’s start there. For half the price of a Limited trim, you can get a barebones XL model. Costs $26,540. It’s a throwback to the late 1990s, with vinyl floors and hand-cranked windows. You get a radio and that’s it for entertainment. Between the front bucket seats is a center console large enough to stuff a backpack. The dashboard features large knobs, toggles and buttons, easy to grasp when wearing gloves. No cab style lacks headroom or legroom. And if you like to lord over the peons driving their little Hondas, the F-150 XL will do you just fine.
Opposite the XL is the Limited, which starts at $59,600 and boasts all the luxury of an entire third-world country. You can control most of the cabin by buttons mounted on the padded, leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel. How about a heated and ventilated driver seat that automatically senses and adjusts to individual drivers?
Genuine wood trim? Ambient lighting? A shoulder rub and breakfast-in-bed? You got it!
Features and Technology
Thus far, Ford has steered clear of the hedonist excesses of Mercedes-Benz and other luxury import auto manufacturers. You won’t find neck-warming air vents or chair massagers in here. Instead, Ford puts its money into “features that help you work smarter and more productively.”
For instance, you can purchase a 110-watt/400-watt built-in power inverter that allows you to plug your 12-volt or 120-volt appliances, like a laptop computer, directly into the car’s electrical system.
On higher trims, the instrument cluster is replaced by an 8-inch LCD screen that shows pertinent information such as tire pressure, drive settings and fuel statistics. In the center of the dashboard you’ll find an enormous split-screen LCD as part of MyFord Touch and SYNC 3, the company’s onboard infotainment system that allows you to sync to your smartphone, listen to Pandora radio, view navigation maps, etc.
Upper models also have a rearview camera with Dynamic Hitch Assist, a nifty technology that overlays colored guides on the video screen to help guide you into position.
The pickup truck market has never been stronger. The Chevy Silverado 1500 is a longtime job-site favorite, and the Ram 1500 offers the smoothest ride in the market. The Toyota Tundra is the absolute best combination of performance and reliability. And if all you need to tow is a lawnmower or boat, the Chevy Colorado is one of the best midsize trucks in years.
But if you need it all – strength, panache, features and safety – then the Ford F-150 remains America’s number one.