Ford F-150 — More than aluminum

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

By the time you read this most with even a passing interest in the automotive industry will have learned that the new 2015 Ford F-150 comes with an aluminum body, the first mass-produced vehicle to forsake sheetmetal for the lighter-weight and presumably more fuel-efficient material.

Ford says the weight savings from the hood to the body panels to the pickup bed amounts to about 700 pounds per truck. As a result, overall gas mileage has been improved. While high-strength steel is still an integral part of the truck including the reinforced frame, Ford says the military-grade aluminum comes in a variety of different thicknesses, some tougher than steel at a fraction of the weight.

In addition to better mileage, the advantages of lighter weight can be found in increased payload and towing, and in quicker acceleration. These advantages are vividly on display with Ford's new 2.7 liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 engine, which gives the F-150 near-V8 performance from a rather small six-cylinder engine.

The 2.7-liter makes 325 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque that is EPA rated at 19 mpg city, 26 highway and 22 combined in rear-wheel drive format. That's the highest combined miles-per-gallon number currently in a gas-powered half-ton pickup. In addition, the 2.7-liter pickup has a 2,250-pound payload and an 8,500-pound towing capacity.

Perhaps more important to a lot of people who use their truck mostly for transportation and not for hauling and towing duties, the new engine gives the F-150 sprightly, smile-inducing behavior. We were impressed with its energy off the line and its passing and merging capabilities. To accentuate this performance, there's a new SelectShift 6-speed available alongside the standard Normal and Tow-Haul modes designed to improve performance by holding gears longer, kicking down quicker and downshifting while braking in corners.

The new truck feels more nimble than the outgoing model with light, but decent steering feel. Our 145-inch wheelbase SuperCab test truck felt more maneuverable than other full-sized pickups we've driven. And it proved more aggressive on our usual winding road "test track," unlike a big pickup. It also has impressive numbers including 6-seconds flat to 60 and braking at 127 feet from 60 to zero.

Ford can put you behind the wheel of a XL Regular Cab for $26,615 including destination, powered by the carryover base 3.5-liter V-6 making 283 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque with a 7,600-pound towing capacity. But the star of the show is the 3.5-liter turbocharged V-6 making 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. Its impressive numbers include a 3,270-pound payload, a 12,000-pound towing capacity, and performance measured at 5.6 seconds from 0-to-60 and 14.4 seconds @ 95 mph in the quarter mile.

Gas mileage is exemplary as well, EPA-rated at 18 city, 25 highway and 20 combined in rear-wheel drive. If you still have the need for a V-8 engine, Ford has retained its 5.0-liter making 385 horsepower and 387 pound-feet of torque.

The F-150 is offered in regular, extended (SuperCab) and crew cab (SuperCrew) body styles, in three bed lengths — 5.5-feet, 6.5-feet and 8-feet — and in five trim levels — XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum.

What hasn't gotten as much coverage as the revolutionary aluminum body, but perhaps even more important, is the total improvement Ford has made in the world's best-selling vehicle. For instance, there's more interior space, outward visibility has been enhanced, interior storage areas abound, the front doors have been shortened two inches to allow for bigger rear doors and better access to the rear seats, thinner front seats with re-contoured backsides enhance rear legroom, interior materials quality has improved, and on the higher trims an enlarged eight-inch screen sits between the two main gauges dispensing an array of information.

Other unique features — for a price — include a trailer hitch assist camera that features a dynamic guide line to make lining up the hitch ball and trailer coupling a one-man job, a top-down 360-degree camera view system to help with navigating parking lots, automatic parallel parking assist, and second-row heated seats.

Such new and worthwhile safety and convenience options as automatic high beam control, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alerts, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and inflatable rear seatbelts are available.

Prices start at the aforementioned $26,615 and can range as high as $55,875 for the Platinum SuperCrew 4X4. Options are many on all trim levels and exceeding a 60 grand purchase price would not take a lot of effort. Our test 4x4 XLT SuperCab with a 6.5-foot bed and the 2.7-liter engine with several options came in at $41,870.

Base price: $26,615; as driven, $41,870
Engine: 2.7-liter turbocharged V-6
Horsepower: 325 @ 5,750 rpm
Torque: 375 pound-feet @ 3,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: four-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 145 inches
Length: 231.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,703 pounds
Turning circle: 47.1 feet
Towing capacity: 8,500 pounds
Payload: 2,250 pounds
Fuel capacity: 36 gallons (regular)
EPA rating (4X4) 23 highway, 18 city, 20 combined
0-60: 6.0 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: Chevrolet Silverado, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra

The Good
• Strong turbocharged V-6 engines
• Top payload and tow ratings
• Good fuel economy
• Stylish interior

The Bad
• Aluminum expensive to repair

The Ugly
• Sticker shock possible