Ford F-150 EcoBoost — Gas saving performance

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Being a segment leader for a year is a noteworthy achievement and shows an automaker’s ability to provide a product that people desire. Being a segment sales leader for decades is quite another thing, demonstrating that an automaker is savvy enough to indefinitely stay ahead of the competition.

So it is with Ford and its F-Series pickup.

Ford has displayed incredible staying power with its light duty trucks by continually offering stylish, well-made vehicles while managing to stay a step or two ahead of the competition in innovations.

The latest move by Ford seems to have again hit the sweet spot. Ford has amped up its V-6 offerings for 2011 in a product where the mighty V-8 has been king for decades.
And it seems to be paying off as consumers look to save some dollars on gas while still achieving their hauling and load-carrying goals; and if it can be done with a V-6 under the hood, so much the better.

The Ford transformation has been led by its latest engine advancement, the so-called EcoBoost. Ford markets its EcoBoost V-6 as possessing the performance of a V-8, but the gas mileage of a V-6. Its strong performance combined with decent fuel economy (16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway in either a Supercew or Supercab format) has resonated with pickup buyers.

By late spring, about 40 percent of all F-150 customers were choosing the EcoBoost engine, according to May sales statistics.That number is impressive considering that the EcoBoost costs on average about $750 more than a comparable V-8.

The EcoBoost, a twin-turbocharged direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6, has a rather small displacement for the full-sized truck segment. But its 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque match up well with the mainstream V-8 engines in the segment. At the same time, the EcoBoost’s fuel economy is better than a V-8 and nearly matches the new Ford naturally aspired 3.7-liter V-6 that puts out 302 horsepower. It’s rated at 17/23 with two-wheel drive. That engine has been a surprisingly strong seller as well. Ford’s 5.0-liter V-8, making 360 horsepower, is comparable to the EcoBoost, but lags in fuel economy measured at 15/21.

For many buyers, towing and hauling capability is of supreme importance and here again the EcoBoost shines. The two-wheel drive SuperCrew EcoBoost has a maximum tow rating of 11,300 pounds and a payload of 2,000 pounds. The 5.0-liter V-8’s maximum tow rating is 9,400 pounds with a payload of 1,660 pounds. To outperform the turbocharged V-6, a buyer would have to move up to Ford’s giant 6.2-liter V-8 (making 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque). So you really do get something tangible in return for the extra cost of the EcoBoost.

To give the EcoBoost credibility with potential customers, Ford risked adverse publicity period by putting an EcoBoost engine through a three-month torture-test. First it used the engine in the world-famous Baja 1000 race. It survived the desert run and went on to work in a logging camp in Oregon towing 55 tons of lumber, ran for 24 hours straight towing 11,300 pounds around a NASCAR track in Florida, and beat competitors’ larger V-8 engines in an uphill towing competition in Arizona.

To display the engine durability, it was torn down at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. The block, pistons, turbos, crankshaft, valves and other internal parts were found to still be within rigid factory specifications. The testing simulated 10 years of wear or about 160,000 miles, according to Ford. No wonder the newest engine is getting so much consideration.

Ford offers a tasty buffet from which the truck buyer can choose based on thickness of pocketbook and desired equipment and comfort levels; available in regular cab, SuperCab and SuperCrew configurations all with either two-wheel or four-wheel drive and all with two bed lengths and with up to 10 trim levels.

The F-150 regular cab starts at $22,790 and prices rise through the ranks to $48,380 for the Harley-Davidson edition of the SuperCrew. Our two-wheel drive SuperCrew with standard bed in upscale Lariat trim and with the EcoBoost engine carried a bottom line of $43,475 with options. Another test F-150 EcoBoost, this time a Lariat SuperCab priced out at $41,865.

We don’t tow and our payload generally consists of two-to-four passengers in a normal week of driving, but we found that our EcoBoost Lariats were a delight in everyday driving with pleasing energy whether from a stoplight or merging on to a fast-moving highway.

We found the performance rewarding even though we were driving a big pickups with a curb weights of up to 5,287 pounds. The rear end never felt light nor did we ever feel that it wanted to swing out to come around on us. And there was no rear wheel hop, even over rough grade and railroad tracks. Remarkably stable for its size.

The tell-tale reminder on how big the F-150 is comes with every turn; and even with all the time spent behind the wheel the process never became second nature. We were consistently aware, even on familiar routes that turns needed to be made cautiously.

The F-150 is stylish inside and out and that, we are sure, is a big consideration for truck buyers who can also shop Chevrolet, GMC, Ram and Toyota. The-leather-and-chrome-trimmed interior in our Lariat test trucks rivaled many luxury vehicles.

Fit and finish was superb; the gauge package was attractive and easy to read; dual-zone climate control kept the hot-natured driver and cold-natured front-seat passenger happy in hot weather; and the checked off options such as navigation, upgraded audio system, rearview camera (a necessity for us in a vehicle stretching out more than 19 feet), and power moonroof were everything we would need if the F-150 was our only vehicle.

Front seats proved extremely comfortable and attaining the just-right driving position with the tilt — there is no telescoping feature — steering wheel and power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals was a snap. Perhaps the biggest surprise to us in the comfort area was the stretch-out room offered to rear-seat passengers in the SuperCrew. It is extraordinary. The SuperCab offered reasonable room in the rear and had excellent access through the wide opening rear hinged rear doors.

The problem with a big truck for folks of advancing years and declining dexterity (like us) is successfully climbing in. Make sure your truck comes with running boards.

Ford continues to dominate the truck market because, as we discovered with our 2011 test vehicles, it still has a knack for building well-designed pickups. And the EcoBoost engine, whether propelling a regular cab, extended cab or a crew cab truck, is just as much a considered purchase for the suburban weekend Home Depot warrior as well as those who tow and carry big loads. In the end the new engine will provide smile-inducing, gas saving performance.

Base price: $31,130; as driven, $43,475 (SuperCrew)
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost
Horsepower: 365 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 420 pound-feet @ 2,500 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 144.4 inches
Length: 231.9 inches
Curb weight: 5,287 pounds
Turning circle: 47 feet
Towing capacity: 11,300 pounds
Fuel capacity: 26 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 22 mpg highway, 16 mpg city
0-60: Car and Driver (6.5 seconds)
Also consider: Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra

The Good:
• Powerful, fuel efficient engine
• Outstanding towing capacity
• Stylish interior
• Spacious rear-seat leg room

The Bad:
• Fancy options drive up the price

The Ugly:
• Ride height tough on senior citizens