Pickup trucks have evolved quite a bit over the last 20 years. No longer are they dedicated tools of tradesmen or simply haulers of horses. They have created their own luxury segment so decidedly American that you have to tip your hat to whomever at Ford first said, “You know, I think the F-150 needs an interior nicer than a Lincoln.” Although we’re guessing the green light wasn’t illuminated until someone crunched the numbers and said, “And would you look at the margins?”
One result is that the newest F-150 isn’t just a 10Best Trucks and SUVs winner, it’s good compared with any vehicle. Granted, towering above other traffic in the Caribou-accented leather interior of our King Ranch edition test model leaves no question as to whether you’re in a pickup, but this truck’s ride (on 55-series, 20-inch tires) is nothing short of astonishing. Both the Ford and the Ram 1500 deliver amazing ride quality, but the F-150’s tuning is even more impressive given our test truck’s higher payload capacity (1526 pounds versus 1262 for a recent Ram 1500 we tested). The greater the difference between a truck’s empty and fully loaded weight, the firmer and more jarring the unloaded ride usually is. But that isn’t the case with the F-150—attentive damper and spring tuning is evident and appreciated with every pothole, expansion joint, and speed bump traversed.
EcoBoost, Take Two
Headlining the changes for 2017 is a new powertrain combo. Replacing the original twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 is a gen-two unit of identical displacement and turbocharger count. This V-6 now employs port fuel injectors to bolster partial-load efficiency while direct fuel injectors do the work under full load. Max power is up by 10 ponies to 375, and peak torque jumps from 420 lb-ft to 470 at 3500 rpm. That output is routed through a new 10-speed automatic transmission co-developed with General Motors. Together, the new engine and transmission option added $1000 to the tab for our King Ranch.
With 10 gears from which to choose, this powertrain sees minor increases in its EPA ratings, gaining 1 mpg over its 2016 counterpart in both city and highway measures, to 17 and 22 mpg. Unlike some nine-speed transmissions, this 10-speed will hold top gear while cruising on the highway at 65 mph. In our 75-mph, 200-mile highway fuel-economy test, this F-150 returned 19 mpg, 2 mpg short of its EPA highway estimate. During its stay with us, it averaged 15 mpg overall, which is about par for most of the modern, big-engined half-tons we’ve tested.
In the vast majority of driving scenarios, the gearbox shifts through cogs so smoothly you won’t notice unless you happen to be staring at the gear indicator flanking the speedometer. The only time we felt some wonky shifting was during deliberate stabs at the throttle, when the transmission acted as if it were caught out between gears, a situation we intentionally provoked to see how the new transmission would interpret our commands. It’s an outcome few F-150 owners this side of a Raptor driver will ever experience.
At the track, the new truck sprinted to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, one-tenth quicker than the previous F-150, and broke the quarter-mile tape in 14.4 seconds at 98 mph, 0.2 second and 2 mph improvements. Credit both the engine and the 10-speed, which shuffled gears like a blackjack dealer. At the track we also discovered just how easy the F-150 is on the ears, with a noise level of 67 decibels at a 70-mph cruise. To put that into perspective, our long-term BMW 740i generates 68 decibels at the same speed.
Big Truck, Big Price
Today’s big pickups come with equally big price tags, and the F-series is no exception. A 3.5-liter EcoBoost SuperCrew 4x4 starts at $40,355, and that’s in work-truck XL trim. Jumping past the XLT and Lariat trim levels to the King Ranch requires another $16,040. Our test example also came with a $3280 equipment package consisting of inflatable rear seatbelts, upgraded front bucket seats, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert and trailer-tow monitoring, a deployable tailgate step, power running boards, 20-inch aluminum wheels, automatic high-beams, and rain-sensing wipers.
The truck seen here was further enriched by a $895 towing package (netting the clever backup assistant and a 10,600-pound tow rating—although other configurations can reach 11,800), a panoramic sunroof for $1295, adaptive cruise control and forward-collision warning ($1250), a 36-gallon fuel tank for $395 (making for 680 miles of highway range), the $440 automatic parking feature, the $990 technology package (lane-keeping assist and a 360-degree camera view), and a spray-in bedliner ($495), among other sweeteners. All in, our F-series was a $65,120 pickup.
Some of the options we could do without, particularly the panoramic sunroof because it diminishes the payload capacity, but others, like the 360-degree camera, are seriously useful in myriad everyday situations.
Despite what Ford’s board members might wish, daily driving a pickup isn’t for everyone. They’re a pain to maneuver through crowded parking lots, they’re expensive to operate, and they’re huge. But at least with trucks like this F-150, the driver doesn’t get banged around on a quick trip to the market or on an hour-long commute. Like we said: evolved.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-/all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door pickup
PRICE AS TESTED: $65,120 (base price: $40,645)
ENGINE TYPE: twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, port and direct fuel injection
Displacement: 213 cu in, 3496 cc
Power: 375 hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 470 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 10-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 145.0 in
Length: 231.9 in
Width: 79.9 in Height: 77.2 in
Passenger volume: 136 cu ft
Curb weight: 5474 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 5.7 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 15.4 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 6.2 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.3 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.4 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.4 sec @ 97 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 108 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 177 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.76 g
EPA combined/city/highway driving: 19/17/21 mpg
C/D observed: 15 mpg
C/D observed 75-mph highway driving: 19 mpg
C/D observed highway range: 680 mi