The Ford F-150 offers something for everyone interested in a light-duty pickup, be it for independent business like contractors or landscapers, fleet buyers, or as a second car. Interiors range from wipe-out simple to Lincoln-like luxury. The permutations are seemingly limitless. By trim, driven wheels and cab/bed mix there are 94 versions of F-150 to power and option. Once familiar with its measurements, the F-150 is easy to drive, and this latest version feels smooth and refined.
The 2015 Ford F-150 features a new body structure made of aluminum. Also new for 2015: a new frame with three times the high-strength steel of the old one. The changes result in a truck that weighs notably less and requires less power than the previous-generation but can still carry or tow plenty of weight.
The 2015 F-150 also has a new interior and a more extensive safety and gadget list.
For 2015, three of the available engines carry over from the previous model, accompanied by one new engine. (The previous 6.2-liter V8 has been dropped, and the SVT Raptor and Harley-Davidson specials are in hibernation.)
One V8 and three V6 engines are available for the 2015 Ford F-150 lineup, all with 6-speed automatic transmissions. The base engine is a 3.5-liter normally aspirated V6. Other engines become standard by trim, size and drive wheels, and include a new 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 and a 5.0-liter V8. The 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 is optional on all models.
The neatest thing about the aluminum truck is that, for most purposes, it works just like a steel one. You’ll find it different only if you try to attach magnetic signs or some aftermarket equipment or perhaps in finding a body shop prepared to fix it following a collision. Your kid who wants truck parts when the body rots out will have to wait much, much longer.
While aluminum has taken weight out, Ford put pounds right back in the form of massaging seats, single- and dual-panel moonroofs, locking differentials, hitches, steps or running boards on three sides, and a variety of sensors, cameras and lights. And it’s quiet enough we don’t think they skimped on insulation.
Every F-150 has competitive room inside, with seat-counts from three to six. Unlike challengers, except the Nissan Titan King Cab, the mid-size F-150 SuperCab has clamshell doors that swing open to the rear. Positively, these are often the easiest way to load kids into child seats, awkward cargo or pets, and allow a longer-cab pickup with a 6.5-foot bed to fit in a standard 20-foot garage. Negatively, they’re not as easy to deal with in confined areas, including crowded parking lots, and front-seat passengers must unbuckle before the doors can be opened.
The F-150 driving experience is affected by the wide latitude in materials, equipment and performance across a broad range of models. A base F-150 XL regular-cab pickup with the standard 3.5-liter V6 XL feels a different truck from a loaded F-150 Platinum SuperCrew with 3.5-liter turbo. You’d notice the $35,000 price gain between them just as easily. The priciest model approaches $63,000 without discounts or dealer accessories.
The Ford F-150 competes against the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 models, which offer three engines, more power and an available 8-speed automatic; the Ram 1500 with three engine choices, one a diesel, an 8-speed automatic and an air-suspension option; the Nissan Titan with an imminent redesign and diesel engine; and the Toyota Tundra revamped for 2014.
The Ford F-150's signature split-level front windowsills, generous blue ellipses and angular sides punctuated by semi-circle wheel openings define the truck so obviously that most people won't need a badge to identify it. And although it appears a wee bit lower overall, the more upright, blunt face better relates to big-brother Super Duty.
Big bumper push-pads and a rectangular grille with dog-eared corners delineate front end and trim level, and there are grille shutters that provide cooling air when needed and less aero resistance when not. A deep front air dam scuffs on pavement occasionally and frequently off the highway, but was still there after we spent a day in the dirt with one.
Headlight assemblies resemble C-clamps holding the grille in place, angled rearward for maneuverability and aerodynamics. There are small aerodynamic aids all-around and aerodynamics have improved, but this still a big box pushing through the air. LED headlamps of upper trims cast a very white light, so much so we'd check aim with a load on to ensure we aren't blinding bats in the trees rather than seeing the road.
Compared with the previous-generation, the windshield on the 2015 F-150 is curved and angled rearward more, the top edge is not straight and is sure to catch a replacement windshield-installer's attention. Side windowsills are deeper for easier drive-through access and level with the bed top, the cab has a little more tumblehome, and the bed sides appear identical to the predecessor with different lights in the same cutouts.
The tailgate is quite thick in the middle and heavily creased, appearing to reach almost as far back as the rear edge of the bumper. A lock is standard, trim panels, badges and decals vary, and the tailgate step now comes out of the lowered tailgate like a drawer and is then deployed. Despite the internal step and lift-assist, the tailgate is still said to be removable by one person. (Be mindful of your back if you remove it; better yet, get someone to help.)
Mid-level-and-up trucks include a rearview camera; on some it shows predictive lines for the sides of the truck and a hitch ball relative to steering wheel angle. All-around cameras are offered, including one in the nose, washed whenever the windshield is washed. It is not low enough to serve as a fish-finder but will be useful pulling out from gated driveways or urban alleys.
Plenty of running boards and side steps ease cab entry or reaching over the bed rails. Bed moldings are typical for double-stacking 4×8 sheets, tie-downs run from simple loops to cleats to industrial rails. LED in-bed lights ease loading operations and LED floodlights in the side mirrors are so bright you want to be sure you have the correct switch before you light up a neighboring campsite tent like a UFO.
The F-150 has a roomy front seat and functional layout, regardless of cab configuration. Dimensionally it is nominally larger than the previous generation, most noticeably in hip and shoulder room, and the lower windowsills aid spaciousness.
Front seats, whether 40/20/40 bench, 40/console/40 or pure bucket seats all proved comfortable, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel helps proper driving position. Extremes can be expanded with power adjustable pedals, and comfort enhanced with heated/cooled seats and massage to avoid sitting in one position for any length of time. If you seek the quietest cabin, and the F-150 cabs are quite quiet, you will hear the massage and cooling operating.
SuperCab rear seats are good for kids and can handle moderate-size adults in four places; you will not comfortably fit a quartet of six-footers. Outboard headrests offer good whiplash and rear-window protection and LATCH points are easy to locate. On all but the Base XL the door windows roll down.
SuperCrew rear seats are adult size, that quartet of six-footers having knee space and legroom left over; ten inches more legroom than SuperCab. An armrest comes on upper trims, inflatable rear seatbelts (to better cushion small or frail occupants) are available, there are AC vents back edge of front-console models and storage below the left side of fold-up seat cushions.
We found no materials out of place: vinyl flooring on work trucks, easy-clean hard-surface lower trim panels, to real wood and fine leather on top trims. Fortunately, none of the glossy or chrome surfaces direct glare or reflections at the driver.
The dash is dominated by large air vents, which look aluminum-framed on some, sectioning it. The glovebox extends to the door, the center stack controls are climate at bottom, radio/infotainment above, center screen and drive control switches at top. Some have a 110VAC/400-watt outlet (300 watts with the truck in motion) on the right, some a duplicate outlet in back. The differential lock and 4WD switch is on the left of center.
These controls work well, the top models using a touch-screen with Sync and MyFord Touch. This is better than prior generations and work-ability among this, GM's My/IntelliLink screens and Ram's Uconnect will most often come down to familiarity. Our biggest gripe with the F-150 is smallish buttons on the touch-screen that made getting the right one while driving on less-than-smooth roads a hit-and-miss proposition. With any of the telematics systems, charges vary; the SiriusXM Traffic and TravelLink option includes five years of service, SiriusXM radio does not.
The instrument panel locates the tachometer on the left, speedometer on the right, engine, transmission and fuel gauges between. Data screen sizes vary from 2.3 to 8 inches, the largest using graphical representations of the four analog gauges and offering vast quantities of information, from which trailer is connected to how far the truck is leaning over. We verified 21 degrees of side tilt on the trail but you're not usually looking at gauges at that point. These screens are manipulated by thumb controls on the slightly dished four-spoke steering wheel.
Storage areas include big lower and small upper door pockets, glovebox, behind or under seats and on consoles a small bin ahead of the shifter and space under the armrest to put a laptop case or small backpack. It's well-sealed as evidenced by our often having to pull the door twice to shut it all-windows-up (this may be eased slightly in production models) and quiet window motors.
Mirror floodlight switches are handy under the left vent, lights below and pedal and electronic parking brake switch (3.5-liter and 2.7-liter models) below that. Column or console shifters offer the same gear positions and rocker-switch manual up/down selection.
Outward visibility is helped by low-mounted mirrors you can see over and good glass area. Trucks without blind-spot warning or towing mirrors have a wide-angle element in the upper outside corner to eliminate blind spots; towing mirrors range up to power-extend, power-fold, dual-power-element heated units with blind-spot warning and turn signal repeaters. The windshield pillars are none-too-thin and have grab handles built-in and we often found ourselves moving head side to side to look around them and be sure; those sitting closer to the pillars will find this amplified.
This latest Ford F-150 is tacit confirmation that Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus automobiles who focused on making things as light as possible, was on to something. Previously among the heaviest in the half-ton class, the F-150 is now among the lightest. And it shows in the way it drives, at least without a full load, and EPA ratings.
F-150 has a solid feel and controlled ride; conversation is easy at freeway speeds. Trucks with big holes in the side like the SuperCab tend to have lots of squeaks and rattles but none were evident here, even with just two opposing wheels on the ground. There's little to no flex in the frame either, as those same twisting trails never made the bed move relative the cab in the mirrors.
Our drives were in trucks rated to carry about 1500 pounds, with about 600 pounds of people and messenger bags on board. They rode and stopped well, and went where directed by electric-assist steering. The steering is a bit dull on center, typical of these systems that will compensate for cross-winds and road crown to minimize fatigue, but returned to center well after a corner, added some effort with cornering loads and never lost assist in heavy maneuvering as old hydraulic systems did.
In very brief unladen comparisons, the F-150 felt lighter and more nimble than the Chevrolet Silverado and Sierra did. The F-150 felt lighter than the Ram, but the agility difference wasn't as marked, perhaps because of Ram's coil or air-sprung rear axle and lighter steering feel. At no point did we think any truck not completely under control, nor wonder how many pickup drivers race their trucks through autocross courses.
Maximum payloads are higher than those of the competition, with one F-150 configuration capable of carrying 3,300 pounds. That's typically 3/4-ton stuff, and we'd certainly keep that in mind if we ever get a chance to carry two-thirds of the truck's weight in a single-rear wheel pickup like the F-150.
Top tow rating is 12,200 pounds, eclipsing GM's best by 1.6 percent. Like many pickups, the top tow rating F-150 comes with one engine, the top cargo-carrying truck comes with a different engine. These V8 and turbo 3.5 engines are the ones Ford expects to do the heavy lifting, and one reason they come with a foot operated parking brake. Specific tow ratings are yet to be announced.
We found a mid-length F-150 V8 had no power issues briefly pulling a trailer labeled 10,000 pounds, and it made generous traditional V8 sounds doing it while averaging 7.7 mpg per trip computer. It was competent, though were we going farther we'd have put another link on the weight-distribution bars. Any towing package and integrated trailer brake controller option is worth getting; even if you don't have a trailer, one of your friends does.
Both the Ram and Silverado/Sierra offer more powerful engines, the F-150's weight advantage less an issue dealing with totals in the 16,000-17,000 pound range. Unless it was a twice-a-year move or emergency towing, we'd not choose any half-ton for towing 12,000 pounds. We'd go Super Duty, or one of the other heavy-duty pickups, for that. We'd also recommend carefully checking headlight aim to avoid blinding oncoming traffic, something Ram's optional air suspension takes care of automatically.
Since the F-150 weighs less than competitors unloaded, the engines have been downsized. The base 3.5-liter V6 makes 283 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque, at 6500 and 4000 rpm respectively. Ram's 3.6 V6 is 305/269, while GM's 4.3 V6 favors torque that trucks like, with 285 hp and 305 lb-ft at lower revs. Ford's 3.5 is fine for running around, but will require lots of revs whenever you work it. Using Ford's assertion that torque gets the job done, and our preference for lower-revving truck engines, GM's is our choice for entry-level engines.
The new F-150 engine is a smaller, 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6. It is rated for 325 hp at 5750 rpm and 375 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm, likely compared to GM's 5.3-liter V8 (355 hp, 383 lb-ft), Ram's 3.0-liter V6 diesel (240, 420) and Toyota's 4.6-liter V8 (310, 327). It comes with auto start/stop smoother than many, to save fuel at traffic lights and drive-throughs. If you don't see the auto-stop message you may notice the oil pressure gauge drop a few seconds later, obviously not a very accurate representation of actual oil pressure. If left idling, most of the engines will shut themselves off after half an hour.
In a 5600-pound package the 2.7 is more than capable, delivering V8-like power at lower-than-normal V6 revs and noise. At full throttle it shifted from 1st to 2nd and 2nd to 3rd at 6200 rpm, in the tachometer's red zone, not into third gear until well past 70 mph. It cruises at highway speeds between 1500 and 1800 rpm and will tackle most moderate climbs downshifting no more than one gear. On the trail you may notice less downhill engine braking than a 3.5 and it doesn't have quite the idle creeping power, but power builds very predictable and progressively when throttle is applied. Top tow rating for the 2.7 is 8500 pounds; we had no opportunity to tow with it.
With auto start/stop worth one EPA City mpg and two sets of grille shutters the 2.7 is aimed at being the fuel economy leader. EPA ratings are yet to come, but we're anticipating 19-20 city and 26-27 highway, best in class except for Ram's diesel. We averaged 18 mpg with the 5600-pound truck/occupants over rolling highways at 35-70 mph, and posted a highway leg of almost 23 mpg.
Two things must be kept in mind for fuel economy. One, your driving habits will have a far bigger effect than anything the truck does. Two, a lighter truck needs less power to move it but if you use those 325 hp available you are going to use more gasoline. Long-term evaluations have put the 365-hp 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 mileage within one mpg of Ford's 360-hp 5-liter V8 and slightly behind a 395-hp Ram 5.7 V8 in similarly configured trucks.
The next step up and standard on many larger F-150 is the 5-liter V8. Ratings are up by 25 hp and a few lb-ft from last year to 385/387, the sound authoritative, and throttle response crisp to better spin the tires free of mud buildup. Output falls between GM's 5.3 and 6.2, a bit less than Ram's 5.7 or Tundra's 5.7, and more power but similar torque to a 5.6 Titan.
Top power and optional on virtually any F-150 is the 3.5 twin-turbo V6 EcoBoost. At 365 hp and 420 lb-ft, it has Ram diesel torque and almost Hemi horsepower, but can't quite match GM's 420-hp, 460 lb-ft 6.2. There is potential for more as the 3.5 in a Lincoln Navigator, which weighs more but tows less, is rated 380/460.
Every engine comes with a 6-speed automatic with tow/haul mode and works as it should; economy programming meant we often used Sport mode for undulating roads to keep gear-changing to a minimum. In most the top gears can be manually locked out in D using the thumb switch, and in M the selected gear is held even at full throttle unless the truck slows below idle speed or stops.
Axle ratios vary by engine and trim, but don't reach the 4.10:1 offered in Navigator. The most performance oriented ratios, which don't lower real-world economy much in the city, are offered only on heavy load or towing packages. You can't combine an off-road package with shorter axle ratios handy in four-wheel drive. A lockable rear differential is offered in 2 and 4WD; it automatically unlocks at more than 20 mph and re-locks below 20mph as long as it's switched on.
A rear camera is offered on most, all-around cameras available on most upper trims. With those all you need to watch out for backing in somewhere are low-lying tree branches that might not be in camera view. The new parking assist feature will help find an adequate space and parallel park a F-150 requiring the driver only to
brake and shift. But use caution if you're spatially challenged as the same F-150 will not get you out of the parking spot.
The Ford F-150 does what you expect of a pickup, and when used more like a car than a truck gets better mileage than before. Debate will go on for years about the switch to aluminum but for most owners this is irrelevant. What is important is the variety of choice, available safety systems and that it works.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Dallas, Dearborn, the Texas Hill Country and Los Angeles after test-driving many F-150 models.