Ford went radically lean when it redesigned the Ford F-150 for 2015, giving its ever-popular full-size pickup an aluminum-intensive body. Visual appearance didn’t change much, considering the dramatic re-skinning. Though the big pickup remains upright in profile, the F-150 lost 500 pounds or more.
For 2016, Ford F-150 gets a new SYNC 3 infotainment to replace the much-criticized MyFordTouch. Formerly a separate model, the off-road-focused FX4 is now an option package. Otherwise, little has changed for 2016.
The F-150 has been the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. for ages, up against its perennial rivals: Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Ram 1500, plus Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan.
Nothing appears to have been diminished by going light, and Ford’s 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 is especially impressive. However, some voice concern about the cost of repairing the aluminum body.
In the aluminum generation, Ford is focusing on turbocharged EcoBoost engines. One V8 remains, plus three V6 engines (two of them twin-turbo). Making 283 horsepower, the basic 3.5-liter V6 permits towing up to 7,600 pounds. The optional 2.7-liter turbo V6 produces 325 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque, for an 8,500-pound towing capacity.
Stepping up a big notch, a 365-horsepower, 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V6, eking out 420 pound-feet, raises the peak towing figure to 12,200 pounds. Ford’s familiar 5.0-liter V8 delivers 385 horsepower and 387 pound-feet of torque.
All engines mate with a 6-speed automatic transmission. F-150 pickups come with either rear-drive or four-wheel drive.
Nearly all F-150 buyers opt for a SuperCab or a SuperCrew, with four full-size front-hinged doors. Regular-cab models remain, but are mainly aimed at fleet duty.
Plenty of safety technology is available, including a second-row inflatable seatbelt and Curve Control for braking assistance. An F-150 can be equipped with blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control. A lane-keeping system nudges the truck back into its lane when sensors detect crossing of the double-yellow line. New optional Pro Trailer Backup Assist simplifies backing into a driveway or boat launch. That system performs the actual steering.
Ford’s Super Crew earned a five-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). An optional camera set provides a 360-degree view around the truck, helpful for parking or easing into a garage.
When the F-150 was redesigned for 2015, Ford downplayed the dramatic aluminum body by retaining an angular look and deleting the prior F-150’s curves. The body and cargo bed are made of aluminum panels glued and riveted together. All that aluminum sits atop a ladder frame, made mostly of high-strength steel.
Led by its tall grille and faired-back headlights, the F-150 continues to convey a definitively tough-truck character. Rectangular headlight inserts recall early F-Series pickups. A beveled hood helps send air across the roof.
SuperCab and SuperCrew body styles come with a five-foot-six, six-foot-six, or eight-foot cargo bed. Helpful features are available, led by loading ramps that lock into bedsides, and a BoxLink system to divide and anchor cargo, and a slide-out tailgate.
Roomy up front, the F-150 benefits from two extra inches of width compared to previous models. Regular-cab pickups provide scant space behind the front seats. SuperCabs are basically for younger folks; but rear seats flip up against the back wall, yielding helpful cargo storage space on the flat floor. Legroom is ample and the recline is satisfying in the back seat of a SuperCrew, but seat cushions are a bit low.
In most versions, a wide, deep console sits between the front seats. It’s big enough to hold a laptop. More hard buttons than in past F-Series pickups operate the F-150’s infotainment functions. Controls seem intended for drivers with big hands, which makes sense for a practical pickup. Platinum models can now have genuine wood trim.
Ride quality and handling prowess haven’t changed substantially with the new aluminum body, but the reduced weight clearly helps isolation from the road surface.
F-150 occupants can expect excellent ride comfort and a substantial feel. A 2016 F-150 Platinum model we drove smoothed out bumpy neighborhood roads, delivering a ride that Super Duty owners can only dream about. Electric power steering is quick and light, handily complementing this truck’s admirable road manners.
A V6 F-150 is quiet while cruising. One oddity: simulated V8 noise is sent into the cab, to satisfy owners who simply can’t bear to be without the sound of eight cylinders.
Despite its traditional separate body, an F-150 exhibits excellent composure. In fact, even though an F-150 looks tough, it’s among the best-handling big pickups. Ride control suggests a capable sedan, at least when rolling at moderate speeds. Pushed harder, not quite so much.
The 2.7-liter V6 engine works well with Ford’s 6-speed automatic. Acceleration is energetic and smooth, the turbocharger heard faintly under acceleration. Ford’s Stop/Start setup is among the best, practically seamless when it’s time for the engine to restart. EPA-estimated fuel economy is a comparatively thrifty 19/26 mpg City/Highway (22 mpg Combined) with that engine and two-wheel drive.
Quite a difference from the V8 version, EPA-estimated at only 15/21 mpg.
Five trims, three body styles, three bed lengths, four engines. Plus a host of available options give the Ford F-150 a lot to choose from. Prudent purchasing suggests considering one of the lesser trim levels, such as an XLT or Lariat, since a King Ranch and Platinum can easily top $60,000. In our view, the 2.7-liter twin-turbo is worth the additional cost.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.