– Quicker than it looks
– Cabin space and features
– Fairly comfortable ride
– Cargo cover not standard
– FX4 handling a bit vague
– Parking remains a hassle
American pickup trucks have an interesting market positioning in the GCC region. Most are sold with big V8 engines and generous dollops of chrome, offered more as lifestyle vehicles than as work trucks. The Ford F-150 is the biggest seller in the United States, but it seems to play second-fiddle to the Chevy Silverado around here. While both offer proper V8 engines, Ford is betting on a turbo V6 as their top engine option.
The latest Ford F-150 can be had in a variety of trim levels. The red truck we drove is the “Lariat” version, with black exterior trim instead of the chrome fittings found on higher-spec “Platinum” versions. With body-coloured bumpers and black-painted wheels, it looks pretty good, even though we’re not fans of the current blocky front-end styling. Details such as LED front and rear running lights add to the premium look at night. The new model has an aluminium body on a traditional steel chassis, somewhat exotic for a truck that is still expected to fulfil work duties, but necessitated by the need to lighten the curb weight by several hundred kilos and stay ahead of ever-stringent fuel-economy regulations.
Inside, the F-150’s blocky-design cabin makes extensive use of soft-touch surfaces and stitched leatherette on the dash and front doors, at least in higher trim levels. There are still huge panels of hard plastics, but it is still a massive upgrade from the previous model. The “leather” seating is clearly not of the premium variety, but considering how big a vehicle you get for the money, these compromises are expected.
Saying the cabin is spacious would be an understatement. In fact, there’s too much space for a vehicle that just seats seven. Up front, the seating position can be daunting as you float high above the ground, but can’t really see the immediate ground beyond the bonnet. Rear legroom is limo-like, while headroom is immense. There’s lots of storage spaces, including door pockets and deep cubbies, as well as a space under the rear seats.
The LED-lit cargo bed out back can carry all your furniture or a couple of dirt bikes, but you’ll need an aftermarket bedliner to save the paint from getting scratched, and an aftermarket lockable bed cover if you want to use it as a proper boot. The tailgate has an ingenious integrated pull-out step with a grab handle, all of which hides away when not in use. The Lariat’s tailgate also has a damped drop-down action with remote locking.
In terms of available tech, the Ford F-150 has all its rivals beat. The F-150 can be had with a new 8-inch LCD “productivity” screen in the gauge cluster which includes updated truck apps involving everything from fuel economy to towing tips, and the ability to create a customised home screen for owners to access their most frequently-used apps in one place. Additionally, the MyFord Touch system with an 8-inch multimedia touchscreen is also available, for use with the CD/MP3/USB/Bluetooth-capable stereo and automatic climate-control features, among several other functions. Many features can also be run on just voice-control alone, such as changing radio stations or calling phone contacts, although we were always more comfortable with the physical knobs and buttons.
Further available features include such luxuries as massaging front seats, leather upholstery with stitched-leatherette dash, a 360-degree camera system for an overhead view, automatic steering for parallel-parking, LED headlights and taillights, blind-spot monitoring, LED spotlights on the sideview mirrors, and an LED-lit cargo bed. Many of these were already available in our Lariat model, so moving up to the Platinum version isn’t a huge step up.
The 385 hp 5.0-litre V8 version, with 525 Nm of torque at 3850 rpm, was launched in the region first, but this red one is the “EcoBoost” 3.5-litre turbocharged V6 version that quietly debuted later in the UAE, with 365 hp at 5000 rpm and 569 Nm of torque at 2500 rpm. All engines come with a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic. While the V8 is a good engine, the turbo V6 is ridiculously more powerful in real life than the specs-sheet suggests. While the V8 has a low-end kick followed by a linear build-up of power all the way up the rev range, the turbo V6 offers strong low-end and mid-range torque before calming down at cruising speeds.
As such, the EcoBoost only clocked a 0-100 kph dash of 7 seconds in our August test, but feels a bit crazy at times on smaller roads as speed picks up quickly initially, squealing its rear tyres easily in 2WD mode. You feel like you’re flying over the road rather than on it due to the high seating position.
Compared to the V8, the EcoBoost is a second faster to 100 kph, but at 17.5 litres/100 km, it’s only half a litre more economical in our tests.
The handling is fairly stable, with enough grip around corners at average speeds, but our car having the FX4 offroad package meant body roll and floatiness were more prominent than in the regular F-150, with a bit of vagueness from the light minimal-feedback steering and decently-weighted brake pedal, but still within reasonable tolerances. We drove an F-150 without the FX4 pack before, and that has more car-like controls and handling.
The ride is smooth and fairly quiet at highway speeds, more so than both the Ram 1500 and the Chevy Silverado. There is a beefy exhaust grunt on acceleration, which we believe is being played through the speakers. The steering and brakes are responsive enough, and driving the F-150 is easy once you get the hang of it, with a decent turning circle and front/rear parking sensors, aside from the optional 360-degree cameras. However, all that won’t help you in fitting into many of those stupidly-cramped underground parking garages in the city.
Shifting into four-wheel-drive is as easy as turning a dial with the standard electronic shift-on-the-fly system, while automatic all-wheel-drive is available on higher trim levels. The optional FX4 Off-Road Package adds an electronic-locking rear differential, hill-descent control and off-road tuned shock absorbers as well as skid plates. With the tyres deflated and a bit of careful driving to account for the long wheelbase, it can go most places out in the desert.
The Ford F-150 EcoBoost is easily the most advanced in its segment, with its aluminium construction, turbo engine and premium safety features. Lower-spec models are already a lot of metal for the money, and top-spec trims nudge the F-150 into premium territory while still coming in cheaper than, say, a Nissan Patrol LE. While it’s not entirely practical as a city runner, its value is undeniable.
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