First drive: 2015 Ford F-150 in Texas USA
Flying to the United States is a test of patience, but there was a compelling reason for us to do so last week. We attended the global media-drive event of the 2015 Ford F-150 in San Antonio, Texas. Quite possibly the American carmaker’s most important model, the new one is touted to be the most advanced truck in its class, and from what we saw, we’d have to agree, especially since they had the Chevy Silverado and the Ram 1500 available for comparison, that too for a trial-by-fire by drag-racing!
But their new selection of turbocharged engines was only one aspect of the all-new F-150. It is also now the only aluminium-bodied truck in its class, in a trend-setting move that others will likely copy eventually. It’s more than 300 kg lighter than its steel-bodied predecessor. It’s a bonus that Ford has updated other parts of the car as well, such as the interior, the suspension and the storage-bed mechanisms.
With styling that somewhat mimics the existing F-250 heavy-duty truck, it didn’t seem to turn any heads due to familiarity in truck-loving Texas. But the total package is surprisingly enticing.
Aside from the workhorse 283 hp 3.5-litre V6, there’s a 325 hp 2.7-litre turbo V6, a 365 hp 3.5-litre turbo V6 and a 385 hp 5.0-litre V8, all with a 6-speed automatic and either rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive. Ironically, the quickest truck in the range is the 3.5-litre turbo V6 rather than the naturally-aspirated V8 by virtue of the former’s higher torque figure, that too peaking at lower revs. But our pick of the range is the surprising 2.7-litre turbo V6, which offers almost as much kick as the top motors in real-world driving, while also being fuel-efficient and cheaper to buy.
Drag-racing the trucks didn’t tell us much aside from the fact that they all can spin their wheels rather loudly. What’s telling though is the 3.5-litre “EcoBoost” turbo V6-powered F-150 feels as strong as the 420 hp 6.2-litre Chevy Silverado. By some media accounts, the Ford’s actually quicker!
At the end of the strip, there was a tight coned course set up to sample the handling. The 4.3-litre V6 and 5.3-litre V8 Chevy Silverados were the most lumpy handlers there, bouncing around on every tight turn and generally feeling the most old-school. They’re an improvement over older models, mind you, but they still clearly behave like trucks. Only the 6.2-litre V8 Silverado had flatter handling with limited body-roll, most likely to handle that extra power more safely.
Both in 3.6-litre V6 and 5.7-litre V8 forms, the Ram 1500 models were great handlers, at least for a truck. They always have been, going by our past experience with them as well. Body roll was well-controlled even in the ultra-basic V6 with fat tyres, easily matching that pricey 6.2-litre Chevy rolling on 20-inchers, in the turns.
The 2015 Ford F-150 handles just as well as the Ram, except that Ford takes that further with better steering and brake feel as well. While still light in feel, the controls have a bit more weight and better linearity in their actions, which makes the F-150 slightly less truck-like to drive. Don’t expect miracles though. All these trucks can’t outrun their humongous size, even if Ford at least has cut down a bit of curb weight compared to the others.
The F-150 has a lot of exclusive features, many of which were demonstrated to us in a show of how much work they put into this new truck, rather than just facelifting an old model. New features, depending on trim level, include remote tailgate locking and release, unique “BoxLink” tailgate attachment points that accept standard attachments used in moving trucks and trailers, stowable loading ramps that attach to the BoxLink points, optional LED headlights, optional all-around LED lighting including side-mirror “flashlights” and in-bed lighting, 170-degree opening half-doors on SuperCab models, flat rear load floor in SuperCab and SuperCrew cabins, 360-degree camera view, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, massage seats and even a panoramic sunroof. And it still has that built-in step in its tailgate to climb onto the bed, aside from new pop-out steps on the sides of the bed.
On our long drive around the Texas countryside, we drove the two “EcoBoost” turbo models back-to-back, and neither of them ever felt out of breath climbing up mountain roads or overtaking slower-moving traffic. In fact, both of them rev well below 2000 rpm when cruising at 100 kph, leaving a whole lot of juice on reserve. The performance aspects are great compared to V8 rivals, but fuel consumption is still very similar to said rivals.
What really grabbed us was how supremely comfortable the F-150 is. While the base models still make-do with completely hard-plastic cabins, high-end trim levels such as the “King Ranch” get leather upholstery and generous patches of stitched-leatherette padding on the dash and front doors. And regardless of version, all models ride very smoothly and very quietly on most road surfaces, without any real floatiness. The ones with the bigger alloys allow a wee bit more jitter to be felt, but still are more comfortable than any equivalent Chevy, and at least equalling the Ram if not bettering it. And there’s limo-grade space, even more so in these new models. With the accompanying multimedia tech, it’s pretty much a big luxury car with a cargo bed out back.
In between the drive routes, there was a man-made off-road section that truly abused the F-150’s chassis. We drove both the EcoBoost versions, one with the FX4 offroad package (that adds unique shocks and skidplates) and one without, and both did phenomenally well in driving over deep ruts, climbing steep gravel hills with minimal revs and speeding through wet mud without using low-range gearing. The bit with soft sand was only a few metres long, so it remains to be seen how it does in our local style of dune-bashing, but we believe it will be perfectly fine.
There isn’t much more to say about the F-150. Based on initial impressions, this is as good as modern pickup trucks get. According to Ford, it’s apparently got better payload and towing capacities than its competitors, that too after switching to modern engines and aluminium construction, with real-world testing to back up their durability claims. Ford’s set the bar really high on this one.