Ask any truck owner why he drives a pickup and you’ll get a wide range of answers. “I need it to haul hay bales on the farm”, “My boat isn’t going to tow itself”, or “I don’t know, I just like trucks” are all likely answers. Trucks are all things to all men (and women), and in the good ol’ US of A they dominate our roads and our hearts. The Ford F-150 is the reigning champ of the truck world, having been the most popular truck in America for 37 years and — get this — the most popular vehicle overall for 32. Keep this in mind when you hear that for 2015, the Ford F-150 is not just miles ahead of the competition; it’s miles ahead of its former self.
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If there’s one thing worth knowing about the 2015 Ford F-150, it’s that its body is constructed entirely from aluminum. It may seem strange seeing as pickups have been made from steel since forever, but the new aluminum body results in a weight reduction of 700 pounds. Any gearhead worth his salt knows this makes for better driving dynamics, but in the case of the Ford F-150 this also leads to increased utility.
Specifically, Ford has put the weight savings back into the truck’s towing and payload capacities. With the 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6, producing 365 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, the 2015 F-150 can tow 12,200 pounds and has a payload of 3,300 pounds, an increase from the older model by 900 and 180 pounds respectively; this puts the F-150 top in its class for both measures. Other engine options include a 5 liter V8 and a naturally aspirated 3.5 liter V6, but the real star of the range is an all new, 2.7 liter EcoBoost V6. It’s strange that an engine so small found its way into a truck this size, but it produces a sizable 325 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque.
Ford expects this engine to be the big seller in the lineup, and it’s not hard to see why. Though some heavy-duty truck owners may be wary of a small turbo six at the front of their workhorse, the exhaust manifold has been integrated into the cylinder head, allowing for more immediate torque. On the road, most of the torque comes in early — around 1,500 rpm — making for gutsy acceleration and little to no lag. It’s also good on fuel, considering its size; it averaged around 21 mpg on one stretch of our test drive, and that was with some spirited use of the throttle. The EPA estimates 16 city/22 highway mileage, and Ford expects a 5-20 percent increase in fuel economy across the entire model line, no doubt thanks to that tremendous weight loss.
The F-150’s diet also shows in the handling department. It feels significantly less truck-like than the previous generation — instead of lazily wafting down the road like a barge, and it corners fairly well. It’s no sports car, but it remained composed on southern Texas twisties, braking better than past generations. But it’s not perfect on the road — while the F-150’s improved suspension makes for a tough workhorse and a capable off-roader, it does offer up a stiff ride.
The interior really depends on how you spec the truck. For an affordable hauler without frills like cooled leather seats or a panoramic sunroof, your options are the XL ($25,420) or XLT ($30,695). If you plan on using this truck on a daily basis, shoot for the Lariat, King Ranch or Platinum trims, which offer significantly more tech features and comfort. Every trim level includes what Ford calls a “productivity screen” mounted behind the steering wheel near the gauges. This displays standard information: fuel consumption and trip milages, towing information, and the pitch and yaw of the truck for off-roaders.
Ford has also focused on a ton of ergonomic details. The steering wheel is the perfect girth and the armrest on the door is the exact same height as the center console, a sensible touch that most manufacturers seem to miss that makes for a comfortable seating position. If you go for a SuperCab or Crew Cab (which most buyers will, anyway), the rear space behind the front seats has an entirely flat floor, making it easy to load delicate cargo. The rear doors on the SuperCab open 170 degrees rearward, making life a lot easier in parking lots.
One option definitely worth ticking when speccing your F-150 is the FX4 package. Previously, this was a trim level of its own; now you can kit out any trim level, from the bare bones XL to the luxurious Platinum ($50,960) or King Ranch ($48,495), with skid plates, upgraded shock absorbers, an electronic locking rear axle and hill decent control. We were given a chance to take an FX4-equipped Lariat off road, and its ability to take abuse and maneuver through difficult terrain thoroughly impressed. Though it’s no Raptor, an FX4-equipped F-150 is likely to make an off-road novice feel confident out in the dirt and mud.
Though it’s no Raptor, an FX4 equipped F-150 is likely to make an off-road novice feel confident out in the dirt and mud.
The electronic hill descent control brilliantly maintains a low speed (somewhere around 5 mph) and modulates throttle and brakes to keep you from doing an unintended barrel roll and damaging your car (or yourself) in steep downhill sections. Also useful is the 360-degree camera, which streams an image of your surroundings to the screen on your dash, letting you see potential dangers would otherwise be unobservable.
So has the best gotten better? In short: yes. No one was ever really going to challenge Ford’s reign over the truck market; now it’s just gotten harder for the competition to touch the F-150. There is no area of the F-150’s performance as a truck that hasn’t been improved by the new aluminum body. Better still, it doesn’t matter if you have a V8-powered Crew Cab or the 2.7 liter single cab; you’ll feel the difference in any truck across the range immediately and wonder why they didn’t do this sooner.