Review and photos by
Peter Bleakney, Autos.ca
Despite soaring fuel prices, North America’s growing distaste for foreign oil dependency and the general greening of our collective consciousness, pickup trucks are doing quite nicely, thank you. In fact, sales are through the roof.
(David Suzuki, if you’re reading this, best go take a walk).
Last year, the segment was up 20 per cent (while compact cars sales actually fell) and year to date, the Ford F-150 pickup has posted a record for the number of vehicles sold (including cars) in Canada for the period. Ever.
In case you think this is some kind of aberration, the F-150 has been the top selling vehicle in Canada for 45 years.
(Okay David, you can come back now.)
For 2011, Ford has broomed the F-150’s engine bay, ditching the two 4.6-litre V8’s and the 5.4-litre V8 to make room for a quartet of brand new powerplants that reduce fuel consumption across the line-up by 20 per cent. Additionally, all 2011 F-150s get a new six-speed auto with Tow/Haul mode. According to Ford engineers, this twelfth generation F-150 is now “complete”, as the 2009 redesign was waiting for these engines.But here’s some encouraging news. According to Ford, fuel economy is now on the pickup buyer’s radar, leaping to about number 10 on the list of important criteria. Ten doesn’t sound like much, but in years past fuel economy rated somewhere between pastel running boards and lipstick holders.
The entry-level engine is a 3.7-litre V6 that puts out a class-leading 302 hp, 278 lb.-ft. of torque and gets best-in-class fuel economy – 12.8 L/100 km city and 8.9 city. You can get into a regular cab, rear drive F-150 with this engine for $19,999.
Next up is the DOHC “Coyote” 5.0-litre V8, borrowed from the Mustang but modified to make more low-end torque (380 lb.-ft.) with less top-end power (360 hp). This is a thoroughly modern engine with independent variable camshaft timing. The compression ratio has been reduced to allow the use of regular fuel, of which it consumes 13.9 L/100 km in the city and 9.7 on the highway.The smallest engine option has historically accounted for an equally small part of the F-150 pie, but Ford is cautiously optimistic that this may change. This is an eager and snarly six-pot, and the fact that it is tow rated for 6,100 lbs may be all the engine a chunk of pickup buyers need.
This 5.0 is a strong and great sounding engine and will likely be the volume seller. Tow rated at 10,000 lbs., it costs $1,000 over the 3.7-litre V6.
For those who need the biggest and baddest V8, Ford has shoehorned the iron-block pushrod 6.2-litre V8 from the Super Duty line into the F-150 for 2011. With 411 hp and 434 lb.-ft. of torque, I didn’t hear any of the Ford brass bragging about this lump’s fuel economy, which sits at 16.9 L/100 city and 11.4 highway. This is more of a specialty item, which can be optioned on most F-150s and comes standard with the Harley Davidson model and the SVT Raptor.
I drove a Platinum edition with this engine (about $67,000 worth), and yes, it convincingly hauls some serious butt.
While this engine has the same name, displacement and architecture as the V6 EcoBoost in the Ford Taurus SHO, Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT, not one part is shared. From the aluminum block to the turbos, this is a different animal.The big news underhood is the available 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost, which is a game changer in the pickup world. For a $1,000 premium over the 5.0-litre V8, this twin-turbo, direct-injection, DOHC engine (technologies as foreign to traditional pickups as bicycles are to fish) is available across 90 per cent of the line-up. Fuel economy is impressive (12.9 city, 9.0 hwy), but Ford is also pitching this as the workhorse of the bunch.
Convincing die-hard truckies that a high-tech turbo V6 will out-do a V8 while also proving reliable will be Ford’s biggest challenge. By the numbers, at least, it’s really not such a tough sell.
The blown V6 makes 365 hp and 465 lb.-ft. of torque way down in the rev range, and it shares the highest tow and payload rating (11,300 lbs and 3,060 lbs respectively) with the 6.2-litre V8.
At a recent Ford event, we towed 6,500 lb trailers in an F-150 EcoBoost, a Dodge Ram 5.7-litre Hemi (390 hp, 407 lb.-ft.) and a Chevy Silverado 5.3-litre V8 (315 hp, 335 lb.-ft.). The Chevy got the job done but felt the weakest. The Dodge’s Hemi was strong and sounded fabulous but like the Chevy, it had to see about 4,000 r.p.m. before the real power came on. The EcoBoost drove more like a turbo-diesel engine, providing lots of low-end grunt with little apparent effort.
Driving the EcoBoost unladen over some country roads proved it to be a swift and very quiet pickup, although the observed 13.4 L/100 km was considerably off the claimed economy- best to use these figures only for comparison.
There was also a short drag strip set up, where the EcoBoost consistently beat all comers, even edging the F-150 Platinum with the honkin’ 411-hp 6.2-litre V8.
The only area where the EcoBoost falls short is in character. While the V8’s were howling out their lusty Detroit song, this turbo-techie went about its business with a bland exhaust note and bit of turbo whistle. Interestingly, without the V8 soundtrack the EcoBoost never felt as fast as the others.
The EcoBoost certainly makes the most sense on paper, however, delivering the most torque, maximum tow rating and fuel economy that is only one point off the entry-level V6. Ford claims buyers will recoup their $1,000 premium over the 5.0-litre V8 after three years of fuel savings. Will this be enough to pry pickup buyers away from their cherished V8s?