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Unloaded Efficiency (download full details in Adobe Acrobat format)
In contrast to the truck and trailer combo, the unloaded truck amazed us with its fuel economy. Dropping back from 70 mph to 60-65 mph raised its gas mileage from 18 mpg to the low 20s without even trying, even when we were high in the Rockies where the air is thin.
During a 300-mile stretch of highway — where we refueled just outside Vail, Colo., and headed east across the Rockies to Dillon, Colo., and then traveled back west to the Utah border — there were moments when the truck’s trip computer told us we were averaging over 25 mpg. We finished that segment averaging a manually calculated 23.2 mpg – the best fuel economy we can recall over such a long distance in a full-size gas pickup truck.
It’s important to point out that we didn’t “hypermile” either truck to boost efficiency. We drove them like we normally would, and for long stretches we kept the trucks at one speed using cruise control. We also filled up only with regular octane gasoline, which ranged from 85 RON to 87 RON.
Our fuel economy chart (download full details in Adobe Acrobat format) summarizes our gas mileage throughout the trip, according to both the trucks’ trip computers and manually calculated mileage. It also includes our range estimates for highway speeds, weather conditions and altitude. We’ve also identified (in red) where we performed acceleration tests. Fuel economy with and without those tests is provided.
Other Mileage Experience
Driving in Los Angeles’ urban traffic, before and after the touring and trailering portion of our test, we easily averaged 15 mpg to 17 mpg depending on surface street traffic and stop-and-go conditions. For an unloaded truck, were we impressed with this fuel economy. The thirsty 6.2-liter V-8 in the F-150 Raptor returned only about 12 mpg in similar conditions.
The last data point about fuel economy we’ll provide is how the EcoBoost performed pulling the 9,000-pound trailer up the steep 17-mile grade on Highway 163 due west of Laughlin, Nev. Averaging 55 mph to 60 mph at low altitude, the rig burned 3 gallons of fuel and averaged 5 mpg to climb the mountain. The unloaded truck burned 0.9 gallons of gas and averaged 15 mpg, according to the trip computer.
Overall, both trucks used 356 gallons of fuel to travel a combined 4,186 miles.
During our EcoBoost odyssey, we also worked the trucks hard to measure their wide open throttle performance at some of the highest and lowest altitudes you’ll find in the country.
On I-70 in Colorado, on the same route we did our Rumble in the Rockies, we also ran the F-150 pulling the 9,000-pound trailer. We were stunned by how well it pulled at such high elevation on the 7 percent grade to the Eisenhower Tunnel. It was so strong that we had to start testing at 10,000 feet to ensure the rig didn’t climb the hill at an unsafe speed at wide open throttle. The EcoBoost F-150 ran the quarter-mile in 27.83 seconds at 50.83 mph – more than enough to keep up with or pass traffic. That’s a performance we don’t think could be easily matched by a non-turbo gas engine, even a large-displacement V-8.
Now, compare that time to how the truck-and-trailer pair performed on Davis Dam’s shallower 5 percent grade at only 2,000 feet of elevation, where it’s easier to gulp oxygen to feed the engine. Here, it ran the quarter-mile in 24.56 seconds at 58.47 mph – not much slower than it did in the Rockies.
The EcoBoost’s Davis Dam time is also faster than what we measured in the 5.0-liter V-8 F-150 with a different 9,000-pound trailer (25.06 seconds at 55.46 mph).
On level ground, the EcoBoost F-150 and trailer covered the quarter-mile in 21.02 seconds at 67.21 mph and did zero to 60 mph in only 16.36 seconds (compared with 16.85 seconds for the 5.0-liter V-8).
But it wasn’t all perfect performance with EcoBoost and the trailer. The sudden delivery of torque to the rear wheels with the trailer hooked up often caused the tires to lose traction and cause pounding bouts of axle tramp until we reduced throttle or until the traction control system reduced power on its own. Wide open throttle isn’t just for testing purposes. If you’re stuck on the side of a highway with a trailer and need to quickly merge back into traffic, you’re going to need as much power as your truck can provide. It needs to do so without reducing driver confidence or control.
The unloaded F-150 was a screamer, too, but it didn’t suffer from wheel hop like the trailer-towing EcoBoost F-150 did. It went from zero to 60 mph up Davis Dam in only 7.29 seconds and took only 6.79 seconds on flat pavement – right in line with times we measured in other EcoBoost F-150s over the past year.
With the non-towing F-150, we noticed something that felt like turbo lag during wide open throttle runs. It took almost a second from the time the accelerator hit the floor until the turbos fully responded to the request, but once they did, we were shoved back in our seats. Awesome. We also noticed a hint of turbo whine but nothing that we considered fatiguing or annoying.
Overall, both trucks exhibited the traits we’ve come to benchmark other half-ton pickup trucks against. Both F-150s provided great rides, unloaded and towing. It was reasonably easy to hop from one truck to another without needing a lengthy amount of time to get used to the handling differences. The F-150’s new electric steering also seemed to help better maintain control of the loaded truck on the highway during windy conditions crossing the desert. Even the unloaded truck and its large crew-cab profile seemed to benefit from similar steering assist.
We also discovered a cool feature for the backup camera that was displayed in the rearview mirror. Using the productivity screen, we could change the zoom setting to pan out to a fisheye lens view or zoom in for a close-up look at the hitch while hooking up the trailer. Very nice.
As you might imagine, one improvement we’d like to see for the truck as soon as possible is the availability of a 36-gallon fuel tank, which is in the 5.0-liter V-8 F-150 we tested. The extra-large reservoir isn’t available for any EcoBoost truck, including those optioned with the Max Trailer Tow Package. The extra 10 gallons would have saved us from having to carry extra gasoline with us.
We’d also like to see the addition of a turbo boost gauge, which we think could be easily provided as a new truck app in the productivity screen. We’d also like the gear-select indicator to remain displayed in the screen after the truck is turned off and back on, as it does in the Ford F-Series Super Duty.
Each of the four engines offered in the 2011 F-150 has a unique application and personality. It’s like Ford is giving you four different tools to accomplish similar tasks. You need the right tool for the job. If you wondering if the EcoBoost is right for you, then you’ll need to carefully consider how and where you’re going to use your truck.
Balancing fuel economy and performance, the EcoBoost is the best choice for people who spend most of their time hauling cargo in the bed or driving empty on rural roads where speeds are limited to no more than 60 mph. In this case, you’ll get the best mileage for a reasonable price with the power to tow a heavy trailer occasionally without too much of a hit to your wallet. EcoBoost also works well if you’re going to regularly tow a heavy trailer at high altitude because its performance is only matched by today’s heavy-duty diesels in that environment.
If you’re going to tow a trailer regularly around geography like the Midwest, we’d suggest the 5.0-liter as a better choice. From our experience, the 5.0 gets better fuel economy in that scenario -- we'll be putting this to a side-by-side test in the future. For the heaviest trailers, the 6.2 is a good choice, or consider moving into a diesel Super Duty. Light contracting work at a reasonable entry price can be accomplished with the naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V-6.
We have high hopes for EcoBoost engines in the future but we want to see if Ford’s powertrain engineers can do more about the stressed fuel economy figures we saw when towing so they better complement the stellar unloaded gas mileage we observed. Or perhaps we’re faced with the fact that some physical laws can’t be repealed no matter how much slick technology is thrown at them. Big towing needs big cubic inches and trying to deliver that same capability with twin turbos may always force truck guys to pay a low-mpg price when there’s a trailer behind the truck.
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