By Matt Avery
When winter weather strikes Cars.com's Chicago office, it's great to take a pickup out on the city's sloppy, wet roads. Several inches of snow and ice piled up around our Chicago offices recently, making me more than eager to jump in the 2013 Ford F-150 XLT EcoBoost for a weekend. I had high expectations for the blue-oval hauler, but it fell short in a few areas.
Our Green Gem XLT 4x4 SuperCrew tester came equipped with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine mated to an electronic six-speed automatic transmission. Despite sloppy road conditions, the powertrain made for confident highway passing when traffic was moving, and when we had extended idle times (waiting for the cabin to warm up) our mileage numbers didn't suffer. EPA fuel economy figures rate the V-6 at 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, and that's not too far off from what we saw.
Driving through unplowed residential areas and side streets did not faze the truck, as it stayed planted with minimal wheel spin. We experienced little road noise; the only detectable engine noise were the turbos and then only under heavy acceleration.
Visibility around the truck was excellent, helped in large part by the commanding seating position. I especially liked the LED turn signals mounted in the rearview mirrors; heavy snowfall and nighttime driving can be unnerving sometimes but these small touches helped me feel more confident about being visible to other drivers.
Inside, our F-150 had gray cloth bucket seats along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a six-way power driver's seat and a 4.2-inch LCD cluster screen. That center-mounted screen is positioned high in the center stack and is easily read from anywhere in the cabin. One key feature, especially useful when temperatures dropped, was the thick, chunky button layout across the dashboard. Even while wearing heavy gloves, all of the center and steering-wheel-mounted controls were easy to toggle, allowing us to keep our hands warm but still make adjustments. Not so great is the position of the climate control, which is a manual, single-zone unit. The twin dials are located at the bottom of the center stack, and the only indicator of fan speed or temperature is with small dots that are not easily identified with a quick glance. The adjustments are even more difficult to see at night.
Our tester came equipped with power and heated mirrors, which made quick work of overnight icing. The SuperCrew easily held a load full of adult passengers, and several noted how much legroom they had in the back seats. However, getting in and out was a different story. While the vehicle came equipped with sidestep running boards, they proved to be a bit hazardous. The oval-shaped steps were narrow and when wearing boots or any other snow footwear, they were almost too small to provide solid footing. Additionally, any short drive around our slushy, snow-covered town or on the highway quickly added a layer of packed mush on to the steps, making them challenging to use. After a quick run to the grocery store, attempting to step in and reach into the second row to retrieve our last bag and a rolling can of soup proved to be quite a task with the slippery steps.
Other Chicago Voices:
Here are some other voices from our Chicago colleagues and their thoughts about the new 2013 Ford XLT F-150 with the EcoBoost engine after they spent some time behind the wheel.
The truck moves out well and doesn't feel labored, and I especially appreciated its power reserve when navigating traffic on the highway. The engine's turbochargers sounds are most interesting, kind of a cross between a big-rig semi and a heavy-duty diesel pickup truck.
Even with an empty cargo box, it rode relatively well, though the suspension wasn't quite as compliant as I remember the one on the new Ram 1500 being. You especially feel expansion joints on the highway in the F-150.
It's pretty easy to acclimate to the F-150's size, and that's partly because of its precise steering, which holds up well against newer competitors. There isn't a lot of play in the wheel, and its heft feels appropriate for a truck. It's a nicely tuned setup that doesn't require making small steering inputs to keep the truck cruising straight.
Less appealing are the truck's brakes, which stop the pickup without drama but which have a very numb pedal feel.
The backup camera and parking sensors are useful, and they made navigating our downtown Chicago parking garage less stressful. The tow mirrors, though, make an already-wide truck even wider; I had to keep a close eye on them when pulling to the gate of our garage so as not to clip the ticket machine. A power-folding feature for mirrors like this would be welcome.
The configurable instrument display looks great - nice color graphics and useful information, all selectable by steering wheel controls.
I was impressed by the amount of legroom offered in the second row, and the easy-fold bench seat flips up and out of the way nicely for extra, enclosed cargo room. — Mike Hanley
I've driven the F-150 a few times for PUTC shootouts and am still impressed with how un-truck-like the F-150 drives. There's very little road or wind noise at highway speeds, which makes the truck a joy to drive long distances. My commute averages roughly 90 minutes, though one day I had an especially brutal snow-filled commute of 2 hours and 27 minutes into the city.
The EcoBoost totally surprised me with a 15.2 mpg average over that bumper-to-bumper commute - after looking at the EPA numbers of 15 mpg city with four-wheel drive, that was spot on with my real-world mileage.
There is more room in the backseat than just about any other SUV I can think of, and the floor is perfectly flat. I don't think I'll ever need a pickup truck, but the amount of room in the back is expansive enough to convince me that it could be a dual-purpose family car. I loved how high up I sat and also how quickly the EcoBoost responded.
Driving the truck through our parking garage was a headache. Every time the antenna hit a sign hanging from the roof I thought for sure I clipped a car with one of the massive side mirrors. Luckily I never hit anything other than the signs hanging from the roof.
It was really interesting to see where the $46,000 went because, even at that price, it didn't have the usual luxury features we often see, such as leather or navigation. The cloth bucket seats are actually optional ($300). The truck featured numerous mechanical options like the EcoBoost engine, 3.73:1 gears, the off-road package, a trailer brake controller, the trailer towing package and a 36-gallon fuel tank. Buyers beware: The 36-gallon tank is so massive I couldn't fill it all the way because of my credit card's $100 pump limit - I made it to 25 gallons from empty (the low fuel light was on). — Joe Bruzek
I didn't get a chance to do much driving but did get to check for baby seats in the F-150 and I LOVED how easy it was to install the seats. We were able to get three car seats across the rear bench (booster, convertible and infant) with room to spare. The seat was really wide and flat, and the Latch anchors were visible with tons of clearance around them. Connecting to the anchors was really easy, too. — Jennifer Geiger
Here are a few thoughts from my commute: Acceleration doesn't feel as effortless as it does in the Ram V-6. I didn't clock it; it just felt that way.
All pickups still seem to have some shudder in the structure, but this one seemed looser than others after hitting bumps.
Even without the full MyFord Touch system, this Sync with MyFord system was a disaster to operate. The four-way disc and small display just didn't make sense. Cycling through options just to find out what you can do in each sub-menu seems horribly outdated to me. — Joe Wiesenfelder