By Aaron Bragman
Ford always has had a tricky task when updating the F-150. It's the most popular vehicle in the country by sales, selling hundreds of thousands of units a year — approximately 550,000 in 2016 alone — and retaining its title as the best-selling pickup for 40 straight years. So when it's time to update the half-ton pickup truck, Ford's only willing to go so far for fear of alienating those millions of loyal buyers.
The last big change was a drastic one in 2015 when the F-150 went to an almost entirely aluminum body. Since then, there have been some minor updates to the powertrain. For the 2018 model, debuting at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, we've seen the biggest styling change to the truck since the 2015 redesign. Some of these design changes are meant to bring the F-150 more stylistically in line with the look of the new 2017 Super Duty, and I'm pleased to say that they work quite well.
The original horse-collar-style grille on the 2015 F-150 always looked a little too imposing to me. It made the truck seem ungainly and tall, but the new grille and headlight designs on the F-150 are much more horizontally oriented, giving the truck a lower, wider, more planted look.
There are new grille designs for each of the F-150's seven trim levels; higher trims get the "twin I-beam" design and lower trims and some Sport packages get a large mesh opening with "nostrils." But even these seven designs can be modified with paint and coatings to create much greater differentiation between trim levels. Enthusiasts will likely amuse themselves by learning the different ones and playing "spot the Platinum" when these trucks hit the streets in the fall.
At the rear of the truck, there's a massive new F-150 logo stamped into the tailgate sheet metal on lesser trim levels, probably a nod to Toyota and Ram, which have been stamping nameplates and huge logos on tailgates for a couple years now. On Lariat and higher trim levels, that stamped logo is replaced by a plastic applique trim piece. The F-150 logo was removed for those trims, a Ford designer said, because it looked too busy with the applique and trim level script.
There isn't much to talk about inside, as the only visual changes are the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the Sync 3 multimedia system, some new leather colors on the higher trims, new seats for the King Ranch and a new B&O Play premium audio option.
As to the new additions under the hood, we're stoked. However, we'll have to wait a bit longer to see just what kind of improvements the new powertrains will feature. The all-new base 3.3-liter naturally aspirated V-6 seems small for a truck this size, but Ford insists that it's an advanced engine with the same power and torque as the outgoing 3.5-liter V-6, but with better fuel economy. The one we all want to drive is the new turbo-diesel 3.0-liter, but that's not arriving until nearly nine months after the 2018 F-150 hits dealerships in fall of 2017.
The new look for the 2018 F-150 is subtle but attractive, creating a better-looking pickup than the one it replaces. With a 10-speed automatic transmission and powerful turbocharged engines across most of the lineup, it should be just as appealing to drive.