Exclusive First Drive: 2012 Ford Harley-Davidson F-150

3 F-150 HD snow
Any time a celebrity relationship lasts more than a decade, you wonder how the couple keeps it from getting stale and if there’s enough substance underneath for the relationship to continue.  Maybe they’re not actual celebrities, but the Ford and Harley-Davidson relationship, now in its 12th year, has definitely given birth to some amazing offspring.

Over that time, there have been 10 F-150s and six Super Duty models, with the first F-450 model in 2009. In all, more than 70,000 Harley F-Series packages have been sold since 1999.

With all those years of success behind Ford and Harley, their relationship might be showing signs of conflict. In fact, the newest Ford Harley truck in the lineup might be the most awkward progeny to date. 

The 2012 Ford Harley-Davidson F-150 is relatively unchanged from last year: It has the same 6.2-liter V-8 under the hood and more Harley-Davidson emblems than you can count. But the model now offers a new four-wheel-drive transfer case and a few new design details. As it turns out, the transfer case is largely responsible for this truck’s oddly conflicted personality.

More than ever before, this new Harley F-150 is a confused combination of performance truck styling with weakened real-truck capabilities.

Last year, Ford made manufacturing the F-150 simpler by reducing the number of transfer cases available to just two units--one that offers an "all-wheel-drive" setting (for Lariat and higher packages) and one that does not (for XLT and lower packages, and Raptor). The new transfer case has a setting called "4A," which stands for automatic all-wheel drive. This setting allows the vehicle to effectively have a full-time all-wheel-drive mode--you can just set it and forget it. However, it should be noted that Ford’s all-wheel -drive mode is different from GM’s 4WD transfer cases for full-size pickups and SUVs. The Ford system does not send power to all four wheels until it actually detects some amount of slip. The "Auto" setting on GM trucks sends power to all four wheels all the time, but can vary the proportion instantaneously based on multiple sensor input. 

9 F-150 HD gauges
One of the advantages of Ford’s new, smarter, transfer case is that the 4A setting effectively runs like a normal rear-drive vehicle, running more efficiently, in typical high-traction situations. But as soon as any wheel slip is detected, front or rear, the front drive axle engages like a light switch until the sensors determine that front drive is no longer needed. Then the system goes back to a conventional rear drive feel.

This is in contrast to the 4-High or 4-Low settings, which basically lock the center differential and split 50/50 the available engine torque between the front and rear drive shafts. The front axle is open, while the Harley package includes the rear-locking differential that can be engaged only in low range, which makes sense for a rock crawler but not really for a sportier performance truck (especially with 22-inch rims and low-profile tires).

This is the first Harley F-150 to offer a transfer case with a low-range gear; all other Harley F-150s have been rear- or all-wheel drive. And, yes, four-wheel drive was offered in Super Duty Harley-Davidson models. 

We drove the 2012 Harley F-150 on a road trip up Interstate 94 from Chicago to Milwaukee, the birthplace of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

The route allowed us to do some comfortable, wintertime cruising as we averaged about 65 mph on the open road, with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. At that speed, the Harley F-150 lumbered along around 1,700 rpm, and our computer readout told us we were averaging around 17.2 mpg over our 100-mile highway cruise. By the end of the trip, with two gas fill-ups under our belt by the time we turned in the truck, we had an overall average of 14.2 mpg in the city, which included a rush-hour drive out of Chicago and an accidental tour of downtown Milwaukee, running from the Harley-Davidson Museum (see our tour story) to the company’s headquarters on West Juneau Avenue, about a mile and half away. 

2 F-150 HD engine
The Harley package comes standard with the larger 36-gallon tank, allowing the big V-8 to take the F-150 somewhere between 400 and 600 miles on one tank of fuel, depending on how you drive. And just like last year, all 2012 Harleys come with 3.73:1 gears. At this time, no alternate gearing or engine options are available (which is too bad; we’d like to see a 3.55:1 EcoBoost at some point).  

EPA fuel economy numbers aren’t pretty for the V-8 Harley F-150: 12/16 mpg city/highway and 13 mpg combined. 

Among the truck’s strengths, the throaty rumble of the exhaust note is our favorite. As you might expect, the big-bore, twin-spark-plug V-8 engine makes 411 horsepower and 434 pounds-feet of torque, stuffing a lot of power through the manifolds and tubes. The 6R80 six-speed transmission was a little quick to upshift when motoring through traffic (it would be nice and clearly appropriate with the Harley edition to offer some kind of Sport mode), but we continue to appreciate the thumb-touch gearshift button that allows for quicker and more assured manual shifting. That said, we have to note this is one of the smartest downshifting transmissions of any pickup truck, which becomes even more apparent when mated to the power of this V-8. In some cases the transmission dropped from 6th to 3rd gear when we needed to put the hammer down, causing a launch worthy of any sports car’s respect. 

We didn’t get a chance to run the new Harley F-150 on a track, but we’re guessing the overall zero-to-60-mph time would be right on top of the 2011 model, which Motor Trend track-tested during its time with the truck at a scorching 6.4 seconds. 

As we noted earlier, among the more significant changes in the 2012 Harley F-150 is the transfer case, which has permanent all-wheel-drive capability and part-time low-range capability (a new addition for higher trim levels such as Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum and Harley). We especially appreciated this new feature when about 6 inches of snow fell overnight in Milwaukee, causing some questionable conditions on all the roads through and around the city. Being able to flip the transfer case dial into all-wheel drive gave us the sure-footedness needed to keep the truck under control and moving with traffic, even with very erratic grip conditions on the road. 

We even got to pull out a late-90s front-wheel-drive Honda CR-V that was parked nose-in into a downhill curb at the Harley museum. Snow plows had wedged a pile of snow behind the back tires to the point the front tires couldn’t push them up and over the berm. The passengers were standing there in the snow with a strap in hand when we almost drove by. We probably could have tugged the CR-V in 4A or 4-High, but we opted to pull it out gently in low range, pulling the vehicle through the snow mounds.

6 F-150 HD museum snow
Unfortunately, it was during the snow flurries when we discovered the Harley front-end styling package does not allow for a tow-hook option. So we wrapped the strap around the lower control arm — certainly not the best choice, but standing in the Wisconsin cold, we weren’t going to delay — and gently tugged the CR-V to better ground. Who would have thought that high-profile Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires had so much grip in snow? For the rest of the day, as we drove around the neighborhoods and city streets of Milwaukee, we had a great deal of fun driving in 4A with traction control turned off. 

Other minor changes for the 2012 Harley F-150 include interior and exterior designs — one we like, the other not so much. Whereas the 2011 model was offered with brushed aluminum inserts, this year there are several more stylish leather snakeskin accents throughout — on the seats, steering wheel and center console. At first glance, it’s subtle enough to miss, but once your eye catches the inlayed texture and color changes when contrasted with the formal black dashboard and trim pieces, the snakeskin pieces look very cool and tie into the Harley mystique quite well.

Outside, the design changes don’t work so well. The new Harley F-150 graphics package almost looks like some windblown clothing or material is stuck onto the side of the truck. Also, if you look closely, the snakeskin design also appears on the exterior graphics package. Interesting for sure, but the leather look on the outside of the truck doesn’t work as well as inside. They missed it with that one.

Likewise, the new rims have a “wavy gravy” look that doesn’t seem masculine or aggressive — it’s sort of odd that they look like they’re melting or losing their shape. Add to that the fact that the high-profile 275/45R22 tires look like rubber bands on a four-wheel-drive truck, and we begin to pick up on some odd personality conflicts with this truck. Calling this Harley F-150 schizophrenic would be an overstatement, but combined with the real four-wheel-drive transfer case, it does seem to lack some design and engineering consistency. Is it a performance truck, or does it want to be a real truck? Trying to be both means it’s likely not to do either very well. 

4 F-150 HD wheels
As to the “truck-ness” of the new Harley F-150, except for the years they were based on the Super Duty platforms, these partner packages have never really been hard workers. The gross vehicle weight rating of our test truck — a short-bed SuperCrew — was 7,350 pounds, and the as-tested weight was 6,240 pounds, leaving a total payload weight of 1,110 pounds. That’s certainly not horrible, but only if you’re comparing it to an F-150 SVT Raptor (which, we might add, seems to be a much better example of a clearly executed design and engineering exercise).

However, if you compare these figures to other SuperCrew 4x4 F-150 models, you are losing almost 700 pounds in payload and more than 3,000 pounds in towing capacity. (Our 4x4 could tow up to 7,300 pounds). For payload, if you add a few passengers to the Harley, you’re looking at the bed capacity being about 700 pounds, about half the capacity of a Honda Ridgeline — not so good for a full-size pickup. (We know criticizing the truck for these types of shortcomings might be a little like criticizing a Porsche 911 for not offering a DVD entertainment system for backseat passengers, but it’s worth pointing out.)

In terms of overall value, we fully expect Ford to sell every Harley package it makes. But with a base price of $52,990 (Download Ford Harley-Davidson F-150 monroney) for the 4x4, you can imagine that not much is left on the options list for a customer to choose. Among our favorite details, the 8-inch touch-screen integrates the voice-activated navigation system, climate control and SiriusXM satellite radio. 

We continue to be huge fans of the 4.2-inch LCD productivity screen, which sits between the tachometer and speedometer. It gives us access to all sorts of information about fuel economy, towing performance and even four-wheel-drive advice. Other standard features include a power moonroof, rearview camera, rear heated seats, ambient lighting, remote start, 110-volt power inverter and more. Our test unit came with a bed extender ($250) and a tailgate step ($375), giving us a grand total of $53,615. 

What’s the bottom line here? This is clearly an impressive vehicle, and Ford continues to be the best in the industry at executing these types of themed vehicles. But this particular Harley-Ford pairing might be overreaching with this 4WD model. Sure, you get a lot for your money, but what kind of truck, chock full of tradeoffs, are you really getting here? If they want it to be their sport truck, it should be better. If it just wants to be their priciest premium trim package, it should be able to do more. 

To put the most positive spin on this, it's a great sport truck that also offers some four-wheel-drive (and all-wheel-drive) capability (sans tow hooks and an all-terrain treads). But to put a more realistic spin on it, you’re getting much less capability for your money and paying a premium for it.  

11 F-150 HD headrest

10 F-150 HD console

12 F-150 HD Juneau


Good writeup. I test drove the 2011 and it's impressive.
The only thing it's 22" wheels and low profile tires makes the ride a bit rough on some roads.

I'm not a big fan of auto AWD systems as it impairs it's capabilities. Now if I want a 4X4 I have to settle with an XLT?

Auto 4x4 doesn't impare anything. It is an addition. Any truck that has Auto-4wd (Lariat and up) also has 4x4 hi and 4x4 low.


I just completed a major dig of a prehistoric area in the western United States. It was pretty uneventful at first, but I did have one major find. It was a Ford Super Duty!

I previously had a Chevy with that auto-mode and I wasn't impressed. The T/C was noisy and I rarely used the auto mode. I either used 4x2 or 4x4. My 2011 Polaris Sportsman 850 uses an AWD mode that is faultless. No loss in capability, and has the RWD feel when there is no loss in traction. It really is perfect. I would really like to test the 2012 F150 system to see if it impresses me as much. Sounds promising!

I'd have to agree with Mark. It should be a sport truck. A kick ass street rod. Perhaps Ford has taken on too many of Harley Davidson's characteristics - a premium price for lotsa bling with questionable performance.

junk (But to put a more realistic spin on it, you’re getting much less capability for your money and paying a premium for it.) Isn't that just bout every ford you buy.

It took ford all the way up until 2011 to offer auto all wheel drive? WOW! Innovative! Aren't they!?

You would think that they would get rid of those corny gauges (low/high, hot/cold, etc) and put real numbers on them so you can see what the crap is going on with your truck. FORD LOSES AGAIN!

Let's see GM come up with an auto 4x4 that actually works. We saw how poorly GM did in the shootout. You had to stop the truck, turn on 4x4, and then go. That's not automatic!

You do not have to stop in Silverado to engage 4WD or 4x4, you can do that up to 60mph dummy

You do not have to stop in Silverado to engage 4WD or 4x4, you can do that up to 60mph dummy

Posted by: Oh really | Feb 23, 2012 1:12:25 PM

That is true Oh really. The nerve of some people.

Acually you can shift into Auto 4WD or 4x4 High at any speed

When your Silverado is fishtailing backwards down the hill you do have to stop. Regardless if you stop or not, both GM's trucks struggled to get off the hill and had to engage 4x4. This is not auto 4x4.


For the computer savvy. Do a DNS lookup of www.pickuptrucks.com and it will show the host server at www.ford.com

Who cares about this truck, seriously, all flash and no sub, you drove it around yet you did no hauling and no towing, why even buy a truck at that point?

700 pounds in the bed, now thats a BIG JOKE.

Because you didn't have it in Auto in the first place dumb ass!
Are you really that dumb? WOW!

When your Silverado is fishtailing backwards down the hill you do have to stop. Regardless if you stop or not, both GM's trucks struggled to get off the hill and had to engage 4x4. This is not auto 4x4.

typical bs coming from a ford fanboi.

It's true. GM repeated the same test with the same exact trucks pickuptrucks.com used after the Shootout, they saw the same results.

Frank Sez drives a Ford, so he's never seen an Auto 4WD and how it works.
Hey Frank Sez, you actually have to have the transfer case in A4WD in order to call it AUTO!
If you have it in 2WD mode it will NOT engage 4 wheels!

I got an idea, instead of driving a something that has already been tested hundreds of times before by other magazines, TEST A FU@KING 2500 HEMI WITH THE NEW TRANSMISSION, SOMETHING NOBODY HAS DONE YET!!!!

I figured common sense would have dictated this by now, but I guess that is something this new editor doesn't have.

@ Frank Sez
You realize that they were testing TRACTION CONTROL systems in the article you provided, right? ALL trucks were in 2WD mode during that test! NOT AUTO, NOT 4X4!
NONE of them were equipped with AUTO transfer case.

They test what is given. Why not tell Fiat to deliver a 2500 Hemi to test!

You are right. But GM's auto 4x4 doesn't work either. Maybe they can test auto 4x4 in the next shootout.

We can assume that if their auto locking rear dif doesn't work then their auto 4x4 doesn't work as advertised either.

Better looking and surely better built than my pile of junk 2009 Silverado. I still wouldn't buy a Ford but I sure won't be buying another Chevy either. It's most likely Dodge or dare I say Toyota next time. I never did understand the Harley Davidson trim though. What does a motorcycle have to do with a truck?

Auto 4WD test would be fun.

GM's A4WD works just fine

quote "It took ford all the way up until 2011 to offer auto all wheel drive? WOW! Innovative! Aren't they!?"

umm you do know how to read dont you?

"This is the first Harley F-150 to offer a transfer case with a low-range gear; all other Harley F-150s have been rear- or all-wheel drive. And, yes, four-wheel drive was offered in Super Duty Harley-Davidson models. "

@ orville

just a gimmick to sell more trucks and apparently it works. I would love to have a harley truck, but its not practical for me unless i had the extra cash lying around, but it would sure look good beside my harley street glide !!!

This truck is purely advertised to the Elites of this country and not the working class.

Stop hating TROLLS!!

You are right. But GM's auto 4x4 doesn't work either. Maybe they can test auto 4x4 in the next shootout.

Posted by: Frank | Feb 23, 2012 1:50:48 PM

GM's auto 4x4 does to work. My friend has a 1999 chevy with the auto transfercase, you push the auto 4wd button then if you slip in two wheel drive about half a wheel spin. It kicks right in. I say go jump in a chevy with the auto Tcase yourself, find some dirt push the auto 4wd button ,and punch it then you'll know how well it works. Its good set up for people who can't drive.

"Last year, Ford made manufacturing the F-150 simpler by reducing the number of transfer cases available to just two units--one that offers an "all-wheel-drive" setting (for Lariat and higher packages) and one that does not (for XLT and lower packages, and Raptor). The new transfer case has a setting called "4A," which stands for automatic all-wheel drive"

It's 2012 where I live, so last year would mean 2011. Yes I can read. What year you live in? I want to visit!

Buy Italian or say goodbye to Italy:

B.S. Mike always figured out a way to test vehicles that weren't delivered.

This guy is a freeking tool, driving trucks that have already been driven, and ignoring trucks that have had huge upgrades.

While he has done a better job in that last month or so, it is still far from what Mike was posting.

They can only test trucks that are provided to them for testing.
go yell at Fiat for not providing a new truck to test.

Hey if Ford wants this truck to have Harley's image then this truck has crappy brakes, is slow, heavy, and vibrates at idle like a paint shaker- I forgot to mention- overly expensive and technologically retarded.

GM's auto mode is a pile of junk. If you like it, it's probably because you just haven't experienced anything good.

Alex, and you have? What was it?

The 6.2 is better on gas than the Eco-Boost ! And faster too !!

The 6.2 out excellerates the Eco-Boost,remmeber Folks the Eco-Boost Trucks are lighter than the Harley F-150 6.2 !

The 6.2 is the real gem in Ford's truck engine line-up !

Fiat is taking down Chevy in 2012.

Ram has had the 4wd Auto mode for a few years. I woulda thought it woulda been standard on TRX4s and now Outdoorsmans. Good idea, I have never tested one tho.
Sanford, I'd like to see them test the new 2500 Hemi too, but cursing at Matt Williams helps none, man. I really think that transmission in the 2500 will be a 2500 gaser series game changer. The 6.2 is the wrong engine for a heavy F-250, in my opinion. And Chevy 2500 gas? pfffff. But I am sure alot just pay for the name. At a point on the 6.2 Ford dyno curve, the 5.7 Hemi makes within 5 or so ft pounds torque. Not bad for being around 30 CID less.

This truck is for Harley riders to get their bikes to Bike Week in Daytona. Bike owners that have plenty of money, that is.

@bob: I feel the same way. Glad my Ram (about 15K less msrp) can show me the EXACT 1 engine oil temp 2 water temp 3 oil pressure 4 trans fluid temp 5 engine hours 6 tire pressures. The Ford I looked at I know could only do trans fluid for sure and maybe tire pressures? and engine hours? maybe I would guess. I asked about oil pressure and temp, and water, the salesman said no. But on the other hand, I do like that little display on the off road package that shows the angle of the truck nose up or down, left or right, wheels turned.

The 6.2 a gem? hmmmmm. Its bigger that's all we can say. Anybody could build a bigger engine. Maybe Ram will drop the 6.4 in a limited number of 1500s. It's not only bigger, it makes more power per inch. If I paid this much money or what the Raptor costs, I'd expect more.


Have you ever driven a Raptor?


I'd rather have a Tacoma X-Runner thank you very much!

The step boards are ridiculous...


Tacoma is a Girls truck ! I know a few of my female friends own them.They are always in the shop for repairs,we want to step up to a real truck a F-150 or a Ram someday.

TEXT TOMMY, The 6.2 has 434 pound feet of torque in it's first year out. The Hemi had 375 in it's first year. The Hemi has been upgraded. The 6.2 hasn't yet. When it is, it will blow the Hemi away. I laugh at people who compare the power of their upgraded Hemi against a non upgraded 6.2. Especially in the Heavy Duties. Apples and oranges!

@ Frank ,

Stop with the political rederic go join the occupy protests if you are so out of touch with reality ! If anyone has half a brain you can make it in America/Canada.Furthermore,the working class buys these trucks my friend ! I am in the so-called working class and own a top model 2012 Dodge Ram 1500 ,and if I were a Ford guy,I would buy one of these,it is a nice truck,just not as good/nice as a Dodge !

@ Buy Italian or say goodbye to Italy ,
@ Lou,

Why is it that Chrysler is now majority owned by Fiat (Ferarri,Maserati) and now you call it a Fiat Ram,when Chrysler was owned by Mercedes,you never called them a Mercedes Ram,explain yourselves,or I bet you are just uneducated trolls !! Remember Ram is still under the Chrysler group and it is still under the Dodge umbrella(go look at its window sticker and vin)and guess what Fiat is using many Chrysler chassis in Europe for its Lacia/Maserati models they are thrilled to use the products ! Hell,even MOPAR has a Fiat 500 edition ,so actually its Fiat thats really benefitting from Chrysler,and turning more American as they want to have their HeadQuarters in America,so it is an American Company !
I dont here you calling A Chevrolet Silverado,Union Silverado or Obama Sierra as GM is owned by the government,Chrysler paid back 100% of its loan money. Ford will have all European vehicles soon as its whole line up besides the Mustang and F-series are European imports ! E-Series van is going to be a Euro import !

Here's a novel idea.

They should make a crew cab truck that has a bed long enough to actually put a harley motorcycle in.

@ Jm :

Wow !! You are out of touch,the 6.2 is "upgradded" its the best Ford can do with it today !!!! Also you are comparing a smaller engine with a bigger engine.

Ford knew Dodge had a 390 hp 407 torque HEMI a 5.7 L 345 cubic inch and yet they had time to engineer,produce a bigger 6.2 Ford 379 cubic inch and has just a little more power/torque but guess what it cant outrun a 390 h.p HEMI !!

It makes me laugh how odd people are,you know it really makes me laugh that the original Ford model T had a Dodge engine,and I guess Ford guys are still upset about that !

And it makes me laugh that Ford comes out with a new engine and Ford people think its not upgradded,so you are saying the 6.2 is not as good because it isnt as upgradded as a Hemi ! What is wrong with Ford engineers that they cant come out with a upgradded state of the art new engine,just a piece meal clunker engine ? Who would buy a Ford if their best and brightest are not on top of their game ?

Also Ford uses a Chrysler Hemi in drag racing,Top Fuel cars all have Chrysler Hemi's,GM/Ford/Toyota all use a Chrysler Hemi,worlds most superior engine !!!

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