2015 Ford F-150: First Drive

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We have no doubt that every auto writer who gets a chance to slide behind the wheel of the 2015 Ford F-150 will begin by talking about what a revolution — can we say revelation? — it is for the most popular vehicle the U.S. to switch from using steel to military-grade aluminum. Yes, it is; however, if that little fact never happened, this still would be a revolutionary pickup. What makes this truck different from its competitors — and that's what's really important here — is how much technology and how many segment-first features it offers and how vastly superior this truck is compared to the one it's replacing. Sure, removing the weight from the previous heifer certainly helps, but that's only one piece to this very complex puzzle. To see our video review, click here

As near as we can tell, there isn't a single aspect to this truck that hasn't been reengineered, reimagined or redesigned. But, as odd as it might sound, is it too much? That was the question that kept coming back to us as we learned more about what this new player offers.

It's difficult to find a similar parallel in the pickup truck world but it might be when the previous-generation Ram 1500 half-ton switched to coil springs and incorporated the eight-speed rotary dial. Or maybe it was when Ford brought the smoother, more aerodynamic 1996 F-150 to market with a rounded, cushy, ballooned interior. But even those two industry milestones don't come near the type of changes and improvements the 2015 Ford F-150 is attempting.

Of course, the biggest question about this new truck is how the use of aluminum affects the design, road feel, driving dynamics and overall capabilities. No other mass-produced vehicle has used so much aluminum in such a dramatic way, building all the body panels, the cab structure and the all-important pickup bed out of the unique and relatively expensive alloy.

Key Features

Across the board there is significant weight savings on every version of the new F-150, with Ford reporting base curb weights ranging from a touch more than 4,000 pounds (4x2 regular-cab short bed) all the way up to 5,200 pounds (4x4 SuperCrew long bed). All that weight savings can go right back into the payload capacities of the truck as the chassis and suspension of the truck is still made from ultra-high-strength and high-strength steel. That means the gross vehicle weight ratings pretty much remain unchanged, ranging from 6,000 pounds up to a maximum of 7,850. Doing the math, that means payload ranges go from 1,500 pounds up to a maximum payload capacity of 3,300 (4x2 regular-cab long bed with the 5.0-liter V-8).

What impact does the new alloy have on the pickup truck? We say absolutely none, other than allowing Ford to make it feel a little more nimble, more responsive and more fuel efficient — all good things in our book. Our first drive in the F-150took us on the back roads and two-lane highways in the Hill Country just north of San Antonio. We also got the chance to do a fun loop of farm-country four-wheeling through dry washes, over rutted hill climbs and across a creek bed, as well as towing 9,000-pound enclosed trailers (with weight-distributing hitches). In all those scenarios, this new F-150 was significantly more composed and responsive; additionally, the interior upgrades clearly attempt to set the quality bar at a new level.

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The available engines at the drive event included the all-new 2.7-liter V-6 EcoBoost, the carryover 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost and the carryover Coyote 5.0-liter V-8. The only missing engine was the standard all-new all-aluminum 24-valve 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V-6. EPA fuel economy ratings will come later next month, but you can expect that downsizing the engines, light-weighting the trucks, and lowering some of the standard and available ring-and-pinion choices will likely give the new combinations some impressive numbers (Ford is saying that all the engines will get between 5 and 20 percent better ratings this time around).

The overall look of the truck is more angular and almost aggressive in some ways (the hood and larger front grille) while at the same time softer and more rounded (the roofline and wheel arches). Certain key elements, like the larger door handles and bigger door window cutouts, have practical roots, allowing the driver easier access into the truck and better visibility. Additionally, we were told the front windshield "tongue" is part of a new design language Ford is likely to continue on other models like the next-generation Super Duty and possibly the full-size SUVs.

Foundational Support

The frame itself acts as a solid platform in which everything else is attached; there isn't an aspect of the new frame that hasn't been run through thousands of computer modeling programs to calculate exactly what shapes and thicknesses are needed at exactly the right spots to save the most weight while providing the appropriate strength.

The front of the frame, called the horn, has 12 different corners for a more predictable crush cycle when smashed with forces comparable to a car accident. Ridges in the boxed frame will also absorb energy during a head-on collision in a way that limits the force from being transferred to the cab passengers.

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The frame itself has multiple thicknesses throughout its full length, depending on what wheelbase and engine option the vehicle is designed to accommodate. The frame is broken into three different sections, with the front and rear piece usually the same strength, length and size, while the middle section (typically the thickest of the fully boxed pieces) determines the exact wheelbase and overall length.

Interestingly, to help strengthen the truck's trailering capacities the back end of the frame rails taper downward to better accommodate the proper height of the tow hitch. By adding a reinforced cross-member at the end of the frame, Ford was able to meet all the class-leading tow-rating capabilities with a simpler, stronger and more elegant solution. We do not have the full range of gross combined weight ratings, so we can't comment on how they compare to the competition, but we hope to find out more soon.

The suspension strategies are essentially the same, but every component to the independent short- and long-arm front suspension and live rear axle has been scrutinized and recalculated to specific specs while making further considerations for weight. The rear springs are a touch shorter than the 2014 model, and the rear shocks have been pushed outward and staggered (one forward facing, one rearward) to better deal with the rear-end and axle-hop forces. The rear axles have been shaved and redesigned for extra strength and weight savings as well. Ford will offer four axle ratios that range from 3.15:1 (only for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost) all the way up to 3.73:1 (Max Trailer Tow Package 5.0-liter V-8 and the 2.7-liter EcoBoost). Each engine will have at least two axle ratio choices.

Exterior

As noted earlier, the complexity to the F-150 is substantial, with thousands of individual options and many unique ordering configuration possibilities. Trim levels come in five basic flavors: XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum. On top of all those levels, the FX4 Off-Road Package can be ordered to give the F-150 unique shocks, extra skid plating, upgraded transmission software, one of two transfer cases (both with a 2.64:1 low range) and the accompanying bed stickers. Add to that the possibility of further separating your truck with either a sport or chrome package and it's likely you won't see another F-150 like yours no matter where you live. Additionally, monochromatic appearance packages in which bumpers, grille, door handles and rearview mirrors are color matched are available on XL, XLT and Lariat trims.

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Interior

If you think the exterior options are difficult to grasp, you won't believe the number of interior choices you have. Between technology packages, luxury packages, seating configurations, center console choices and too many options to list, the looks and details available inside the truck are almost mind-boggling. There is even a seat massaging option on the upper trim packages. Really? Customers were asking for that?

Although the air-conditioning vents are large and blow plenty of air, they do take up a good portion of dash real estate. The 8-inch center-stack screen uses the improved MyFord Touch system — every control on the screen has a redundant knob or switch below, allowing for instant control. We counted 52 buttons within easy reach of the driver, with 12 on the steering wheel alone. This might be overkill and could be distracting for some. One consequence of this fight for dash territory is that important controls like the headlight switch and trailer-brake controller (when equipped) are relegated to spaces well below the driver's line of sight and are even a little difficult to reach.

The 8-inch color information screen available on higher trim packages sits right between the tachometer and speedometer. It provides just about every piece of engine or truck information you could want, from basic facts like tire pressure to advice when hooking up a trailer to real-time and long-haul fuel economy. The screen is divided into six different folders; some are programmable while others deliver stacks of information. It's not quite as well done as the Ram's display or graphics but it's better than before.

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In terms of the seating choices, we really liked that when you order the 40/20/40-split front bench seat, you automatically get the hidden storage box under the center seat as well as a flexible center console. We also like that most trim packages and engine combinations allow you to choose between the column or center console sport shifter. Both options offer access to Ford's exclusive select shift as well as a dual-tap controller that allows for both an aggressive Tow/Haul setting and a dedicated Sport mode. Sport mode keeps the engine rpm higher in the rev band, provides for quicker downshifts and holds a gear longer when accelerating, as well as tightening up throttle response. They may be subtle changes but they do affect the personality of the truck when behind the wheel.

How It Drives

We had the chance to drive several iterations of the new F-150 in several different trim levels. As we've already noted, the truck will have four engine choices: three V-6s (two brand new) and the carryover 5.0-liter V-8. The standard engine for the XL, XLT and Lariat will be the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 with 283 horsepower and 255 pounds-feet of torque — not huge numbers compared to other V-6s but it offers a much better power-to-weight ratio than the 3.7-liter V-6 it's replacing. All engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that carries over from the 2014 model, but the computer is clearly smarter and more capable of dealing with a wider range of variables and performance scenarios.

The engine we were most interested in testing was the all-new twin-turbo EcoBoost 2.7-liter V-6, which is rated at 325 hp and 375 pounds-feet of torque. Those are solid ratings, and we have to say that when behind the wheel of a SuperCrew 4x4 equipped with that engine, the truck felt just as powerful as any other full-size pickup with a small V-8.

During our 120-mile cruise through San Antonio's Hill Country, we averaged between 18 and 19 mpg, and we were pushing the truck a bit to get a sense of how the truck felt at the outer limits. We're guessing one of the consequences of the lighter building materials and lighter, smaller engines is that the front end doesn't plow nearly as much as it used to, but we still heard a good amount of tire squeal. During our 2013 Light-Duty Challenge autocross, a competition that the F-150 won, one of our main complaints about the truck during spirited driving was how poorly the front end tracked, brutally sliding around every corner where we tried to accelerate.

Off-Road

On the off-road course, where we were able to drive 2.7-liter EcoBoost-equipped trucks and 5.0-liter V-8-equipped FX4 packages, the available gearing (both can be ordered with 3.73:1 axle gears) and ability of the transmission to soften the throttle response in low range really helped us keep our speed and tire placement under control. You'd expect a custom-made 4x4 course to make the vehicles being driven look good and this one was no exception. However, it did give us a chance to see how quickly or comfortably this full-size pickup could shift in and out of four-wheel drive while twisting or navigating nasty hairpin corners, wheel-dropping holes or off-camber logs laid over a hill climb. Although we did have some trouble getting the transfer case to lock into 4WD Low during an exceptionally tight rutted and loose upslope, the new FX4 Hankook all-terrain tires (275/55R20) provided phenomenal grip and traction, even when exiting the stream crossing up a steep berm.

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Towing

After our off-roading adventure, we got the chance to take a well-equipped Lariat 4x4 SuperCrew out with a 9,000-pound enclosed trailer over some typical Hill Country highways that offered us a good descent into a river wash and relatively long hill climb out the other side, all on smooth two-lane tarmac. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost likes to make noise when it's working hard, and it drinks a good amount of fuel. We like that it still has plenty of power (our truck was equipped with the 3.55:1 gears — the highest available for the bigger EcoBoost), but we were most impressed to learn that Ford has built an enhanced engine noise program into all F-150s with either of the two EcoBoost engines. It delivers a throatier V-8-like sound to the passengers inside the truck. Some might call this a slight deception, but we liked hearing the low-end rumble when we put our foot onto the throttle of the EcoBoost, which is most appreciated in the smaller, higher-revving, buzzier of the two EcoBoost V-6s. You'll be glad to know the V-8 still sounds like a muscular motor.

And although only a small number of people will order it, the new F-150 offers a great, new optional towing mirror that both extends and folds just like Super Duty mirrors. They are split so you get the lower wide-angle lens as well as the good-sized upper mirror for plenty of rear vision.

The Trailer Tow Package, when equipped with the rearview camera and Technology Package, will include a trailer-hitch-assist screen that helps make hitching up a trailer a one-person operation by showing real-time, responsive guidelines to put your hitch directly under the receiver. Included in that same package, we found the 360-degree camera (which will stay on as long as you keep your speed below 15 mph) to be a huge help when looking around the truck when towing and when four wheeling.

Other Notable Features

Most F-150 configurations will have a standard 26-gallon gas tank with an optional 34-gallon tank offered across the board. The F-150 with the highest towing capacity, when paired with the Max Trailer Tow Package, is the 4x2 SuperCrew EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6. Wheelbases effectively stay the same (ranging from 122 to 163 inches) with each cab configuration getting both a long- and short-bed option.

The last feature we're truly impressed with is the new bed setup. Not only did truck designers and engineers make the fully aluminum floor thicker to be stronger and more resistant to dents and dings, they created an all-new BoxLink system that allows buyers to personalize and reconfigure the bed in just about any way they can imagine: The system offers ladder racks, cargo tie-downs, toolboxes, motorcycle ramps, jug carriers and more. The clips sit inside the bed so they can locked away with the bed cover or come with their own key locks so nobody reaches over the rail and steals. All F-150 beds will also offer LED lighting with an on/off button right inside the bed. Unfortunately, the maximum number of tie-downs a Ford bed can have is eight and there are none on the cab wall. Among the available bed protection options, Ford will allow customers choose between a spray-in or drop-in liner.  

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Finally, Ford is offering the segment's first remote tailgate release button right on the key fob to help make loading the bed easier. Combined with the soft-drop tailgate and fob locking setup, we were sold on it the first time we saw it in action. Also incorporated into the new tailgate is the newly redesigned tailgate step that is lighter and simpler to use and store.

Summing It Up

This is only the beginning of our reporting about the technologies and features available on the 2015 Ford F-150. We have a feeling we'll be doing quite a few more stories on this truck as more of these packages make it into the marketplace. Will it be a winner? That all depends on how hung up buyers will be about this truck being made of aluminum. Our guess is that it will become one of the biggest nonissues in the truck world, at least until we see how the repair industry copes with it. Still, there is plenty of meat on this truck and a definite resetting of the bar — at least from a changes-on-paper point of view. So is this overreach or another example of trying to do too much? It certainly doesn't look like it from where we sit, and if that's behind the wheel of a 2015 F-150, you can bet there's a smile on our face. Next stop: setting up head-to-head competition.

To download the most comprehensive 2015 Ford F-150 press release, click here.

To download the most up-to-date specification sheet, click here.

Cars.com photos by Mark Williams; manufacturer images

 

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The 3.5L naturally aspirated DOHC all-aluminum V-6  --  283 hp/255 lb-ft.

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The 2.7L EcoBoost twin-turbo DOHC CG block/aluminum heads V-6 -- 325 hp/375 lb-ft.

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The 5.0L naturally aspirated DOHC all-aluminum V-8  --  385 hp/387 lb-ft.  

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The 3.5L EcoBoost twin-turbo DOHC all-aluminum V-6  --  365 hp/420 lb-ft.

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Comments

@howam00,
The US pickup manufacturer's are stuck with the CAFE footprint for FE.

If the pickups are made smaller then larger gains in FE is required, hence smaller engines.

A 2.3 Eco Boost F-150? Then you can make it smaller again and again.

The only thing i find exciting about this truck are the bed features. The gas turbo engines are gas guzzlers and never get the claimed fuel economy unless you drive like a hyper miler which wont be for long since you will either cause an accident or maybe just get shot for pissing off all other drivers. And the COST of this thing is outrageous. Good luck Ford.

Why would mark bring up the 1997 truck built for ladies? Btw, the last good looking ford truck was made in 1979

So now Ford has to build in fake engine sounds to mask how hard the small displacement engines have to work.

I do not want fake V-8 sounds.


Posted by: Ram Big Horn 1500 | Oct 2, 2014 8:39:18 PM

Seems Ford sold their AMERICAN souls when they took that tree hugging Obama money. Their is nothing more AMERICAN than a push rod V8. For God sake Ford was the first V8.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cFpilvCi-0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk7HNjQar_U

Love the sound of those push rod V8's.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djibe_tR938

Love the sound of those push rod V8's

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cekJQJFRvLk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDbON8udTPo

"It's the last of the v8's."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpDLeo4lcCg

Fords V8 interceptor.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5QYYlfXQFk

Folks, please remember that the turbos on the big rigs are paired with a diesel, as needed. They are designed to withstand enormous heat and strain. Turbos are fine on cars too. But, I'm not sure how these turbos will hold up under the everyday use of a working truck. Ford did an excellent job in the design of the exterior, and especially the interior. There are some nice new innovative features as well. However, I am disappointed there isn't a new larger V-8 available. We will all have to wait and see on the reliability of this all new truck...

@Big Al, I can see the 2.3 EcoBoost being available as an alternative to the naturally-aspirated 3.5 V6. However, there is one fundamental difference between the 4cyl and V6 EcoBoost engines: the 4 cyl has a single turbo, the V6 has twin. The difference in turbo lag is noticeable. Boost comes instantly in the twin turbos, the single has about a 2 second lag.

I had to laugh at the turbo questions and how the ecoboost is screaming to make power.That had to come from someone who has never driven a ecoboost.

The ecoboost pulls like a diesel at very low rpm .The motor never screams its just gets down and pulls. Its truly amazing how the ecoboost pulls as it has trounced both the dodge and chevy easily when pulling in every test that's been published .

The ecoboost should out live the competition easily because the motor never has to work hard to make torque while the fiat and chevy have to turn much higher rpm to keep up.

@Paul. Maybe you should read the light duty shootout on this website. Ecoboost did not trounce the ram 5.7!

After watching videos of the F-150 with 2.7 Ecoboost being driven on another E-Magazine and seeing that the motoring writers were only getting 17 MPG (I calculated19 MPG) based on the MPG Gauge on the dash. I believe Ford may have spent a lot of Engineering time and money and despite the Aluminum engineering of the Body, is still second place to the RAM 1500 EcoDiesel when it comes to fuel efficiency. Sooner or later Ford will have to add a TDI with an 8 Speed+ transmission to the F-150.

I dont think Ford intention was to beat RAM's eco diesel.
I think it wants to be the top gas engine

How's that turbo lag in the 2.7L?...Or will Ford not allow you to talk about that?

Brandon watch tfl truck AS THE ECOBOOST OUT PULLED IT EASILY UP THE PIKE. the ecoboost out pulled about everything in its class and way above its class

Diesel, Diesel, Diesel! hit 30 mpg and I'l buy one over upcoming Colorado diesel.

Too light. Everywhere I read about test drives is that it doesn't drive well. Just like in this article where they complained about the front end feeling loose. I believe they made it too light for truck style engineering. They might be able to fix that ride quality thing, but for now the truck just feels unsafe, especially in towing. Not a quality I wanted in my new truck, so I went Chevy this go around and love how safe and stead and solid it feels on the road, no matter the load or conditions.

Welcome to the 2000's ford. About time ford made a truck that can compare to a 2000 Chevy Silveraldo. My 99 GMC is still a better truck but the ford girlies are easily impressed. I remember when ford finally got power door locks and windows back in the 1990's. Fire depts were getting dozens of calls a day to rescue ford owners locked inside their fords without a clue how to use the autolocks.

I'll be looking at the standard 3.5 l regular cab SWB. Why did they go to 3.5 l when they had a 3.7 l base motor. The weight reduction with a 3.7 l would have been ideal for many people. I worry that the base 3.5 l just won't be enough on long grades or when loaded.



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