When a company has a product that's topped the sales charts for 33 years, what can be done to make it better? In the case of Ford's full-size F-150 pickup truck, the answer comes down to relatively modest enhancements. For 2011, the changes focused on improving fuel economy - a vital goal of nearly every car/truck manufacturer nowadays - and, at the same time, tweaking performance.
One improvement isn't so modest, and that's the debut of Ford's EcoBoost engine. Added to the F-150's available-equipment list early in 2011, that 3.5-liter V-6 is the fourth engine that can be chosen by Ford truck fans. All four promise a "best-in-class" horsepower and/or torque rating.
Running on regular-grade fuel, Ford's EcoBoost V-6 develops 365 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 420 pound-feet of torque at 2500 rpm. In comparison, the standard 3.7-liter V-6 yields 302 horsepower at a hefty 6500 rpm, and 278 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Stepping up a notch in size, the 5.0-liter dual-overhead-cam V-8 generates 360 horsepower at 5500 rpm, and 380 pound-feet at 4250 rpm. Largest of the lot is the 6.2-liter V-8, producing 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet. Trailer-towing capacity reaches 11,300 pounds for both the EcoBoost V-6 and the 6.2-liter V-8.
All F-150s use a six-speed automatic transmission, but Ford offers a bewildering selection of models: XL, STX, XLT, FX2/FX4, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, Harley-Davidson - plus the extra-hot SVT Raptor. Three body styles are available, too: regular-cab, SuperCab, and four-door SuperCrew. Manufacturers Suggested Retail Prices span a vast range, from $23,390 to $52,115.
Monetary considerations aside, it's a wonder that anyone is able to make a decision about which F-150 version to buy. All models have AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and side-curtain airbags.
In just about every way, the F-150 stands tall: performance, powertrain refinement, handling qualities, capacity, passenger space. Sure, it's on the noisy side, but so are the other full-size pickups. Yes, the ride can get lumpy and bouncy; but again, that's the price one pays for the benefits of a big truck.
Trouble is, each of Ford's competitors keeps improving as well. In fact, the "best" truck may be the one that was redesigned most recently, simply because that's the one that leapfrogged a bit ahead of its rivals - at least temporarily.
None of this matters to big-pickup enthusiasts, however. Nearly all of them have a favorite brand, and are unlikely to have much good to say about the competition. Principal rivals are invariably the domestic pickups: Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra and Dodge Ram. Import-brand models, like the Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra, tend to attract a different breed of big-truck buyer.
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