REVIEW: F-150 keeps on truckin'

If you travel down south to Tacoma and walk through the doors of LeMay - America's Car Museum, you'll currently find a display dedicated to the history of the Ford F-Series pickup truck.

They've got workin' rigs stretching right back until 1948, although of course these days the old Fords are retired from heavy lifting, spending their days cruising or under the spotlights.

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I drove down there to check them out in this machine, something that the horny-handed sons of the soil that drove the old F-Series would have trouble recognizing as a work vehicle. It's got satellite navigation, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, a giant sunroof - heck, there's even a backup camera and blind- spot monitoring.

You'd half expect the original trucks to gang up on the shiny new city slicker like that part in the Old El Paso commercials where the salsa label says "New York City." Goldangit! That truck's jest too darn fancy for these parts!

However, well-equipped F-150s are finding their way into more and more Canadian driveways these days, not just as tools for work, but for fun as well. Let's pick apart this latest generation of the bestseller and see whether this particular steed is fit for a cowpoke, or just the dude ranch.

Design

Welp, she's a truck all right. If the old F-Series started out small with curvy sheetmetal, the current heavy half-ton is the size of an oil tanker. It's squared-off both head-on and in profile, with C-shaped headlights that bracket a grille big enough to function as a cattle grid.

Never mind the styling, it's all the little helpful details that make the F-150 so handy about the house. There's a couple of side steps that lower down on each side to better access cargo, as well as one on the tailgate. Multiple tie-downs and a spray-in bedliner have the bed set up for gear or gravel.

The FX4 designation sets the F-150 up as an offroad-ready sport truck - not a Baja-style Raptor, but tough enough for some gravel road stuff. Eighteen-inch alloys are shod in tough looking tires (most real off-road folks will swap 'em out for something a little more aggressive) and there's some light skid-plating underneath.

Environment

One of the really lovable things about a truck as opposed to a car is that nobody ever tries to achieve a so-called cockpit-like feel. Thus, the front seat of the F150 comes with a whole ranchland's worth of room, and plenty of cubbyholes in which to store all manner of detritus: work gloves, rope, tackle, maps to interesting places. Or, in my case, an empty sandwich wrapper and an extra-large coffee cup (at least it wasn't from Starbucks).

While truck-like in acreage, the F-150's cabin is relatively car-like in feature loadout. The Sync system works in the same manner as it would in a Ford Taurus, the radio and air conditioning controls are again familiar, and you've got power seats and a simply enormous panoramic moonroof.

Passenger space in this four-door version is excellent, and the rear seats also flip up to provide a flat loading surface if you need to leave stuff locked in the cab. Everything appears rugged, but it's also plenty comfortable. It's certainly not 1948 anymore.

Performance

The F-150 has been well equipped for at least a decade, depending what options you get. The real future shock from Ford here is the huge weight drop that the F-150's had thanks to more aluminium in its construction. As much as 300 kilograms has been sliced from the curb weight of the largest F-Series. Less weight is as good for trucks as it is for sportscars. While frame strength is still solid, the lighter F-150 benefits from increased tow ratings, better fuel economy, and better handling. It's quite literally lighter on its feet (well, tires) - and there's more. If you'd told the owner of an early F-Series truck that the pickup of the future would come with a tiny little 2.7-litre turbocharged V-6, they'd have laughed you off the farm. Here, though, Ford actually charges $1,300 for their EcoBoost option. If a small-displacement V-6 seems a little feeble for hauling around this much truck, note that it's actually pretty stout: horsepower is rated at 325 h.p. and torque at 375 foot-pounds.

Mash the throttle, and that's good enough to really wake the F-150 from its slumber and get it down any on-ramp with ease. Torque comes on readily, and even though you're high up and driving an obviously large vehicle, if you need to pull out of the slow lane into faster moving traffic, the EcoBoosted F-150 can actually find a gap quite easily. Slow your roll, and the V-6 is barely-there quiet. In fact, it's nearly a complaint, as the truck doesn't have that country-fried V-8 rumble you'd expect. Still, the whistle of turbochargers is a bit like the big diesel rigs, and then there's the whole Eco part of EcoBoost.

A disclaimer: not everyone has been successful at getting their boosted Fords to match the official fuel economy ratings. However, out on the interstate, running down through Seattle, I managed to get within 0.4 litres/100 kilometres of the official 10.4 highway rating. That's not bad, not with a 70 mile per hour (112 km/h) speed limit in many places and slowdowns in Everett and Seattle.

Still, even if it burns gas like a car and has most of the interior features, the F-150 will still ride like a truck. It's comfortable enough, but hit a few freeway expansion joints, and you can feel the shudder going through the frame. Overall though, it's an impressive performance combining decent speed, good comfort, and livable fuel economy. This F-150 might be set up as a fun-first kind of truck, but it all works.

Features

The F-150 comes pretty basic, but options extend to everything from satellite navigation to blind spot monitoring. Official fuel consumption is 13.3 (litres/100 kilometres) city and 10.4 on the highway.

Green light

Strong low-end power; comfortable cabin; plenty of practicality; smooth start-stop system.

Stop sign

Fuel economy still relatively average; options can be expensive.

The checkered flag

Canada's bestselling truck, and you can see why.

Competition

Chevrolet Silverado ($26,105): Chevy has responded to Ford's aluminium renaissance by trumpeting the benefits of steel - fair enough. Regrettably, they've chosen to do so with a really dumb ad campaign featuring superheroes - "Would you really trust Aluminium Man?" - and a scary bear - "Which is better, a steel cage, or an aluminium cage?" It's a bit ham-handed, but don't let GM's marketing department ruin what their engineering department has managed to do. The Silverado still gets solid fuel economy the old-fashioned way, and its V-8-powered trucks do even better once you start working them hard. Towing, for instance.

Of course, this being Ford vs. Chevy, there are fans that wouldn't even dream of setting foot in a rival dealership. Happily, both companies tend to end up producing better offerings the more they compete with each other.

mcaleeronwheels@gmail.com

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