It took me two hard turns and a quick trip through Hell, MI, to realize the ’15 Ford F-150 is something special.
Jurors for the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards gather every October in Hell to compare new vehicles back-to-back on miles of scenic country roads in the little burg outside Ann Arbor, MI.
I have been skeptical from the beginning about how much lighter the F-150 is than its newly redesigned General Motors and Chrysler competitors, and how much of a fuel-economy advantage its aluminum body actually provides. But it took only a few minutes behind the wheel for me to understand Ford’s engineering vision.
It is designed to appeal to a huge spectrum of customer wants and needs and help Ford meet fuel-economy and emissions goals stretching out to 2025. If gas plunges to $2.50 per gallon and an increasingly conservative Washington decides to roll back standards in 2017, it still should do well.
When it comes to vehicles, lighter almost always is better, and whatever Ford did to the F-150 has made me a believer. No matter how much the truck actually weighs, the reduced mass instantly registers with the brain the second you throw it into a turn or jam on the brakes.
Superbly calibrated steering and suspension play important roles in providing a powerful first impression, instilling confidence and making the truck drive like a much smaller vehicle. It is the best-handling fullsize pickup I’ve ever driven.
Last month, I wrote that official F-150 specs show the truck seems to be 400-500 lbs. (181-227 kg) lighter than comparable competitor models, instead of being 300-350 lbs. (136-159 kg) lighter, as GM and Chrysler have been predicting.
I heard from several constituencies regarding the piece, including Mike Cairns, director-Ram Truck Engineering. He takes issue with my broad assessment, pointing out Detroit Three automakers each certify 40-50 versions of light-duty pickups with the U.S. EPA because equipment and configurations dramatically alter weight and fuel economy.
And this is true. The lightest ’15 F-150 available is 459 lbs. (208 kg) lighter than the most stripped-down Ram. But the heaviest F-150 I could find, a 5,142-lb. (2,332-kg) 4-wheel-drive SuperCrew with a 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 is just 303 lbs. (137 kg) lighter than the heaviest Ram 1500, a 4WD 5.7L V-8 Crew Cab Laramie (Ford’s 3.5L EcoBoost is heavier than its V-8 offerings).
Between these two extremes, I found two similarly equipped rear-wheel-drive, extended-cab V-6 models that differed by 647 lbs. (293 kg).
Cairns downplays the larger weight differences, saying they are the result of Ram’s higher standard equipment levels. He says Chrysler employs numerous lightweighting strategies but points to aerodynamics, an area where the Ram excels, as underrated. A 10% improvement in aerodynamics is worth the equivalent of a 300-lb. weight reduction at highway speeds in terms of fuel consumption, he says.
Official EPA fuel economy for the ’15 F-150 will not be released until late November. Many doubt the new 2.7L EcoBoost V-6 will enable the truck to meet or beat the Ram EcoDiesel’s class-leading 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) highway number.
Ad hoc mileage evaluations by journalists are yielding unimpressive numbers. But Ford Powertrain has a history of stunning competitors with better-than-expected power and torque numbers. We’ll see if it will do the same with mpg.
Will customers see the value in all the extra engineering and retooling costs the F-150 represents? Immediately following my first drive, I would have responded with an emphatic yes. After speaking with Cairns, I have to qualify my answer depending on which truck configuration a person might be driving and how he or she plans to use it. Certainly many hard-core pickup fans will not like the F-150’s light feel.
Even so, I drove a relatively heavy EcoBoost V-6 through Hell and back, and it was a mighty nice ride.