Among the nominees in our 2017 Wards 10 Best Engines field was a hidden gem, the Ford F-150 fullsize pickup and its heavily reworked 3.5L turbocharged V-6 engine and 10-speed automatic transmission.
Updates to the 3.5L EcoBoost engine, codenamed D35, focus on improving efficiency while reducing weight and engine noise. The all-new transmission jumps ratios by four over the carryover 6-speed still offered with all other F-150 engines.
Although the F-150’s powertrain didn’t take home a Wards 10 Best Engines trophy, it did earn kudos for meeting many of the objectives set forth by the engineering team, most notably gaining power and efficiency over the first-generation 6-cyl. EcoBoost.
The biggest change comes in the fuel-delivery system, where Ford engineers added low-pressure port injection to augment high-pressure direct injection already in place on EcoBoost engines. The extra fuel-delivery system allows engineers to shut down the direct-injection system and its mechanical pump at low speeds and under low loads, reducing friction losses and emissions. Employing both systems at start-up cuts cold-start emissions as well, Ford says.
The new engine also features higher-boost turbos, Ford-first electronically controlled turbo waste gates, weight-saving hollow camshafts fitted with roller-finger follower valvetrains and standard auto stop/start. Overall, the engine is 4 lbs. (1.8 kg) lighter than its predecessor.
The Borg Warner-supplied turbos feature upgraded turbine wheels made of lightweight Mar-M-247 super-alloy that are more responsive. Boost is up 2.5 psi (0.17 bar) to 16 psi (1.1 bar) using the same 2-in. (51-mm) diameter turbine wheels but employing more sharply angled vanes.
The compression ratio now is 10.5:1, up from 10.0:1, although the lower ratio continues for the high-output version of the engine in the F-150 Raptor.
All of the upgrades push output from the standard 3.5L EcoBoost to 375 hp at 5,000 rpm, up 10 hp from ’16, and 470 lb.-ft. (637 Nm) of torque at 3,500 rpm, up 50 lb.-ft. (68 Nm) – even outgunning the traditional 5.0L V-8 truck engine by 83 lb.-ft. (113 Nm).
The increase in power comes with improved efficiency, with ’17 F-150 4x4 model with the 3.5L turbo post a 1 mpg (0.4 km/L) improvement at 17/23 mpg (13.8-10.2 L/100 km) city/highway and a 2 mpg (0.9 km/L) gain in combined fuel economy to 20 mpg (11.8 L/100 km).
Credit the 10-speed gearbox with the efficiency gained. Designed, engineered and produced by Ford in a joint program with General Motors, the all-aluminum transmission features three overdrive ratios and one direct-drive ratio to help improve highway fuel efficiency. The unit also has a built-in electric fluid pump that maintains pressure to ensure quick transmission response in stop/start driving.
Ford’s focus on powertrain updates for the light-duty pickup and launching its all-new ’17 Super Duty heavy-duty lineup means the F-150 sees little additional change for the model year. Focusing on the powertrain during our Wards 10 Best Engines evaluations revealed strong points and shortcomings with the new engine and transmission combo.
True to its EPA rating, we recorded average fuel economy ranging from a low of 16.5 mpg (14.3 L/100 km) to a high of 18.6 mpg (12.6 L/100 km) in our real-world driving, including local commuting and around-town errands. One editor noted a high of 19 mpg (12.4 L/100 km) during a stint in which the bed was loaded with firewood and the cab loaded to maximum capacity.
That’s good news for those who occasionally tow or carry loads because, while the EcoBoost engines provide good low-load efficiency, the turbocharged engines have been criticized for poor fuel economy when taxed. Ford recommends the 5.0L V-8 as the best choice for those who regularly tow or haul, but if our brief experience is any guide, those once-in-a-while haulers will be well-served by the turbo engine.
We found the powertrain surprisingly smooth for a truck, including the barely detectable operation of its stop/start technology, which only restarts once the brake pedal is released, unlike some stop/start systems that re-engage when turning the steering wheel.
Thanks again to the 10-speed transmission, the engine motors along at just 1,100 rpm at 50 mph (80 km/h) and only 1,550 rpm at 70 mph (113 km/h), less than 900 rpm above idle. Under most low-load driving, the gearbox seems to spend the majority of its time in eighth gear or above, with a detectable low-level thrum accompanied by steering-wheel and pedal vibration in ninth and 10th gears.
All those cogs combined with turbocharging may be the powertrain’s one weak spot – we noted a distinct delay when calling down the engine room for full-speed ahead. It’s as though the powertrain does a brief triple-take as the transmission downshifts, followed by engine revs building, followed by turbo boost building, followed by full powertrain response. All of this activity takes far less time than it took for you to read that description, mind you, but there is a noticeable lag.
That said, the F-150 suffers no lag from a stop, pulling crisply from a standstill and roaring to speed with authority, especially for a 4,890-lb. (2,218-kg) truck.
Perhaps the other stunner was the $67,129 sticker on our 4x4 SuperCrew model, its $53,704 base price inflated by the EcoBoost engine ($2,095), a special equipment group ($3,780), the 10-speed gearbox ($500), a twin-panel moonroof ($1,295) and an array of technology features. The good news is a truck with the same engine and trans can be had for as little as $30,000 if you can skip a few doors and forgo the frills.
[email protected] @bobgritzinger
'17 Ford F-150 4x4 SuperCrew Specifications
|Vehicle type||5-passenger, 4-door pickup|
|Engine||3.5L twin-turbocharged dual-injection all-aluminum V-6|
|Power (SAE net)||375 hp @ 5,000 rpm|
|Torque||470 lb.-ft. (637 Nm) @ 3,500 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||92.5 x 87.6|
|Wheelbase||145 ins. (3,683 mm)|
|Overall length||231.9 ins. (5,890 mm)|
|Overall width||79.9 ins. (2,029 mm)|
|Overall height||75.6 ins. (1,920 mm)|
|Curb weight||4,890 lbs. (2.218 kg)|
|Base price||$53,704 (not including $1,195 destination and handling charge)|
|Fuel economy||17/20 mpg (13.8-11.8 L/100 km) city-highway|
|Competition||Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra|
|Major engine upgrades||Minor fuel-efficiency gains|
|10-speed transmission||Some downshift lag time|
|Super-smooth stop/start||Some low-rev thrum|