New & Used Ford F-150: In Depth
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The Ford F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in America, and has been for more than three decades. By extension, it's also the best-selling pickup truck family, when other F-Series variants are included. It's become a part of the American landscape, a staple for drivers that need workhorse vehicles and family-duty daily drivers alike.
The F-150 was revamped for 2015, with a new steel frame clad in aluminum body panels, in the most revolutionary change any full-size truck ever has undergone.
See our 2016 Ford F-150 preview for pricing with options, specifications, and gas mileage ratings
The Ford F-150 range is staggering in its breadth and depth. It runs from "rubber-mat special" base-line trucks ordered for fleet duty all the way up to King Ranch and Raptor editions that ladle on luxury features unimaginable to pickup buyers a decade or two ago. The truck can be ordered in variations that suit utility workers, contractors, ranchers, fifth-wheel trailer owners, and off-roaders alike.
The fabled F-150 competes most directly with the General Motors pickup truck twins, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500. Added together, those two trucks have outsold the F-150 in some years, but the Ford nameplate hangs securely onto its "best-selling vehicle line" title. Then there's the (formerly Dodge) Ram 1500, the third in the home-grown list. While the two largest Japanese makers have now dedicated a decade or more and opened plants in the U.S. to build their competing trucks, the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan remain far behind the trio of U.S. trucks. That said, a new Titan is looking to challenge the Ford and others come 2016.
With the introduction of the 2015 Ford F-150, the automaker set its sights on the most radical reinvention of the pickup truck yet. With a body composed mostly of aluminum and a downsized range of mostly turbocharged engines on tap, the latest Ford F-150 will be a lot lighter on the road and more efficient at the gas pump. The most efficient of the new F-150s scores 19 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway cycle.
At the top of that list of changes is an aluminum body. Ford says the high-strength aluminum alloy in the F-150’s body is at least as tough as steel but much lighter. The extensive use of aluminum saves about 700 pounds versus the previous all-steel F-150—a substantial reduction in mass that markedly improves gas mileage, ride, and handling. Under the aluminum body work, however, there’s still plenty of steel—in fact, more high-strength steel than ever is used in the structural underbody and frame elements to improve both capability and crash protection, while also saving about 70 pounds of weight versus the old setup.
Inside, the look isn’t such a great departure from previous versions of the pickup, though there’s a new level of upscale design and nicer materials on premium trims. Blocky shapes and sturdy structures are the visual theme to back the F-150’s chosen mission. Ford has also added a long list of standard and optional features, including massaging seats, around-view cameras, and several nifty in-bed storage solutions.
Engines are another area of innovation for the latest F-150. Four engines are available, and while three are familiar, the new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 is an unusual choice; Ford sees it as the go-to for gas mileage in the new F-150. Also available is an updated 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which replaces the outgoing truck's 3.7-liter, as well as the familiar 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 and 5.0-liter V-8. All four engines are paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. Both 4x4 and 4x2 drive configurations are available. And for the first time, the base engine is available in a crew-cab truck, now that the weight has been brought down to meet its abilities. The 2.7-liter V-6 is the most efficient in EPA ratings, followed by the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter and then the 3.5-liter EcoBoost, followed by the 5.0-liter V-8. In its least efficient guise, with the V-8 and four-wheel drive, the F-150 still manages ratings of 15/21 mpg.
The F-150’s front suspension is a coil-on-shock independent arrangement, while the rear retains the Hotchkiss-type solid axle riding on leaf springs and outboard shock absorbers. The rear suspension got a significant rework, however, with a switch to staggered shock placement among other changes. Improved electric-assist power steering and four-wheel vented ABS disc brakes round out the key mechanical specs.
As before, three cab styles are offered: Regular, SuperCab, and SuperCrew. Matching the cabs, three beds will be offered, with lengths of 67.1, 78.9, and 97.6 inches. At launch, these cab and bed configurations will be complemented by five trims: XL, XLT, King Ranch, Lariat, and Platinum. New equipment offerings for the F-150 include blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts, inflatable rear seat belts, pickup-box LED lighting, Sony premium audio, and, on Platinum models, real wood trim. An off-road-oriented FX4 package is available, bundling off-road-tuned shocks, skid plates, and an electronic locking rear axle.
Ford used the 2015 Detroit auto show to announce a new Raptor based on the aluminum F-150. The new super-truck, which will arrive for the 2016 model year, features an upgraded suspension, a new four-wheel-drive system, and a high-output Ford Performance 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 that will make more power and torque than the outgoing 6.2-liter V-8 engine. Ford says the second-generation truck weighs 500 pounds less than the previous Raptor, as well.
Ford has also announced that the latest F-150 will be available with natural-gas and propane fuel options. Beginning with the 2016 model year, the F-150 equipped with the 5.0-liter V-8 is available with a gaseous-fuel prep package. Vehicle upfitters will then be able to install the necessary tanks and other hardware to convert the truck after sale.
Ford F-150 history
Although Ford had previously built passenger-car-based trucks, the company sold its first true full-size pickups in 1948. Throughout much of the next decades its F-Series pickup trucks came with six- or eight-cylinder engines; three-, four- and five-speed manual transmissions; and a single two-door body style. By 1960, the "F-100" had been christened at the entry level, with F-250 and F-350 versions available with an early kind of four-wheel drive. As most trucks of the era were designed as "flareside" models, Ford added a plain-sided Styleside version that would dominate sales from then on.
For the fourth-generation F-100, Ford added a "Ranger" trim level and briefly built some trucks with unibody construction, returning to body-on-frame designs in the mid-1960s. Four-door models were offered, as were versions that adopted camper tops easily. A fifth generation arrived in 1967, with plainer sheetmetal but the essential truck features intact--V-8 or in-line six engine, two- and four-door body styles, and payload capacity into heavy-duty territory. The sixth-generation truck is known primarily for adding the 302 V-8 to the lineup, spawning a new two-door Bronco SUV, and bringing the F-150 badge to the lineup; the latter was a higher-payload version of the existing F-100.
The F-150 grew more upright and more capable in the next three generations of trucks sold from 1980 to 1996. Diesel engines and new automatic transmissions joined the lineup, and the Ranger name was split into its own compact-pickup truck lineup. An "Explorer" trim level joined the F-150 lineup and would be spun off into its own SUV range in the same decade. In the eighth-generation truck that arrived in 1987, fuel injection became the norm, and flareside bodies went away for a time; rear anti-lock brakes were standard, for the first time on a full-size pickup truck. The ninth-generation truck went on sale in 1992 and brought with it a driver-side airbag and slightly smoother styling.
The tenth-generation F-150, sold from 1997 to 2004, marked a sea change in pickup trucks. Ever more the choice of commuters and daily drivers, the F-150 grew far more shapely and rounded in this generation--mimicking the lines of some of Ford's passenger cars. The old, squared-off truck was continued for a while, until Ford could tell if pickup-truck drivers would approve of the new looks. They did: The F-Series retained its best-selling title and grew even more popular. New engines came with the new body style, including versions of the Ford "modular" 4.6-liter and 5.4-liter V-8 that would prove very durable. The usual two- and four-door and extended-cab versions were available, as were four-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic, along with heavy-duty F-250 versions. Special editions introduced in this generation included the SVT Lightning, the Harley-Davidson F-150, and the King Ranch edition. Safety ratings were poor, though, and while this F-150 had good reliability, its cruise-control system was involved in a major recall for the potential of causing a fire. This F-150 spawned a short-lived Lincoln Blackwood version, along with the longer-living Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs.
The eleventh-generation F-150 arrived in 2004 and began to revert the truck's shape to its more angular past. A more upright grille, and more squared-off window openings were the hallmarks of the design. While it didn't change much mechanically, it did introduce standard curtain airbags and stability control to the full-size pickup range at Ford. The company put special attention into reducing the truck's cost and complexity, making it easier to build--and even more reliable. By some measures, it was considered the most reliable pickup truck ever built. Ford attempted another Lincoln pickup from this generation--the Lincoln Mark LT, which like the Blackwood before it, was a sales flop.
The last of a long line
The twelfth generation of the Ford F-150 arrived in 2009, with its sheetmetal even more crisply folded than earlier models--bearing many cues of a Ford F-350 Tonka concept truck from the late 2000s. The twelfth-generation F-150 wore a very large, very bright, very tall grille to emphasize its "truck"-ness. It's somewhat redundant, since the F-150 was one of the most capable towing and hauling light-duty trucks available in America.
In 2011, the F-150 received its most comprehensive powertrain update. To go with its cutting-edge technology--including Bluetooth, SYNC voice control, even ventilated front seats--the F-150 gained four new engines, all teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission. A 302-horsepower V-6 rejoined the lineup for the first time in more than a decade, and delivers the F-150's best gas mileage, at 17/23 mpg; turbocharging a version of the engine created the EcoBoost, with 365 horsepower and a towing capacity of 11,300 pounds. A 5.0-liter V-8 with 360 hp brought Mustang-style engine noises to the full-size truck, along with 15/21-mpg fuel economy. Finally, there was a 6.2-liter V-8, with 411 hp and 13/18 mpg fuel economy, offered in the most upscale F-150s as well as the off-road Raptor.
For the 2012 model year, Ford added a new automatic all-wheel-drive mode to some 4x4 F-150s, and swapped out limited-slip differentials for an electronically simulated limited-slip function. Then on the 2013 Ford F-150, the automaker added MyFord Touch's suite of voice, steering-wheel, and LCD touchscreen controls to the pickup, with other minor changes to the front end, including high-intensity discharge headlamps to some models. The King Ranch model returned as well, with a new black interior choice and standard MyFord Touch, for a base price of more than $44,000.
In this generation, the F-150 came in a host of cab, bed, powertrain, and suspension variations. Three cab configurations with multiple wheelbases and box lengths each were offered, providing choices to satisfy just about any trucker's need with the F-150. Properly outfitted, this F-150 could tow 11,300 pounds--while earning top crash-test scores (including IIHS Top Safety Pick status and a 'good' rating in the roof-strength test). Unlike GM's pickups, there was no Hybrid edition, and the F-150 fell behind the Ram's excellent ride quality. However, this F-150 had a well-built cabin, excellent shift quality and comfortable seats--as well as the off-road-ready Raptor model and some of the most up-to-date luxury features found on any truck.
Over the years, the F-150 has been mechanically related to the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, though those SUVs now only share powertrains with the trucks. The F-150 has also spawned the short-lived Lincoln Blackwood and Lincoln Mark LT versions--both resounding market flops in the U.S., although the latter is still sold in Mexico.