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2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost: First Drive

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If you're not ready for the notion of a V-6 engine in a full-size pickup truck, you're probably even less prepared for the thought of a twin-turbo V-6 challenging some of the best V-8s in the business for truck performance.

That's the case with this year's 2011 Ford F-150, which gets four new powertrains this year, including a base V-6 and a pair of newly developed V-8 engines. The fourth option: Ford's 3.5-liter, twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6, an unlikely but completely common-sense alternative to V-8 thirst and thin V-6 torque.

It's a careful step into the future of truck performance by Ford. Coming fuel economy rules mean that all vehicles have to get better and wiser about using fuel. Since the F-150 has traditionally been a mostly V-8-powered affair, the EcoBoost had to be as good--or better--than the V-8 options on the table.

And it is. The new EcoBoost engine, in this application, breathes out 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. That's much stronger than 2010's top engine, a 5.4-liter V-8 with only 310 horsepower. Twinned with the new standard six-speed automatic, the EcoBoost's power is essentially V-8-like down low, where it counts. There's some low-frequency booming that doesn't sound at all like a V-8, but in reality, the basic V-6 block and heads share some family with Ford's new 5.0-liter and 6.2-liter V-8. If you need more proof of its streetability, check out the YouTube video below of a classic V-8-ish smoky burnout, courtesy of the EcoBoosted F-150.

When it comes to towing and straight-line acceleration, there's no doubt the EcoBoost is the equal of the V-8s that nudge its performance aside by a small margin. The turbos are staged to deliver a groundswell of torque at low engine speeds (90 percent of it comes as low as 1750 rpm), and Ford's making some fast rear-axle ratios available to maximize the grunt for EcoBoost buyers doing medium- to heavy-duty chores.

It's not light on talent, either: the massive torque means some versions of the EcoBoost-equipped F-150 will tow 11,300 pounds. As for fuel economy, Ford's predicting class-leading gas mileage, though the final numbers won't be released until early next year, when the EcoBoost F-150 goes on sale. A 20-percent improvement we discussed with various truck engineers could mean an EPA rating in the 15/21 mpg range, beter than most V-8/automatic trucks from Toyota, Chevrolet and Dodge.

Part of the ploy with the EcoBoost is making it available on a wide swath of F-150s. It's not simply reserved for the luxury versions of the massively successful F-150. It's offered in some form or fashion on every body style (Regular Cab, SuperCab and CrewCab); with either rear- or four-wheel drive; in short- and long-bed versions; and on most of the new F-150's different trim packages, from XL to Lariat to Platinum. When all's said and tabulated in Excel, the EcoBoost engine will be offered on 91 percent of the 2011 F-150's model variants.

It's an important step in Ford's transition up the fuel-economy ladder--and up a few performance rungs, too. If you can leap the psychological hurdle of picking a V-6 full-size truck instead of being stuck with one, the EcoBoost won't leave you lagging behind.

Without radical changes to the F-150's body, cab configurations and interior trim, we've linked you instead to our 2010 F-150 review here. But the EcoBoost isn't the only story for 2011; Ford is launching four new powertrains in the F-150 this year, and we've driven them all. Find out more about each one below, and let us help you decide which one makes the most sense for you.

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