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2011 Ford F-150 5.0 and 6.2: First Drive

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It's second nature in trucks, like the first beer of football season. You order a full-size pickup--you order a V-8 engine, unless you're buying for Uncle Sam or someone equally tightfisted.

Ford knows the allure of the V-8 better than just about anybody in the truck business. For more than three decades, its F-150 has been the best-selling pickup on the planet. But for the past decade or so, the F-150's had one of the least satisfying--if one of the most cannonball-durable--V-8 engines in the segment. The Triton V-8s may last forever, but their relatively low power output and un-V-8-like engine noises have been the "huh?" of the pickup niche, particularly given Ford's vast experience in pushing ever more power out of the Mustang.

The Mustang's 5.0 liter V-8 is back this year--and the F-150 is a grateful recipient of a similar engine, with similar displacement. The 2011 F-150 gets its own 5.0 and pitches it as the mass-market option across the F-150 pickup line--and it also gets a big-displacement, 6.2-liter V-8 cousin that matches GM's biggest eights in marketing numerology and outpaces them on power, if only by a scant few horsepower.

Elsewhere we've told you how much we think of the new EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 new to this year's F-150. For the classic V-8, we're nearly as enamored. It can't come as much surprise: not only does the new pair of engines deliver those mystical numbers that make truck guys gloss over like a 60-inch LCD TV screen, the engines are sort of related to the new V-6s as well, which infuses them with a little bit of car-like character in the engine noise, in their higher-revving feel, and with the standard six-speed automatic and electric power steering, with likely the most car-like driving experience you can find in a full-size pickup.

The basics: the 5.0-liter V-8 has its throbby exhaust charms, even though it's down significantly from the Mustang's version in pure output. The truck iteration pulls out 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. Ford's engineers attribute the less lofty power numbers to a retuning of the torque curve, to outfitting the F-150 V-8s with a more trucklike low-end grunt. It's satisfying nonetheless: this version rips off squares of pavement at launch if you want it to, and spins pretty freely up through the rev range. The 6.2-liter is even more of a monster, with truly Mustang-like output of 411 hp and 434 lb-ft of torque (while GM's 6.2-liter V-8 exhales a this-close 403 hp).

Towing hardly disappoints anyone, with either engine. The 5.0-liter V-8 is good for up to 10,000 pounds with a regular-cab, long-bed, 4x2 F-150 and a special heavy-duty package. The 6.2-liter? Up to 11,300 pounds, best in the big-truck class, on SuperCrew short-bed 4x2 editions.

The one distinction between these powertrains outside of the magnitude of force available underfoot, is in steering feel. The smaller-displacement V-8 has the swell-feeling electronic power steering found in all other versions except the 6.2-liter F-150, which soldiers on with hydraulically-assisted steering. EPS, as it's acronymmed, helps fuel economy numbers--and with 411 hp, fuel economy just isn't as much, or as relevant, a concern.

Those final fuel-economy numbers, by the way, aren't ready for release yet. The F-150 doesn't officially go on sale until later in the fall, and that's when we'll find out how these engines fit in the Ford scheme to eke out 20 percent better fuel economy from the four new powertrains in the F-150. They may not do as much to help the bottom line as the V-6s, but the V-8s do enormous good on the F-150's bottom end. And sometimes, it really is all about power, and how you exercise it.

Ford's launching four new engines this year--find out more as we cover all of them and explain which F-150 might be best for you. 

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