Trucks may be more closely associated with V-8 engines than any other kind of vehicle, but V-6s have always been available, mostly in bottom-feeder workhorse editions. That's not the case at all with Ford's full-size F-150, and as a tactic and a point of business, Ford's eager to shift a lot of truck buyers into its new six-cylinder engines.
Last year Ford replaced the F-150 powertrain lineup with four new entries, and the V-6s may be our favorites. For those who don't need muscular towing capacity, the standard-issue 3.7-liter V-6 is more than reasonable in power output, and very agreeable in fuel economy. An engine shared with the latest Mustang, the new six makes 302 hp and 278 pound-feet, and replaces the old Ford 4.6-liter V-8 with more horsepower and better fuel economy, now pegged at 17/23 mpg in some versions. The frugal powerplant hooks up with a six-speed automatic transmission, which helps both that economy and straight-line performance. Ford says durability has been focused on, and better oil circulation will guarantee this version has towing down pat. We've liked its smooth and responsive feel, though it's clear there's less torque than in the old V-8.
A version of this engine, with 3.5 liters of displacement and the addition of turbocharging, is the biggest F-150 news in a generation. The EcoBoost F-150 not only spins out 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque--good enough to outpace the old 310-hp 5.4-liter V-8--it's strong enough to enable the highest towing limits of the entire F-150 lineup, at 11,300 pounds. The engine's found across the Ford lineup, and after a few miles, it feels like a natural fit in the F-150. With changes to its airflow and fuel delivery, it feels as strong as any pickup we've driven, with the low-end torque it needs to tow, and mid-range strength that gives it excellent passing power. The biggest difference with Ford's own V-8s, really, comes down to the whistling, boomy exhaust sound.
For those who aren't happy with anything but a V-8, Ford's developed a pair of engines related to the new sixes, but with the rip-snorting personality lifted right from the Mustang. There's a 5.0-liter with 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque--almost identical to the specs from the EcoBoost six, but delivered with a rorty V-8 exhaust note. There's also a big 6.2-liter V-8, which delviers 411 hp and 434 lb-ft, and in the off-road specialist Raptor, the lowest fuel economy ratings of the new F-150 lineup, at 11/14 mpg.
All versions come with a clean-shifting six-speed automatic. Ford's making some fast rear-axle ratios available to maximize the grunt for EcoBoost buyers doing medium- to heavy-duty chores. 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 or EcoBoost engines can tow up to 11,300 pounds on SuperCrew short-bed 4x2 editions.
The entire engine lineup gives the F-150 a more carlike character, but wait until you feel its steering. All versions except the 6.2-liter F-150 now have electric power steering, which helps fuel economy numbers, but also gives the F-150 a quick, light driving feel, without much feedback at all but with so much more responsiveness, you'll never want to go back to the dead racks you'll find in the big Japanese trucks. You won't find yourself pushing hard around corners or darting into gaps in traffic just for the sheer enjoyment of it, but the EPS makes the F-150 drive a little smaller than it is. Ride quality is decent, a little jittery on 4x4 versions and a notch below the Ram 1500 most of the time, but braking performance is impressive for such a large vehicle, and Ford has finally mastered a more confident, firm brake pedal feel with this latest version.
Four-wheel drive is available across the lineup, and this year, Ford's hot-swapped in a new 4x4 system on upscale versions that adds an automatic traction mode that shifts power to the front wheels when slip is detected. At the same time, limited-slip differentials on EcoBoost and 5.0-liter F-150s are being replaced by systems that use anti-lock brakes to simulate limited-slip devices, for a less expensive, less weighty, more widespread solution.