A performance rating this high may seem like a typo. But in the case of the Ford F-150--as with the Ram 1500--the well-knit range of powertrains mate up perfectly with vast hauling and towing capacity.
Since it revamped the F-150's powertrains back in 2011, Ford's shifted more and more buyers into the V-6 versions of its best-selling vehicle. For many reasons, it's a good idea--but the reasons that matter to truck buyers come down to power and gas mileage. For the truck drivers who ply the fleet versions, or don't pack thousands of pounds into the bed or on the ball of the hitch, the base 3.7-liter V-6 is a reasonable choice. It's the same engine as the six in the latest Mustang lineup, and in this instance it produces 302 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. It's agreeably smooth and moderately powerful--it's actually stronger than the old 4.6-liter V-8, and posts better fuel economy, at 17/23 mpg with the six-speed automatic that's standard in all F-150s. Straight-line performance is fine, but towing is the lowest of the lineup and torque feels thin below 3000 rpm.
Strap on turbocharging to a 3.5-liter version of this engine, and the F-150 earns the EcoBoost tag--and some of its strongest sales in a generation. This newest version of the F-150 has been a sales smash, accounting for almost 40 percent of all F-150 sales at last account. It's no mystery as to why: it throws off 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, more than the last-generation F-150's 5.4-liter V-8 could muster in its top form, and it enables the highest towing limits of the entire F-150 lineup, at 11,300 pounds. It's a seamless fit with the big pickup: though it's tuned differently in the F-150 than in other applications, such as the Ford Flex crossover, it's effortlessly strong at low engine speeds, with bags of torque and excellent passing power from a wide powerband across the engine's mid-range. Apart from its whistling, slightly boomy engine note, it's difficult to detect a difference, really, from the even more muscular eight-cylinder editions.Some just won't be happy without the extra pair of cylinders. For them, Ford mints a pair of V-8s related to the new V-6s. The lineage from the Mustang is clear and audible, down to the rip-snort exhaust, in the 5.0-liter V-8. With 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque, its power output is almost identical to the specs from the EcoBoost six, but it's delivered with a rorty V-8 exhaust note. There's also a big 6.2-liter V-8, which delivers 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, and on trucks in the XLT trim and above, there's a manual-shift mode. 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.