It's hard to complain when you're the best-selling pickup truck on the market, and for the new model year, the 2013 Ford F-150 has added a few features, too. That's important, because the competition is gaining ground in their attempt to catch up with this Ford's sales.
The F-150's been one of the top-rated trucks here for years, and it keeps its share of the lead thanks to advanced luxury and tech features, improved gas mileage, luxury touches, and class-leading towing. It also gets connectivity in its cabin that's rivaled only by the latest, best-equipped Ram.
With King Ranch editions, EcoBoost V-6 turbos, and a Harley-Davidson model wearing basic black like it owns it, how can the F-Series Ford truck get better? For starters, most of the F-150's running gear carries over unchanged, wrapped in the same defensive-lineman looks it's worn since a 2009 redesign. Back then the F-150 had borne a smooth, carlike look influenced by the company's epoch-making Taurus. All curves and upscale cues, that F-Series was caught off-guard by the Dodge Ram's blockbuster 1994 redo and its tractor-trailer-alike looks. Since then the F-150's migrated into a blocky, Tonka-like look that's either cartoonish or spot-on macho, depending on your allegiance to trucks in general, and Ford, specifically. The huge grille, the slab sides, the impossibly tall fenders make it a musclecar in its class, and an object to be coveted in certain parts of the country--anywhere within a 100-mile radius of an oval-track race. The cabin couldn't feel more contrasty: it's quiet, well-organized, and depending on the model and trim, plushly finished in high-grade plastics and tightly assembled pieces, with attractive proportions. Even work-grade trims look expensive--and the addition of MyFord Touch controls have pushed the center stack in a more adventurous direction.
The quartet of powertrains that replaced Ford's old modular V-8s in the 2011 model year are back, unchanged for 2013. The standard 3.7-liter V-6 may seem like the dollar-store choice, until you've driven it with a light cargo load. The six-speed automatic (standard across the board) gets paired with taller rear axles to help it accelerate to 60 mph in under 10 seconds, and gas mileage still pushes the envelope, at up to 23 miles per gallon on the EPA highway cycle, while towing capacity is a reasonable 6,100 pounds. Of course, if you want to hang with the popular crowd, you'll need the turbocharged, 3.5-liter version of the six. It blows out 360 hp, runs and guns to 60 mph in less than 8 seconds, and cranks out enough torque to challenge Ford's own V-8s for supremacy, while also giving the EcoBoost six the best towing numbers of the F-150 range--11,300 pounds.
In their 1990s heyday, pickup trucks excelled at smooth V-8 power. Now they're truly muscular, especially at Ford, where the 5.0-liter V-8 endows the F-150 with a Mustang GT powertrain and its sizzling exhaust note, too. The 5.0 puts out an EcoBoost-identical 360 hp: the engine's retuned from the Mustang application for better low-end torque and to maintain the truck's 10,000-pound tow rating. At the top of the range is a new 6.2-liter V-8 with a monster output of 411 hp and 434 pound-feet of torque, fitted in the most luxurious models and in the Raptor off-road special edition.
Electric power steering was adopted along with the new engines, and it's also carlike in feel, with quick, light responses to inputs, more so than any other full-sizer. The ride and handling of the F-150 is probably where it gets nudged by Silverados and Rams: it handles pretty well for such a large pickups, but the ride is just a touch tougher than either. Four-wheel drive is available across the lineup, of course, and a new mechanical setup comes with automatic 4x4 mode that shifts power to the front wheels when needed.
The F-150 comes in a wide range of body styles and bed lengths, and it's up to you how to configure it. The Regular Cab has either a 6.5-foot or 8-foot bed, and so does the extended SuperCab. The SuperCrew four-door pickup also comes with short- and long-bed options, as well as a wheelbase six inches longer than other versions, with all the additional room going to the rear seats. All F-150s can have well sculpted bucket seats, and even the basic bench isn't a bad alternative. In back, the seats have a truly flat floor, and the cushions fold up against the back on four-door models so huge packages can be carried inside, safely and securely. A tailgate ladder and a side box step are stamped into each version.
All F-150s have a package of safety gear that blends electronic assistance with the usual airbags. Stability control is standard, and so are trailer sway control, which uses anti-lock brakes to mitigate the motion of a trailered vehicle, and hill start assist. A rearview camera and Bluetooth are available, too, and the F-150 has done well in crash tests. Especially of note is that the F-150 is the only one of the Big 3 full-size trucks to be an IIHS Top Safety Pick and achieve 'good' scores in the important, rollover-related IIHS roof-strength test.
More than most any vehicles on the road, pickups still offer the custom-order experience, not just in hard points but in soft points. The F-150's no different: it comes in no less than eleven packages that run from stripper XL editions to Harley-Davidson, King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited editions. The F150 can be fitted with Ford's SYNC media controller, with real-time traffic information, and even with features like a Sony sound system, DVD entertainment players and second-row heated seats. If you want to get an idea of how luxurious an F-150 can be, step into the King Ranch, upholstered in natural leather, surrounded by LCD screens and a navigation system. It's like sitting in the world's most sophisticated baseball glove--and the price tag of more than $44,000 adequately underscores that impression.