- Great new V-6 and V-8 engines
- Steering feels responsive
- Tops the towing and hauling charts
- Cabin is quiet and refined
- Front seats are very comfortable
- Blocky styling can look bland
- Ride quality can be jiggly
- V-8 engine noise is noticeable
Efficient and burly, the 2012 Ford F-150 shares the lead in full-size trucks thanks to extreme capability and extreme high-tech features.
The Ford F-150 has been the best-selling full-size pickup line for more than three decades, and big improvements in the past three years have kept it at the top of its class for towing, gas mileage, and luxury and technology features. It's still true for the 2012 model year, with some more minor changes that maintain its place near the top of TCC's truck ratings.
The F-150 has prospered behind the visual impact of its blocky, defensive-lineman styling. The last-gen F-Series was a smooth-shouldered piece, with almost carlike lines; these days, the F150 wears a Tonka attitude, with an immense, tall front end and lots of straight, flat lines that subconsciously say "truck" a lot better than those 1990s-era F-150s. The more macho look borders on cartoonish--the big grille sits at torso height for most drivers--unless you live in truck country, where the right-angle sheetmetal makes it the musclecar of its class. The cabin's a contrast, and a jarring one, in a good way. It's plush, finished in tight-grain plastics and higher-grade materials, and styled attractively. It's interiors like these that have blunted the work-grade reputation of trucks, and wooed drivers out of cars.
Last year the F-150 gained a new foursome of powertrains, with two real winners and two at least earning an honorable mention. The basic 3.7-liter V-6 sounds less appealing, except maybe for fleet buyers, but it's now a reasonable choice in this truck. In base spec, it makes 302 horsepower, and the six-speed automatic teams up with optional 3.55 or 3.73 rear axles to give it more capability, with under 10-second 0-60 mph acceleration when it's lightly laden, and with highway fuel economy ratings of up to 23 mpg and towing of up to 6100 pounds. Adding turbocharging to the 3.5-liter version of this engine yields EcoBoost, which blows out 360 horsepower with stout, V-8 like feel and enough torque to give the EcoBoost versions the highest towing figures of the entire F-150 lineup, at 11,300 pounds.
Traditionalists will love the new 5.0-liter V-8, shared with the Mustang GT and sounding every bit like it. It also makes 360 horsepower, retuned for better low-end torque than in the pony car, and teamed to a six-speed automatic to tow up to 10,000 pounds. 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 in the recent past.
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 ten packages that run from stripper XL editions to Harley-Davidson, King Ranch and Platinum editions. The F-150 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.
2012 Ford F-150
Icon or cartoon, the Ford F-150's imposing, blocky styling sets it apart from the Ram and GM trucks.
Macho has always been a key concern of truck buyers, but it wasn't until the Dodge Ram came bounding on to the scene in 1994 that "macho" became a styling theme to be emphasized, and overemphasized, with every new iteration of every full-size truck on the market.
Macho is what you'd call the latest F-150, but it's from a distinct school of thought. The Rams look like miniature versions of 18-wheelers; F-150s are downsized Tonka trucks, relentlessly linear and endowed with massive grilles almost as tall as some of their drivers.
Ford laid any trace of the old, rounded F-150 to rest in the full-size truck's 2009 redesign. With understatement out the window, the F-150 grew to its current imposing dimensions, and spun off myriad editions that took the same basic shape and dressed it up for discrete audiences. The same F-150 that wears black paint and Harley decals is, with some different leather and tonier paints, a King Ranch Edition--and those trucks are just a couple of doors and some unpainted bumpers away from the XL rung on the caste system. It's all highly efficient and democratic, if the idea of the F-150 itself is exactly the opposite of both of those.
2012 Ford F-150
The F-150 made a big leap into the V-6 future, and it's paid off, with great gas mileage; the EcoBoost six might be our favorite Ford truck engine.
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.
2012 Ford F-150
Comfort & Quality
Comfortable seats make the Ford F-150's nicely finished interior feel as good as it looks.
With the usual vast array of bed lengths, body styles, and trim levels, it's easy to tailor an F-150 to your work and play needs. It's not challenging to get comfortable in any of them, either, so long as you match the body style to the task at hand.
Any F-150 will carry at least three passengers, but in the most cramped version of that future, they'll all be spread across a bench seat in the Regular Cab version. That's the workhorse special, though even with the Super Cab, the tight space behind the front seats sports only a pair of flip-up jump seats that fold away for more locked-down storage. The Super Crew is the version most buyers will lust for, since it comes with 5.5-foot and 6.5-foot bed-length options (the Regular Cab has either a 6.5-foot or 8-foot bed, and so does the extended SuperCab). The Super Crew is six inches longer than other versions, and the extra length is applied to rear-seat leg room.
If you opt for the bench seat, all is not lost--it's not uncomfortable, but lacks all lateral support unless you use the flip-down armrest. Other F-150s we've driven have had very nicely sculpted seats, with room in every direction, unimpeded by styling choices at all. The rear seats on Super Crews get a truly flat floor to perch on, and the bench-seat cushions fold up against the back on four-door models so that in-cab storage is flexible without resorting to the kind of midgate design that makes the Chevy Avalanche so distinctive. A tailgate ladder and a side box step are stamped into each version, for easier cargo loading.As a pickup truck, versatility and utility is the F-150's primary reason for being, and the Ford F-150 doesn't disappoint in the cargo category. Likewise, inside some F-150 trims come with a lockable center console good for large items like laptops or small briefcases—or even file folders—while there are plenty of smaller storage cubbies, for notebooks, smartphones, sunglasses, tools, and the like.
Ford has made huge strides in terms of interior quality, and although the materials aren't free of imperfections they are well ahead of what consumers are used to from Ford. Otherwise, however, build quality is tight. The F-150's cabin is superbly quiet and refined, although in some models—especially those with the new V-8s—engine noise can be a bit much, depending on your expectations.
2012 Ford F-150
Some crash results are in, and they're a mixed bag, but the 2012 Ford F-150 has more safety add-ons than any other full-size pickup.
Safety is becoming more of a concern even in full-size pickup trucks, and with regular refinements to its features and its running gear, the Ford F-150 has kept pace with tough new crash-test regimens.
Both agencies have tested the latest F-150, but test scores are incomplete. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has given the F-150 Super Crew its Top Safety Pick award, but hasn't detailed results for other body styles.
The same is true, to some extent, for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It gives Super Crews four stars overall, with a mixed rating of three stars for front-impact protection and five stars for side-impact safety. The NHTSA has not yet tested other body styles, either, but applies the five-star side-impact test to the lineup as a whole.Overall, the F-150 lineup is bristling with protective technology, and the list of safety features rivals that of any other pickup on the road—including side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control with Roll Stability Control. There's also Trailer Sway Control, which can take control of both braking effort and engine speed to help stay stable, while the 2012 F-150 lineup also gets Ford's first-ever Hill Descent Control, for safe descents down slippery slopes. A rearview camera is available, as are parking sensors and Bluetooth.
One of the problems with driving large trucks is poor visibility, but Ford has taken steps to improve sightlines from the driver's seat of the F-150. Some reviewers have pointed to the huge rear pillars, especially in Regular Cab models, as an issue.
2012 Ford F-150
Pick your pickup: the latest F-150 can be outfitted as a luxury four-door, a workhorse, a rock crawler, or a trailer king.
Between its ten different models and trim levels, the Ford F-150 lets drivers try on a whole range of truck personalities. Prices range from workhorse levels of about $24,000 to luxury-car highs of more than $50,000.
In basic versions, Ford's full-size trucks have only the essentials needed for fleet duty and utility work. The XL doesn't get much more than air conditioning and a radio. From there, marching through the STX, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum editions add more and more features, with the Harley-Davidson edition appealing to a specific niche, and with FX4 and FX2 trucks setting their sights on the off-roading crowd.
Among those mainstream trims--the ones with the capital letters--Ford is flexible on body styles, bed lengths, and drivetrains. The equipment gets progressively more luxurious: the STX adds a CD player, while the mass-market XLT adds on power windows/locks/mirrors and cruise control.
Lariat trucks add on an LCD screen that displays vehicle settings; steering-wheel controls for audio and phone; 18-inch wheels; leather seats; power-adjustable pedals; satellite radio; a towing package; and SYNC, the Bluetooth-driven voice controller. Lariats also have an option for an off-road package that bundles skid plates, tougher shocks, and a locking rear differential. Lariat Limited and Platinum models add even more, like remote starting, larger wheels, and heated rear seats.
For the jacked-up, energy-drink-and-dirt-sandwich crowd, there are FX2/FX4 models and the F-150 Raptor, all with a macho look highlighted by exaggerated fenders and blacked-out trim. The Raptor's the hardcore thrasher of the group, with its 6.2-liter, 411-hp V-8, skid plates, and Baja-ready add-ons.
At the top of the lineup are the luxury trucks, like the King Ranch edition and its special untreated-leather interior, and the Harley-Davidson edition, which includes a power moonroof, rear view camera, second-row heated seats, ambient lighting and a remote start system. The Harley exterior gets a unique six-bar billet style grille and boasts specialized forged aluminum and Harley-Davidson chrome badging. The truck also has a lowered appearance due to a fully integrated deployable running board. Also standard are 22 inch Euroflange forged wheels with a polished center wheel cap and low-profile performance tires. The paint selection is classic Harley-Davidson—Tuxedo Black and Ingot Silver.
2012 Ford F-150
Raptors are thirsty creatures, but the base Ford F-150 and the EcoBoost V-6 versions are very economical full-size pickup trucks.
Some of the engines in Ford's 2012 F-150 lineup are the most efficient in the class--and because they account for a significant part of the sales volume of the best selling vehicle on the planet, we've given the F-150 a better green score than most full-size trucks.
Ford replaced all the engines in the F-150 lineup in the 2011 model year, with two V-6s and two V-8s. The most powerful engine found in the off-road-ready Raptor guzzles gas to the tune of 11/14 mpg--but the base six-cylinder that can replace an eight for many buyers is rated as high as 17/23 mpg, tops in big pickups. Even the turbocharged V-6, a suitable V-8 replacement for almost any need, gets an EPA-rated 16/22 mpg.
With these claims from Ford there's a technical catch: Hybrid versions of the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado are rated at 20/23 mpg. But both models are significantly more expensive than their base versions, and are sold in very limited volumes--whereas Ford says V-6 F-150s now account for almost half its full-size trucks sales.