The 2011 model year brings mid-cycle tweaks to the venerable F-150 full-size pickup, which underwent major surgery in 2009. Make no mistake; keeping F-150 the nation's best-selling vehicle each year for the past thirty-some odd years takes constant tweaking.
What's notable for F-150 in 2011 is what's found when peeking under the hood. Four engines (two V-6 and two V-8s) have been updated or added; marking the most significant engine upgrade in the vehicle's 62-year reign. All run on regular, 87-octane fuel.
Last year, F-150 slogged by primarily with three V-8 engines including base and high-output versions of a 4.6-liter V-8. By offering a wider and more efficient selection of powertrains, Ford addresses a gnawing sore spot worthy competitors were quick to exploit. While F-150's been a step ahead with interior style/comfort, high-tech interconnectivity and clever exterior nuances, its engines had a 'pokey' reputation when stacked against Chevy/GMC or Dodge/Ram full-size counterparts.
The engine gap narrows with a Bad Boy 6.2-liter V-8 generating 411 horsepower. The bigger news, however, may be Ford's much hyped 3.5-liter V-6, 365 horsepower (at 5,000 revolutions per minute) F-150 EcoBoost engine. Ford promotes EcoBoost as having the power of a V-8 with the fuel consumption of a V-6 thanks to twin turbo charging and direct injection. Ford plans to offer EcoBoost technology in 90 percent of its American nameplates by 2013. Frank Davis, Ford vice president of product development, reiterated Ford's pledge of, "class leading fuel economy with every new vehicle coming to market," during a media gathering last fall introducing the 2011 F-150.
Rounding out the 2011 engines are a 3.7-liter V-6 generating 302 horsepower and 278 lbs.-ft of torque along with 5.0-liter, 360 horsepower V-8 with 380 lbs.-ft. of torque.
While the full-size pickup truck segment continues as the most brand loyal in the business, fuel economy is a growing concern. Ford's Truck Group Manager Doug Scott believes buyers are now willing to switch loyalties for better fuel numbers, one reason the V-6 EcoBoost is now paired with F-150. EcoBoost generates plenty of early low-end torque which comes in handy during passing maneuvers when trailer towing; one way of converting V-8-minded shoppers to this perky V-6. The EcoBoost engine can tow up to 11,300 pounds, better than many V-8s. This past April, V6-equipped F-150s accounted for an impressive 50 percent of all 2011 F-150 retail sales, up from 40 percent in March. In addition, EcoBoost engines accounted for almost 75 percent of those V-6 sales.
Also, a new fuel-saving six-speed automatic transmission is on board (Ford stopped offering manual transmission in F-150 back in 2008) helping to squeeze every burst of energy out of a gallon of petro. In 2010, the base 4.6-liter was paired with a lower-tech four-speed automatic.
As is customary, F-150 offers a wide variety of mix-and-match opportunities. Ford boasts 10 F-150 trim series in 2011. Included is the F-150 Harley Davidson with the 6.2-liter V-8, the Special Vehicle Team Raptor Supercrew (introduced in 2010) also featuring the 6.2-liter V-8 and new-for-2011 limited-volume Lariat.
Regular, three-person cabs and Supercabs (adding a second row) come with the choice of a six-foot, five-inch or eight-foot bed. The Supercrew with four full-sized side doors offers five-foot,-five-inch or six-foot, five-inch sized beds. All come with choice of 4 x 2 rear drive or 4 x 4 configurations.
Ford supplied a 4 x 4 Lariat Supercrew with EcoBoost V-6 and smaller cab bed for testing. Starting price was $39,615. A plethora of options brought the bottom line to $49,365 including a $975 destination charge. Extras included a $950 towing package, 1,495 chrome package, $995 moon roof, $2,495 Navigation radio, $950 Lariat plus package with rear-view camera, reverse sensing and remote start and $975 leather trimmed heated and cooled front bucket seats. Ford's lowest-priced model, a rear-drive, three-seat regular cab starts at $22,790.
Most 4 x 4 F-150s opt for a 36-gallon tank. The exception being EcoBoost 4 x 4s which sport a 26-gallon tank (smaller tanks carry less fuel, increasing mileage). EPA estimates have EcoBoost city mpg at 15 and highway at 21.
Ford's Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS) works as advertised. The 2011 model year is the first time Ford has offered EPAS in pickups. It's available in all engines save for the 6.2-liter V-8, and replaces a hydraulic design. The selective EPAS system draws power only when needed (instead of continuously running off the engine), aiding fuel economy numbers. During the testing, the 5,625-pound Lariat drove like a vehicle half its weight.
Ford institutes one of the best, rugged, side-view mirror designs in the territory. In addition to a secondary, LED-type blinker design along the bottom, the two-sectioned housing includes a large blind-spot mirror along the bottom third to view what's running along side, and a standard concaved mirror above. The unit is held to the body by two thick, block-like foldable arms. The bold Lariat edition grille includes honeycomb chrome with Ford's blue logo center stage all flanked by squarish headlight housing. Most other trims include horizontal planks. As with most new blue oval products, a cap less fuel led eliminates the need for twist-off ends; just guide the fuel pump nozzle past a self-sealing barrier to fill. It closes automatically with nozzle removal.
Side running boards come in handy when stepping tall into F-150. While a welcome A-pillar grab molding is mounted on the passenger side, the driver's side is void of one. Inside B pillar moldings assist second-row entry. Supercrew's back row includes extensive leg room to stretch and easily accommodates three adults. Plug-in ports for electronic gadgets (including a three-prong receptacle and cigarette-lighter style) are available as are rear air vents.
During the week, cargo bed extenders ($250 extra), were put to the test. With the back latch down, multi-partitioned extenders on both sides flipped out towards the end, after which sections accordioned out, meeting in the middle where they secured in place while locking together. A tall, three-row plant stand was able to rest flat with this maneuver.
At night, cool blue lighting with white accents takes over the busy, new-for-2011 instrument panel. Four small half-gauges, including the fuel readout, align along the top while a center, digital information center gets flanked by two larger analog gauges. Secondary radio controls are found at 3 'clock on the thick, three-prong steering wheel while cruise control and push template monitoring the digital info window gets positioned at 9 o'clock
The F-150 includes an attractive dashboard layout with large, circular air vents interspersed and a workman-like, straight line design. The next step may constitute adding softer-touch materials. Lariat's electronic transfer case dial makes selecting two-wheel rear drive, four-wheel high or four low a snap. The front row is ready for electronic wizardry with a USB port, small plug-in, ear-phone-style receptacle as well as a 12-volt-style outlet. The parking brake is foot activated, opening up the region between front bucket seats for an extra large armrest/storage bin with two extra cup holders side by side towards the rear, accessible by back-row riders. For a full-size truck, glove box measurements tilt towards the small side. The center dash top includes a 4.2-inch, touch-sensitive LCD screen displaying radio frequency and other information.
The Big Three domestics still retain the bulk of full-size truck sales in the U.S., the world's number one market for pickups. While Toyota has a dedicated truck plant in San Antonio, Texas to build its full-size Tundra, sales have been less than stellar. Nissan's Titan has a following, but offers only one engine (5.6-liter, 317 horsepower V-8) capable of towing 9,500 pounds. Since larger profit markets get built into full-sized pickups, the bottom line importance of these workhorses can't be understated.
Powertrain warranty coverage is for five years or 60,000 miles, the same duration as roadside assistance. Safety features include four-wheel anti-lock brakes, dual front air bags, front side-seat airbags and a safety canopy covering both rows.
2011 Ford F150 Super Crew
Wheelbase: 144.5 inches
Overall Length: 231.9 inches
Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway
Curb weight: 5,625 pounds
Price as tested: $48,365
Built: Dearborn, Michigan; Kansas City, Missouri