2018 Ford F-150 First Drive Review


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There’s no debating the fact that Ford is nuking its competitors in the pickup sales war. Last year, total Ford F-Series sales outmuscled the Chevrolet Silverado light- and heavy-duty truck sales by 245,923—a margin that’s greater than the total number of GMC Sierras (and Nissan Titans) sold last year. A case could therefore probably have been made for redirecting midcycle development dollars elsewhere, but let’s face it—no dominant world power ever truly slashes its defense budget. Hence the arsenal of upgrades rolling out on the 2018 Ford F-150 includes some dramatic powertrain spiffs.

Ford dubs its base 3.3-liter naturally aspirated and 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost engines “all-new”—a moniker that’s only partially hyperbolic. The 3.3-liter is heavily based on the 3.5-liter it replaces, but it has brand-new cylinder heads that make accommodation for both port and direct fuel injection. The bore and stroke are reduced by about 2.0 and 1.0 millimeters, respectively.

The 2.7-liter represents the second generation of this compacted-graphite-iron-block engine, with lightened cams driven by a new dual-chain setup that saves weight and reduces friction. A new electrically actuated wastegate provides more accurate turbo boost control. It also gets the port/direct injection setup—as does the merely “enhanced” 5.0-liter V-8. (Enhancements include Ford’s first mass-produced application of the plasma-transferred wire arc spray cylinder bore lining process Ford introduced on the GT350’s 5.2-liter engine.) All engines also get auto engine start/stop, and all but the base 3.3-liter get mounted to a 10-speed automatic transmission. (Note that the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 got the dual injection, auto-start/stop, two-stage or fully variable oil pumps, and the 10-speed tranny last year in normal and high-output Raptor states of tune.)

Why spend so much money doubling the injector count and adding an additional higher-pressure fuel-delivery circuit on all these engines? To boost both economy and performance.

When you mash the go pedal for a dramatic freeway merge or to scale the Davis Dam with your camper in tow, the fuel that gets injected directly into the cylinder cools the intake charge enough to prevent knock despite increases in compression ratio on each engine. (The naturally aspirated V-6 goes from 10.8:1 to 12.0:1, the EcoBoost increases from 10.0:1 to 10.3:1, and the V-8 jumps from 10.5:1 to 12.0:1.) Then when you set the adaptive cruise control on a long, flat freeway as you cruise along in top gear in any of these engines, the port-injected fuel mixes nicely and thoroughly as it whooshes into the cylinder and burns more completely and efficiently as a result of that higher compression ratio.

The results are dramatic. Output increases on each engine, and EPA fuel economy improves. The 3.3-liter gains 8 hp and 12 lb-ft of torque while picking up 1 mpg on the city and highway cycles in both rear- and four-wheel drive; the 2.7-liter twin-turbo was tuned to optimize torque, adding 25 lb-ft at the same power level and picking up 1 mpg in the city on rear-drivers and 1 mpg each on city and highway with four-wheel drive. The 5.0-liter gains 10 hp and 13 lb-ft while adding 2/1 mpg city/highway with rear-drive and 1 mpg each with four-wheel drive. (See the spec panel for all the numbers.)

Naturally these upgrades pay dividends elsewhere in the bragging department, adding incremental pounds here and there to the max payload and trailering ratings for each configuration. Somehow the top trailer rating for the largely carry-over 3.5-liter EcoBoost rear-drive truck even managed to grow by 1,000 pounds to 13,200.

So how do they drive? Starting out in the 2018 F-150’s 3.3-liter V-6, the max acceleration rate felt perfectly competitive with other base engines. The low and fairly guttural engine note seems to have been tuned to encourage driving enthusiasts to spend a bit more for 2.7- or 5.0-liter, but the skin-flints, government workers, fleet jobbers, and others who get stuck driving their boss’ penurious purchase will certainly never fear for their ability to join the flow of traffic when merging. The yawning gap between second and third gears in this legacy six-speed automatic draws attention to itself when driven on the same day as several 10-speed F-150s, and the performance will no doubt be improved someday if volume production drops the 10-speed’s per-unit cost enough to find a home in this truck, but don’t hold your breath. The good news: A Sport drive mode greatly improves throttle response and gear-selection strategy, brightening performance up considerably. (Six-speeds just get Normal, Tow/Haul, and Sport modes—the 10-speeds add settings for Wet/Snow and Eco.)

Moving up the line to the 2018 F-150’s 2.7-liter brings a big bump in performance. Drop the hammer, and the transmission instantly selects the ideal ratio for peak acceleration from your current speed, always landing in a sweet spot along the broad, flat torque curve and frequently delivering a sharp jolt of acceleration. Yeehaw! And there’s enough torque on tap at low rpm to permit use of 10th gear at cruising speeds of 55–60 mph in an unladen truck—far better than many nine-speeds we can name that never see top gear until at least 10 mph faster than that. Touch the +/- gear-selection lever, and you’ll light up a vertical display of the gear numbers, with the selected gear in red. It’s interesting to note which gears get skipped during part-throttle acceleration—and sometimes it’s several of them. Wide-open throttle from rest always uses them all. With a 7,500-pound trailer attached (9,000 is the rated max), the 2.7-liter accelerated fine and seemed to maintain speed on gentle inclines with little need for wider throttle openings or transmission kickdowns.

If you value engine sound over everything else (which probably almost nobody does), then the 5.0-liter is the compelling choice. It doesn’t sound like a Mustang. It sounds like a burly truck V-8, delivering its luscious fourth-order cross-plane-crank V-8 solo in a baritone/bass register, stripped of the Mustang’s tenor-range tones and frequencies. Acceleration feels as strong as or slightly stronger than the 2.7-liter, but the naturally aspirated torque curve doesn’t deliver quite as effortless a feeling at cruising speeds with the trailer attached. Maintaining the 55-mph posted limit required deeper digs at the throttle and a few kickdowns. It should be noted that the Sport driving mode works even better in the 10-speed paired with either the 2.7-liter or 5.0-liter. This truck’s sport transmission logic is better at quickly grabbing the right gear, holding it when bending into a turn and upshifting more sharply than the transmissions in many so-called sport sedans.

On a base 2018 F-150 XL regular-cab truck, the upcharge for the 2.7-liter/10-speed powertrain is $995; for the 5.0-liter V-8 it’s $1,995. The entry point for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine is an XLT SuperCab, where it’s priced an additional $600 above the V-8. After spending some time in each of them, the 2.7-liter seems to hit a sweet spot in terms of power, torque, capability, acceleration, and cost. That one is Ford’s secret weapon, which is probably why it’s hitting the target with the largest number of buyers—a situation that’s sure to intensify for 2018 with 25 more lb-ft and four more gear ratios on tap.

2018 Ford F-150
BASE PRICE $34,265 $35,260 $36,260
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD/4WD, 2-6-pass, 2-4-door truck
ENGINE 3.3L/290-hp/265-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6 2.7L/325-hp/400-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6 5.0L/395-hp/400-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic 10-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4,100-4,800 lb (mfr) 4,150-4,850 lb (mfr) 4,250-4,900 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 122.4-163.7 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 209.3-250.5 x 79.9 x 75.1-77.3 in
0-60 MPH 7.0-7.3 sec (MT est) 6.3-6.5 sec (MT est) 5.8-6.3 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 18-19/23-25/20-22 mpg 19-20/24-26/21-22 mpg 16-17/22-23/18-19 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 177-187/135-147 kW-hrs/100 miles 169-177/130-140 kW-hrs/100 miles 198-211/147-153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.91-0.97 lb/mile (est) 0.87-0.93 lb/mile 1.01-1.06 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. Fall 2017

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