In the eternal quest for ever-mightier machines of mayhem, the Ford F-150 offers a smooth drive, intelligent extras, and a robust 3.5L V6 engine that’s turbo-charged for fast acceleration. While it’s not quite in the same league as the HD versions from Chevy and GMC (and Ford itself, with the F-250) in terms of towing capacity, this everyday workman’s truck is arguably more technically advanced.
Rugged yet refined
You’ll probably notice the first surprise right away; when you open a side door, a step slides out automatically – which is helpful since you’ll need the boost to get on board. You can configure them to either stay extended all the time, or retract. There’s also a snap-out step for accessing the bed on either side – with the step, you can grab a tool or start loading in your gear. Our only slight issue is that, to push the step back, you have to press away from the button with your foot. We think it would be better if the button latched when you push in no matter what.
The F-150 also provides most of Ford’s recent technology advancements from other models. There’s a USB port for connecting your MP3 player, and you can stream audio over Bluetooth. The truck uses Ford Sync as well for analyzing your music, allowing you to say an artist name or album to play it. Sync also works for voice-enabled navigation, but interior controls are not quite as advanced as the Ford Fiesta (which supports Sync apps that can stream Pandora radio or even read you the news as you drive). Our test truck also lets you play DVD movies using the front LCD touchscreen, but only when parked.
Truck of all trades
The F-150 is designed as much for hauling brush out to the local compost site as it is for driving into the office. It seems to find that balance between the two, which might explain why it has remained so popular in both markets – work and commuting.
Exterior styling is not overly radical. This new 2011 model has a slightly lower profile and the nose seems to point down a hair more than previous versions. Yet, it’s hood and front-facing stance are not quite as rugged and robust as the Silverado or GMC Sierra. The F-150 is a truck that would work fine for taking your spouse out on a date without looking like you just installed a new air conditioner at work.
For fuel economy, our F-150 4X4 Supercrew Platinum test vehicle, priced at $43,985, locked in at about 15 MPG city and 21 MPG for highway driving. The Supercrew cab is incredibly roomy – rear passengers not only get enough leg room to stretch out, the rear compartment feels downright cavernous.
The Platinum has a 3.5L V6 EcoBoost engine, which has plenty of gut-wrenching power and better fuel economy than you might expect in a powerful utility truck. The F-150 has some added pep thanks to the turbocharged engine designed to match the power and torque of a V8 engine – yet with fewer trips to the gas station. (That said, at 15MPG, we still had to fill up twice during a week of testing.)
If 6 were 8
On paper, the base 3.7L V6 in the F-150 matches the power of the Silverado 1500 Regular Cab with a 4.8L V8. Both run at 302 horsepower, but the F-150 produces it at 6500RPM while the Silverado hits it at 5500RPM. That just means you have some extra room for redlining the truck, especially if you need a boost of power in six inches of mud and you want to use the manual shifters for extra control.
The Silverado 1500 has a higher torque rating of 305ft-lb at 4600 RPM versus the base model F-150’s 278ft-lb at 4000 RPM. Those specs fall in line with our overall impression: that the F-150 is a capable truck in its class, but not as utility-minded as the HD versions you might prefer for, say, hauling a yacht. Compared to the 2011 GMC Sierra Denali, we did prefer the overall handling and fast acceleration on the F-150. The Platinum V6 version we tested even takes on the Silverado HD: Its V6 EcoBoost has a 365HP rating at 5000 RPM and 420 ft-lb. of torque at 4000 RPM.
Indeed, the F-150 proved responsive in several situations. Most importantly for everyday driving, the F-150’s engine provided enough quick acceleration to skirt around a farm vehicle on a two-lane highway and rampage across a farm road caked in mud. We loaded up the box with metal sheets, lawnmowers, ATV parts, and several old televisions and the F-150 barely noticed – the cab did not feel weighted down at all. The 5-1/2 foot box is not exactly ready for a day at the construction site (it’s a bit short) but there are rear extenders you can use to fit an ATV or some other all-terrain vehicle in the back.
We also drove down a gully covered in rain-soaked grass and tried to get the 4×4 to lose traction. We only had one slight slippage problem, but otherwise the FHI and 4LO settings worked flawlessly.
Comfort vs. cargo
One complication when evaluating the base model F-150 is avoiding any comparisons to the 2011 Silverado 3500 HD, which has a V8 engine with 360 horsepower and 380 lb-ft. of torque. Chevy took home the truck-of-the-year honors from Motor Trend, and the base model F-150 is in a different class. The Platinum F-150 hedges up against the Silverado HD, and deciding between the two could be a matter of styling preference and tech features. The F-150 is a sales leader because of how it drives, and the Platinum version means it is also ready for some serious mud-slinging fun.
In the end, we’ll give the edge to the F-150 over the Silverado line because of its superior handling, better tech features for navigation and music streaming, and quick engine. However, the Silverado HD still takes home the crown if you care mostly about towing, hauling gear, and a rugged design.