Full Disclosure: Since I was a young teenager I have owned Ford pickups. It started with a 1939 model, then a 1952 F-100 with a Hemi V8, followed by several others. Yes I do like Ford trucks, but I’ve also owned an International and a couple of Chevys.
You’ve probably seen the ads: Big pickup trucks that are designed and engineered to haul heavy loads and tow gigantic trailers. However, there are less menacing-sized trucks available that not only fit into your garage and perform the tasks you need, but also won’t break the bank at the gas pumps.
Take for example the Blue Flame Metallic 2016 F-150 SuperCab (extended cab) that Ford provided us for our test driver. It has seating for five (four fairly comfortably), can tow up to 8,500 pounds and has a payload capacity of 2,200 pounds. As for fuel economy, a 2.7-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine delivers fuel economy numbers that make it comfortably the most fuel-efficient gasoline powered truck in the segment.
All-New, From Nose To Tailgate
Even if trucks aren’t your thing, you’ve likely heard that the all-new last year Ford F-150 is not just all-new in design, it’s all new in the materials used — the first pickup with an all-aluminum body. We’re not talking flimsy Coke and Budweiser cans. This is high-strength, military-grade, aluminum alloys already used in aerospace, commercial transportation and other industries.
Why the switch from steel body parts? The aluminum makes the new truck’s body lighter, and when it comes to a pickup’s weight, less is more. More payload, more towing capacity, more acceleration and more fuel economy.
Depending on the cab style, bed length, and other factors, the F-150’s new aluminum skin sheds up to 786 pounds of weight. Contributing to that is a new fully boxed high-strength steel frame that weights nearly 60 pounds less than the previous 2014 F-150’s frame.
EcoBoost And Auto Start-Stop
EcoBoost is Ford speak for gasoline engines which combine turbocharging, direct injection and twin independent variable camshaft timing. They are designed to deliver the power output of larger displacement naturally aspirated engines while achieving smaller engine fuel economy.
Our SuperCab test driver was equipped with the new 2.7-liter EcoBoost six-cylinder engine with a stop-start system that Ford calls Auto Stop-Start. While that may sound tiny for a pickup, the little six, with its twin turbochargers force-feeding it air, produces V8 territory power: 325 horsepower and a very impressive 375 pounds-feet of torque.
At its most basic level, a stop-start system automatically shuts the engine off every time the vehicle stops, such as at a traffic signal, and restarts it instantly when the brake pedal is released and takes off smoothly.
Hybrid vehicles with automatic stop-start use a powerful electric motor that can provide instant torque to both start the engine and start the car moving from a stop. But in non-hybrid cars with stop-start, the engine has to be spun up to speed by the starter motor before the vehicle can move.
This can result in a lag with noticeable shuddering between the brake pedal’s release and power being delivered.
The F-150’s Auto Start-Stop falls under the “light stop-start” category. Since it doesn’t use an electric motor and batteries to move the car down the road, it is not considered a hybrid system.
The system is comprised of an upgraded, heavy-duty starter, an enhanced 12-volt lead-acid battery, an electrically driven transmission pump that maintains internal hydraulic pressure even with the engine off and an added electrically-driven auxiliary water pump to keep the climate control system operational while the engine is off. On the engine side, there is a hardened ring gear to deal with the increased number of start events.
Having a direct-injection engine facilitates the restart. To minimize launch delays that can cause jerks and shuddering, the transmission is kept in gear even with the engine off as opposed to shifting it into neutral.
To ensure accessories such as lights, the audio system and climate control settings continue working when the engine shuts off, Ford engineers developed unique algorithms for the computer programs that control the Auto Start-Stop system. The company has applied for more than 25 patents for these system programs.
Ford told us that they expect stop-start will increase city driving fuel economy to increase four to six percent and will be adding the system to the full lineup of F-150 pickups in 2017. However, the method that the EPA tests for fuel economy doesn’t take stop-start into account so, there are no changes listed on their ratings.
Combine the weight loss and the small V6 with stop-start and you have an EPA fuel-economy ranting of 22 mpg combined (19 city/26 highway) for two-wheel drive models; 20 mpg combined (18 city/23 highway) for four-wheel drive.
Driving The F-150 SuperCab
Though the Ford F-150 was all new for 2015, it didn’t shout its newness. Styling changes are subtle with the most notable a larger, restyled grille and distinctively shaped headlights. The signature drop notched front windows continue, as do high bed walls.
The most notable visual improvements are inside the F-150. The interior design is evolutionary but material quality is vastly improved and the padded armrest was exactly where I wanted it. The look and feel is more akin to Armani suits and wing tips than Levis and work boots.
Layout of the dash is similar to the previous model. Buttons and two-inch precision-feeling rotary knobs for audio and temperature settings are ergonomically placed for easy driver access.
Front seats are large, firm and supportive. The front A-pillar is slimmer, improving visibility. Sight lines are quite good for a full-size pickup.
The cab is a significant two-inches wider that noticeably improves shoulder and hip room. There’s a flat floor making it easy to stack boxes when the rear seat is folded, and the rear seat flips up for hidden storage.
Once behind the steering wheel, an available eight-inch screen in the instrument panel is configurable, allowing me to see a variety of information. The speedometer and tachometer are the only analog gauges.
Our week with the F-150 was a variety menu that included in-town stop-and-go traffic, highways, gravel roads, Interstates, some off-roading and light towing. No matter what we threw at the truck, nothing upset its composure.
The 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine makes peak torque low in the RPM range with power progressing smoothly in a linear manner while exhibiting little turbo lag, even when the start-stop kicked in. Regardless of the driving conditions, I rarely wanted more power.
A six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shifting capabilities and a Tow/Haul mode directed power to the rear wheels. Gear changes were quick and barely noticeable, and in manual mode held the selected gear to redline.
Behind the transmission in our SuperCab, an electronically controlled four wheel transfer case offered two speeds — high and low range — controlled by a dashboard knob. Our off-road trek was short, but it was a somewhat difficult steep, rutted, muddy trail. Low range was a savior.
Steering from the electric rack and pinion setup was a tad on the light side, but surprisingly precise and accurate. Hard cornering did bring some body roll as expected from a vehicle this size, yet over all the pickup is fairly nimble; a major improvement over the 2014 edition.
Ride, too, is significantly improved thanks to the new frame, which allows more precise suspension tuning, particularly in the rear. The presence of a solid rear axle has been countered with some nifty trickery that virtually eliminates the bouncy ride so often referred to as a “truck-like” feel.
The front and rear suspensions react more positively to pavement flaws by rebounding rapidly and only as far as necessary. They recover quickly from bumps and potholes.
While I give high accolades for the F-150’s acceleration, ride and handling, I don’t pass them on to the brakes. The brake pedal was touchy — not something wanted when off roading — and didn’t provide what I consider essential feedback.
How About The Fuel Economy?
When Ford delivered the F-150 SuperCab, fuel economy was 18.1 mpg. After adding our 553 miles, the readout increased to 19.9 mpg. Dang, a tenth off the EPA rating, which I attribute to both our short, but fun and challenging off-road run and a heavy foot on half of a 210 mile Interstate round trip.
If you are shopping for a new pickup, collecting data on the Internet can give you a headache. But when comparing fuel economy numbers, Ford eases the pain a bit.
As you probably know, more weight for payload packages will reduce fuel economy by one or two mpg from a standard truck. To make that clear, the EPA’s page for the F-150 allows a comparison of different engines with different payloads that shows their lower mpg ratings.
That’s a step that all truckmakers should adopt.
Less is more rewards the F-150 when it comes to weight reduction but isn’t Ford’s philosophy when it comes to the pickup’s configurations, which is almost endless. There are three cab styles — Regular Cab, SuperCab and SuperCrew — four engines, four cargo bed sizes and six trim levels. Then there’s the interior upgrades, option packages, a selection of tires and wheels along with different color choices.
Pricing starts at $26,315 plus $1,195 destination charges for the Regular Cab XL two-wheel drive and tops off at the lofty price of $57,025 for an ultra-luxury 4X4 SuperCrew Premium trim.
Our SuperCab XLT 4X4 started with a base price of $37,005 with standard features such as remote entry, power windows and locks, tilt/telescoping steering column, cruise control, air conditioning, the voice-activated SYNC infotainment system, satellite radio and a rear view camera. The added $6,760 of options included a tailgate step, integrated trailer brake, spray-in bedliner, sport appearance package and $795 for the 2.7-liter engine that in my opinion is worth every penny.
As you might expect there’s a massive array of high-tech add-ons like lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, curve control, active park assist and the SYNC 3 infotainment system with enhanced voice recognition, navigation, Siri Eyes and a 360-degree camera system. Several towing assist features are also available.
Ford’s F Series trucks that include the F-150 pickup have been America’s best-selling truck for 39 consecutive years, a remarkable achievement. Based on our week with the 2016 SuperCab model, my conclusion is it’s a very well rounded pickup that has excellent value.
While it hasn’t forgotten that it’s a truck for those who actually need a truck, its comfort makes it a wonderful road trip vehicle and its maneuverability makes it an easy-to-live-with daily driver.
For those who questioned if the move to an aluminum-bodied pickup with a small displacement, turbocharged engine would continue as the top selling truck, just check the sales numbers. It appears that this latest F-150 rises to the occasion to continue the legacy.