The Ford F-150 is the king of the automotive jungle. It was the number-one-selling vehicle in the U.S. last year and had been in the top five for many years prior. For 2011, this lion has been given an all new heart, but it is a smaller one. Ford has lopped off two cylinders from the base engine, now a V6.
For many so-called truck guys, this might seem like a dilution of what a truck should be — the more power, the better. But in a world of federal fuel economy requirements and rising gas prices, a downsized engine is the smartest way to tackle these issues. The question then becomes, can a V6 take the place of a V8?
After a week of driving around a 2011 Ford F-150 4X2 XLT SuperCab, we can answer that question with a conditional "Yes, for most people."
Of course, simply offering a V6 in a full-size truck doesn't cut it. It needs to offer a compelling alternative to a V8. The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra have V6 engines, but only a bare-bones regular-cab work truck. The Dodge Ram and the Toyota Tacoma offer a V6 in more heavily optioned configurations, but these engines aren't really as powerful or as fuel-efficient as the F-150's.
Let's put aside the V6 discussion for a minute and take a look at the overall offerings from the competition. In terms of sales, the F-150's closest rival is the Chevrolet Silverado, followed by the well-rounded Dodge Ram. The Toyota Tundra is notable for being the only full-size truck to offer two years of free maintenance. Finally, the Nissan Titan, while receiving minimal changes over the seven years in which it's been in production, is still a good truck that merits consideration.
Last year, the Ford F-150 lineup offered three V8s to choose from, but for 2011, a pair of V6s represents the base and top-of-the-line engines. The midpoint between these engines is an excellent 5.0-liter V8. Our test vehicle is equipped with the base 3.7-liter V6 that produces 302 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Don't think that you're being short-changed a couple of cylinders when you choose the V6, since the 3.7-liter V6 actually makes 10 hp more than last year's 4.6-liter V8.
In Edmunds instrumented testing, the 2011 Ford F-150 V6 with its six-speed automatic transmission goes from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds and comes to a stop in an impressive 132 feet. The V6 in our test vehicle is quick enough around town, and never feels as if it is struggling to keep up with the mass of the truck, some 5,167 pounds in this case.
With a 3.73 axle ratio and the tow package, the 3.7-liter V6 is capable of towing up to 5,800 pounds. This should be enough towing capacity to haul around most freshwater boats, an impressive feat of engineering given that this is the same rating as last year's truck with the base V8.
Downsizing the engine has helped improve fuel economy by 12 percent with the 3.7-liter engine. The EPA estimates that the F-150 will average 17 city/23 highway mpg and 19 mpg combined. It should be noted that during our time with this truck, the best we were able to achieve in mixed driving was 17.7 mpg.
The 2011 Ford F-150 is a comfortable truck. The front seats offer plenty of adjustment to suit people of all shapes and sizes. The ride is firm, but not punishing. Like so many modern pickups from every brand these days, this is a truck that can be easily used as a daily driver. The cabin is surprisingly quiet both at highway speeds and at full throttle. Though it's a boxy full-size truck, it does an excellent job of isolating wind and road noise.
The SuperCab configuration has the ability to seat three people in the front. Of course, anyone of average height will have a hard time getting comfortable in that center seat, since legroom is minimal and that portion of the floor is slightly raised.
Open up the rear-hinged doors and you'll find a backseat capable of seating three more people. But if you plan on hauling around passengers for extended periods of time, do them a favor and opt for the SuperCrew. Rear-seat legroom on the SuperCab is very limited and the seatbacks are angled too upright to be considered comfortable. We even tried fitting a child's car seat in the back, but only managed to fit one facing forward with the front seat moved pretty far up.
Frequent buyers of full-size trucks need not be reminded, but for those interested in moving up from a compact truck, we should note that you'll notice a substantial increase in size. You may find yourself parking at the far corner of the mall in order to find an isolated spot where you will most likely take up two spaces in order to fit. Pickup trucks are great things, but a full-size truck has a full-size footprint.
When not in use, the front bench seat folds forward and becomes a center console — albeit a slightly higher-than-usual one — with two cupholders, a cell phone pocket and a small storage area.
There are a number of places to store small items. The rear seats can fold up to accommodate larger items that you may not want to put in the truck's bed. When it's time to haul around the serious cargo, this truck has a sizable 6.5-foot bed to suit most needs. An optional 8-foot bed can be ordered if more cargo volume is needed.
As you'd expect, rear visibility in the 2011 Ford F-150 is hampered by a tall tailgate. Trying to determine how close you are to an object behind you can become a guessing game, even with the towing-friendly large outside mirrors. This has always been true of trucks, of course, but the F-150's optional back-up camera reminds us that trucks have grown up, and electronic aids like this make it possible to get along in places where you can't just park behind the barn.
Our test vehicle was equipped with the Sync voice-activated audio and Bluetooth system. Issuing voice commands is a bit hit and miss, but we were able to pair our phone after a quick trip to the owner's manual.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2011 Ford F-150's boxy design aesthetic is a chiseled and imposing look consistent with the other larger F-Series vehicles in Ford's lineup. If you prefer more rounded edges on your truck, the Ram or Tundra may be more to your liking. Overall, we found the build quality on the F-150 to be very good. All body panels and interior trim have a solid construction and feel to them, with no noticeable squeaks or rattles.
The F-150's interior has well-placed buttons and switches with a solid feel to them. The center stack has a two-tone silver and gray finish that complements the rest of the interior.
The center of the instrument panel features a 4.2-inch LCD screen, which is part of the XLT Convenience package. In addition to a cool boot-up sequence featuring the "Built Ford tough" logo, this screen displays information about the truck ranging from trip data and fuel economy to truck "apps" that can assist with towing. But as high-tech as this screen is, you can't help but be disappointed with the low-resolution dot-matrix numerals on the radio display. They are legible, but look dated by modern standards.
Who should consider this vehicle
If you're in need of an affordable full-size truck with a few premium amenities, the 2011 Ford F-150 is a nice middle ground. Its powerful V6 can handle your light towing needs and will give you performance comparable to a V8. The SuperCab configuration will get the job done if you need to carry passengers occasionally or prefer to store items inside the truck. The F-150 is comfortable enough to drive every day, yet capable of doubling as a work truck. Consumers who have greater towing demands or those who can't live without a big engine can always step up to the 5.0-liter V8 for an extra $1,000.
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