A pickup truck is a tool, not a car. That's why the questions of load capacity and towing capability are more important than fuel economy. But even the people who use trucks to make a living (or maybe that's especially the people who use trucks to make a living) have begun to notice that fuel stops tend to be sucking the life out of their wallets. Getting 13 mpg gets old, especially with gas at about $4 a gallon.
Well, how about a pickup with the power of a burly V8 engine and the fuel economy of a V6? That's what the 2011 Ford F-150 with the EcoBoost V6 promises. With a stout output of 365 horsepower, this turbocharged engine boasts the muscle of a big V8, yet the EPA mpg estimates stand at 16 city/22 highway and 18 combined. We'll answer your burning question now — we averaged 16.7 mpg over nearly 1,500 miles of varied driving. Your next thought is probably, "So, what's the point?" Consider this: The EcoBoost's EPA rating for combined mpg is 29 percent better than what the old 300-hp 5.4-liter V8 rated. And the new truck runs circles around the old one to boot.
So until they offer clean diesels in these mainstream, light-duty pickups, you're just not going to average 20 mpg or more in a powerful pickup. That said, the EcoBoost V6 is a honey of an engine, and a 26 percent improvement in fuel economy over its older, considerably less powerful predecessor is certainly worthwhile. Beyond the headlining "truck with a turbo-6" news, the F-150 is little changed from two years ago when it received a complete makeover. That means we enjoyed not only the toughness and utility the F-150 delivers but also the surprisingly quiet ride, plush interior and many convenient features such as the Sync connectivity system.
Full-size pickups are something the U.S. does really well, and as such the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, its twin, the GMC Sierra 1500 and the Dodge Ram 1500 are right there, too, in terms of power, working ability, pleasing driving dynamics and comfortable cabins. And if you scrutinize the fuel economy numbers, the EcoBoost — which admittedly packs more power — rates just a single mpg better than a Silverado with a 5.3-liter V8 and 2 mpg higher than a Ram 1500 with a 5.7-liter V8. So even with the high-tech EcoBoost engine, the 2011 Ford F-150 still finds itself in a three-horse race whose winner will likely be decided by your brand loyalty or styling preferences.
The 3.5-liter, twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 kicks out 365 hp as well as a stout 420 pound-feet of torque. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, this engine gets the F-150 to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds — a seriously quick time for 5,400-pound truck and even better than what we've seen some big V8s post. The power is poured out in a seamless fashion, with just a hint of lag off the line followed by a strong, linear push well into freeway speeds. On long uphill grades, the broad torque spread means minimal (or no) downshifts are required to maintain cruising speed.
That six-speed automatic delivers very smooth and timely shifts, and when you do need it to step down a gear, it does so without making you stuff your foot into the firewall. Should you want to change gears for yourself, you can have at it via a rocker button located on the side of the shift lever.
The F-150's brakes are fully up to the task of bringing nearly 3 tons of hurtling truck to a stop. We recorded a 129-foot stopping distance from 60 mph, a good number for this segment. The brake pedal inspires confidence as well with a firm, progressive feel and it registers no apparent brake fade during long downhill descents.
On winding mountain roads the 2011 Ford F-150 corners with confidence, and it doesn't betray the stereotypical sway or tippiness you might associate with a truck. The steering calibration is somewhat slow, so at first you'll find yourself winding the wheel more than you'd expect, but once acclimated you'll find the steering to be precise, with no sloppiness on center. The steering effort is on the light side — which most folks seem to prefer — though there's still enough weighting in the effort level to let you know that you're piloting something bigger than a Ford Fiesta.
The Lariat's large, plush front seats seem to envelop you, yet they provide useful support. Though the tilt steering wheel doesn't also telescope, the power-adjustable pedals and wide range of seat adjustment easily accommodated staffers, who represent a wide range of sizes. Most would appreciate a grab handle on the driver side A-pillar just like the one on the passenger side, which makes it easier to clamber into this truck with its very tall step-in height. The optional cooled seats were especially appreciated when we happened to make a summer trip through Death Valley as part of a multi-vehicle comparison.
In back, the SuperCab (Ford lingo for an extended-cab pickup) offers ample if not abundant legroom, though the rear backrest is somewhat upright to maximize the available space. If you plan to carry adult-size passengers in the backseat on a regular basis, we'd suggest going with the roomier SuperCrew (i.e. crew cab) body style, which also features larger, conventionally opening doors. However, opting for the SuperCrew also means you'd get a smaller cargo box.
For the most part, the 2011 Ford F-150 delivers a fairly smooth ride; only the most severe impacts allow some jolts to reach the cabin. But the quietness within the F-150's cabin is most impressive. The current F-150 really has established a noteworthy standard of refinement thanks to its muted powertrain and careful control of wind and road noise.
Although the speedometer and tachometer are expectedly large, the rest of the gauges (e.g. fuel and temperature) are rather small. But thanks to their location up high in the panel they're still fairly easy to read at a glance. The multifunction display provides its info (such as average fuel economy) in a clear and easily accessed manner.
Climate and audio system controls consist chiefly of a lot of look-alike buttons, but their logical placement makes them easy to, umm, acclimate to. Ford's excellent Sync voice-control system makes pairing and using a cell phone simple, and the center stack's large touchscreen makes using the navigation system similarly intuitive.
Pack rats should be delighted at the generous in-cabin storage the F-150 provides. Large door pockets, a cubby in front of the shifter and a center console compartment offer plenty of space for water bottles, road trip snacks and what-have-you.
Putting a rear-facing child seat in back of this extended-cab truck is possible, although it limits the front passenger room to folks around 5 feet 7, as the front must be scooched forward quite a bit.
Design/Fit and Finish
With its upright, square-rigged style, the F-150 looks the way a truck should look — that is to say, not like a car. It is at once traditional yet modern, and Ford uses various grille designs to distinguish the different trim levels. We're partial to the mesh inserts seen on this Lariat EcoBoost test truck.
The cabin continues the rugged, square-jawed theme and features a mix of soft-touch (such as over the instruments) and hard materials. But though comprised chiefly of the latter, they have attractive graining and we noted even panel gaps throughout.
Who should consider this vehicle
Anyone who needs the broad-shouldered work capability of a full-size pickup along with an easy-driving and comfortable nature should look at the 2011 Ford F-150. But for the most part, that could be said of any of the big three. What's special about the F-150 is the available EcoBoost engine, which combines both very impressive performance and respectable fuel mileage.
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