Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing
Two years ago, Ford brought a then-new 2009 Ford F-150 to the North American truck market. A 6-inch boost in wheelbase accommodated both bigger cabs and longer rear springs, which in turn provided more hauling capacity and a smoother ride. A new six-speed gearbox improved drivability and fuel economy.
But something was glaringly absent: a competitive V8 engine. Dodge, GM and Toyota were already past 375 horsepower on the way to 400, but Ford's top offering could muster no more than 315 horses. The torque situation was only slightly less dire.
Needless to say, the Ford F-150 didn't fare so well in our 2009 full-size truck comparison test. Venerable, it seems, is a polite way of saying "outdated, but that's all we've got."
Finally, for 2011 Ford has introduced not one but three new solutions to this problem. The much-ballyhooed 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 turbo engine is far and away the star holding the mic, and the 6.2-liter V8 stands alongside on lead guitar.
But the new 5.0 V8 is destined to be the volume seller that drums up the lion's share of F-150 sales, so we're testing what statistics suggests is your next truck: a 2011 Ford-F150 SuperCrew 4x4 with XLT trim and a 5.0-liter V8 engine.
This all-new 5.0-liter V8 first appeared last year under the hood of the 2011 Mustang GT, the car that arguably created the 5.0 mystique back in the '80s. But this motor bears no resemblance to any previous 5.0-liter Ford V8.
It's an all-aluminum engine with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and, most importantly, independently and continuously variable intake and exhaust cam timing. In Mustang guise, the 5.0 V8 sports an 11.0:1 compression ratio and cranks out 412 hp and 390 pound-feet of torque on the recommended premium gasoline.
Chief among the changes for truck duty is a slightly lower 10.5:1 compression ratio that can more happily ingest a steady diet of 87-octane unleaded. E85 ethanol capability has been added and the intake cams have been reprofiled in the name of bottom-end torque. Nods to truckish durability include a forged-steel crank and cast exhaust manifolds.
Compared to the outgoing 5.4 V8, it's a significant step forward. Our XLT 5.0 V8 test truck packs 360 hp at 5,500 rpm and 380 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm, some 45 horses and 15 lb-ft of torque more than its predecessor.
Takin' It to the Streets (and the Track)
The new 5.0 chops 1.2 seconds off the 0-60 time of the last 2009 F-150 4x4 we tested, as our hulking 2011 SuperCrew 4x4 tester gets it done in 7.2 seconds (6.7 with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip). The quarter-mile comes and goes in 15.2 seconds at 92.5 mph, 0.9 second and a full 6.8 mph better than before.
On real roads the 2011 Ford F-150 5.0 feels plenty responsive and eager under the direction of the smooth-shifting six-speed automatic. The extra horsepower and torque deserves most of the credit, but at 5,616 pounds our test truck also weighs 424 pounds less than the fully loaded 2009 example tested previously. The difference is not merely a matter of options -- 75 pounds of weight loss comes from the 5.0's aluminum block.
The new V8's soundtrack is powerful and throaty whether haulin' or hauling, but a general reduction in stray mechanical noise and better underhood insulation also makes the 2011 F-150 quieter when loping along on cruise control.
And we visit the pump less often, too. Our observed fuel economy of 15.8 mpg pretty much nails the 16 mpg EPA combined rating. The 2009 test truck managed just 12.6 mpg in our hands -- typical behavior when too little engine is trying hard to move too much truck.
Turn, Turn, Turn
Not much is different in the suspension department apart from routine spring and damper tweaks to account for the lighter V8 lump under the hood. The 2011 F-150's ride is familiar, which is to say smooth and composed as far as a live axle and rear leaf springs go.
But steering is another matter, as the 2011 F-150 is the first pickup ever with electric power steering. Called EPAS by Ford (the added A is for "assisted"), the F-150 steers without any of the lightness and detachment we've bemoaned in previous Ford trucks. If all EPS systems made this kind of improvement, we would be big fans.
A rather slow 20.0:1 steering ratio carries over, so this F-150 is still a handful through the slalom. Still, our 4x4 eased through our cone course at 56.7 mph, about 0.8 mph faster than the '09 4x4 and about equal to a 4x2 SuperCrew. To no one's surprise, strong understeer defines the limit of its 0.72g skid pad run, which similarly bests a 2009 4x4 and equals the corresponding 4x2.
There are slightly larger front brake rotors this time -- 13.8 inches instead of 13 inches -- and our measured stopping distance of 125 feet is 2 or 3 feet better than previous experience on the smaller brakes.
Tow the Line
Everything we've seen so far would suggest that the F-150 5.0 should be a better tow vehicle than the otherwise similar 2009 F-150 from our comparison test.
That would be true, but you won't see it in the tow ratings. Our 2009 F-150 tester was rated to tow 11,200 pounds -- the most in its class -- despite a lukewarm engine. Today, the top tow rating for a 2011 F-150 with this more powerful 5.0-liter V8 is 10,000 pounds. Huh?
No standard for tow rating method existed in 2009, but now the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has unveiled standard J2807, an industry-accepted method for figuring tow ratings. Cooling system capacity, handling and braking are part of it but, much like our own customer-oriented test method, so is uphill towing performance. No longer can one put massive radiators on a truck and claim a high rating at a relative snail's pace.
To get a 2011 Ford F-150 up near the max of 11,300 pounds you'll need to opt for either the 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine or the 6.2-liter V8, the two rock-star engines that sit above the 5.0 V8 in both power and price.
The 2011 F-150's cab is only a couple of years south of its last makeover, so it still feels new and fresh. And it turns out it looks damn good inside with XLT trim.
You'll want to add $950 for the XLT Convenience package to get Sync, Bluetooth, power mirrors and driver seat, leather wrapped-steering wheel and a newly offered 4.2-inch LCD information screen. The LCD screen, sandwiched between the speedo and tach, contains a comprehensive trip computer with MPG coaching feedback, as well as trailer towing and off-road display screens.
Ours came dressed in the $1,595 XLT Chrome package consisting of chrome on the billet-style grille, tow hooks, exhaust tip, door handles, running boards and also the 18-inch wheels with upgraded P275/65R18 all-terrain tires. Add another $375 for the Trailer Tow package with the hitch, wiring, extra cooling and manual shift override buttons.
Take all three packages and you get $1,500 back. It's a silly pricing game, but $1,420 for all of the above makes it worth playing. With a base price of $36,870, our 5.0-liter V8-powered 2011 F-150 Crew Cab 4x4 carried an as-tested price of $39,215. Yeah, trucks are expensive these days.
The Beat Goes On
Over the last couple years the Ford F-150 devolved somewhat into a great truck in need of a decent engine as the competition came to market with more firepower. That's all fixed now. The new 5.0-liter V8 in the 2011 Ford F-150 is a very capable piece. It's got significantly more performance, drivability and refinement than the top-level engine it replaces -- quite possibly just the right amount of each for most light-truck buyers.
Is it the most powerful engine in the half-ton class? Nope. But as the "lesser" of three new replacements for the 5.4 V8, it doesn't have to be. Ford F-150 buyers who want more have further options. The F-150 and its perennial sales dominance looks to be in good shape for years to come.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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