2015 Ford F-150: High Sierras Road Trip — Impressive Performance at Altitude
June 14, 2015
Mono Lake is a little-known landmark to those who live outside of California. Perhaps you've heard of its neighbor: Yosemite National Park. I recently drove our 2015 Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4x4 pickup up there with a group of friends for some hiking and abandoned-mine exploring.
Our weekend base of operations was the tiny town of Lee Vining, California, elevation 6,731 feet. The route north from our Orange County starting point is pretty much a straight shot up U.S. Route 395, a long desert highway if ever there was one.
If this sounds the least bit familiar, this was the end-of-May road trip that was alluded to in our recent May fuel economy update.
Before we went on any side trips, I refilled the F-150's tank to isolate the 353 mostly-highway miles we drove to get here. It took 18.501 gallons to refill the tank, which works out to 19.1 mpg. The good news is that this was the F-150's best tank to date despite an uphill-trending route that climbed about 6,700 feet.
The bad news is that our 2.7-liter 4x4 F-150's EPA highway rating is 23 mpg. And this new "best tank" still fell short of its EPA combined rating of 20 mpg, which shouldn't be much of a challenge for a highway-heavy effort such as this.
Our next stop was the Log Cabin mine, an abandoned gold mine that sits at nearly 10,000 feet on a little-used dirt track. The route is stunning, but the last half gets steep and rocky. Signs warn of the need for high clearance and four-wheel drive.
I've seen far worse after coming across one of these signs, but they were not kidding. There were enough dug-out frame twist holes, steep inclines and loose rocks to keep the 2WD vehicles in our caravan from proceeding further. Meanwhile, 4WD-high was enough for our F-150 to negotiate the worst of it with a yawn, even after taking on extra passengers and gear.
Actually, it was more of a whine as the twin turbochargers of the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine spun up enthusiastically to compensate for the lack of atmosphere at this elevation. Unlike the lone surviving normally-aspirated 4x4 that followed behind, the F-150 exhibited no loss of power as it climbed the relentlessly steep trail. This motor is equally impressive at altitude.
We drove from spot to spot throughout the weekend, getting out and exploring the fissures at Black Point near Mono Lake, hiking around some High Sierra lakes near Tioga Pass at the doorstep of Yosemite. It was all very breathtaking, and not just because of the altitude.
I filled up the Ford once again before heading home to isolate our group's wandering high-altitude miles. This exploratory phase of our trip consisted of just 136 miles at 15.7 mpg.
I had high hopes for the highway fuel economy on the return trip, which would benefit from a loss of 6,700 feet along the way. Maybe the F-150 could finally break the mythical (and frankly modest) 20-mpg barrier.
Our route home was a slightly longer one, too, which I figured would be a benefit because the added loop had 45- and 55-mph speed limits that would lower the return trip's average speed.
But it was not to be. Our 458-mile return leg went down at a very disappointing 17.6 mpg. Blame a near-constant desert headwind for that. The flags we saw along the way weren't straight out, but they were close. We just can't catch a break.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 9,001 miles at trip's end