The nation's best-selling vehicle always makes headlines when it gets redesigned, but the 2015 Ford F-150 represents one of the most extensive redesigns of any vehicle we can remember.
Its all-aluminum cab and bed has rightly garnered the most attention. But we're really impressed by the everyday benefits of the new cab, thoroughly modernized interior and the mind-boggling array of new features. And the all-new 2.7-liter twin-turbo Ecoboost V6 is the real deal, combining tractable power with impressive fuel economy.
What Is It?
This all-new 2015 Ford F-150 represents the dawn of the 13th generation of the perennial best-selling light-duty full-size pickup truck. It would be the world's biggest understatement to say this is a competitive segment, and new releases from crosstown rivals Ram and General Motors have ratcheted up the pressure. It was time for a big move, and Ford has delivered.
Almost everything is new, but the best parts of the outgoing truck carry over. The 5.0-liter V8 and 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engines are here. Both were introduced halfway through the last design cycle and have plenty of life left in them. The six-speed automatic transmission comes with them and covers every engine in the range.
The new F-150 also sticks with a leaf spring rear suspension. Ram may have earned a bucketload of praise and some new converts for its switch to coil springs, but Ford doesn't feel the need to follow that path with such a big sales lead.
What Has Changed?
Besides, Ford's brain trust had a more radical change in mind: aluminum. The entire body — hood, fenders, cab, doors, bed, tailgate — is made of high-strength military-grade aluminum. The result is a dramatic weight loss to the tune of 700 pounds in the larger cab and bed combinations.
It's not all down to aluminum, though. High-strength steel makes up 78 percent of the fully boxed frame (up from 22 percent) and this enables the use of thinner material. Combine this with other clever design changes and you get a stronger frame that weighs some 70 pounds less.
The point of this extreme diet comes down to the numbers that matter in this segment: payload, towing capacity, MPG. For a given GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating), a lighter truck can handle more payload. The same relationship applies to GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating) and towing capacity. And a significantly lighter truck will accelerate faster and burn less fuel.
There are four engines available bookended by the base normally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 and the range-topping 3.5-liter twin-turbo Ecoboost V6. In between lie the new 2.7-liter twin-turbo Ecoboost V6 and the obligatory 5.0-liter V8. The entry-level normally aspirated V6 engine has been shrunk from 3.7 to 3.5 liters because the XL and XLT trucks it comes in have shed hundreds of pounds.
The new 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 makes a healthy 325 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque. That puts it just below the 5.0-liter V8 in the power hierarchy but far ahead in efficiency. This new turbo V6 just may be the perfect choice for truck users who want some sauce but don't need to tow more than about 8,000 pounds. It has a new start-stop system, too, which promises to cut fuel use for truck-driving city and suburban types.
The new cabs contain everyday benefits that are clearly visible. The front doors have been shortened some 2 inches so the rear doors could be made longer. The result is greatly increased access to the rear of the SuperCab and SuperCrew cabs with zero negative impact up front.
The side window glass extends an inch lower, and the F-150's familiar window dip behind the rearview mirrors now sags an extra 2 inches. This produces excellent outward visibility and a vastly more open feeling. And it's not just a visual trick. The front row of the cab is 0.8 inch wider inside at shoulder height and 2 inches broader at hip level.
And there are way too many new features and options to list. Interior highlights include pushbutton start, an 8-inch "productivity" screen between the gauges and 110-volt outlets that can supply 400 watts. LED lighting abounds, including spotlights on the rearview mirrors.
For the first time advanced safety features like forward collision warning, blind spot and cross-traffic alerts, lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control are available. The rearview camera can be upgraded to a full 360-degree system. You can even get Ford's parallel-parking assist system on the 2015 F-150.
How Many Trim Levels Are There?
Anyone who was perplexed by the current Ford F-150 lineup will appreciate 2015's simplified grade strategy. The range begins with the XL work truck, moves on to the volume-selling XLT and Lariat models and finishes off with the loaded King Ranch and Platinum variants.
Last year's off-road flavored FX4 trim has been converted to an off-road package option that can be added to any trim level. The FX2 and STX trim levels are also history, replaced instead by a Sport Appearance Package for XL, XLT and Lariat.
The XL and XLT are offered in all six cab and bed-length permutations spread across all five wheelbase variants. The Lariat comes as a SuperCab with a 6.5-foot bed or an 8-foot bed or the SuperCrew with a 5.5-foot short bed or 6.5-foot standard bed. King Ranch and Platinum buyers are locked in to the SuperCrew cab, but can choose between the short or standard beds.
The normally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 comes standard in XL and XLT, up to and including the SuperCrew with the short bed. Longer XL and XLT trims come standard with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost (4x2) or 5.0-liter V8 (4x4). The Lariat gets the 2.7-liter Ecoboost as its standard offering and the V8 is the base engine in the King Ranch and Platinum. Any of these can be upgraded all the way to the 3.5-liter Ecoboost twin-turbo V6 engine.
As for the Raptor, it's on hiatus until the 2017 model year debuts.
How Does It Drive?
As advertised, the new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 moves out smartly and packs a powerful punch, enough to propel our 4x4 test sample from zero to 60 mph in 6 seconds flat at our track. That's some 0.6 second quicker than the 3.5-liter Ecoboost-equipped steel-bodied 2013 F-150 4x4 we tested a couple of years back. Clearly, the aluminum weight-loss program is paying dividends here.
Along the way the 2.7's engine growl is satisfyingly powerful, with a faint overlay of wheeze from its two tiny turbochargers. There's precious little lag as they spin up thanks to ultra-short exhaust manifolds that are cast into the heads themselves.
The 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 feels more potent in this lighter truck, but it also sounds more powerful than previous examples. From inside the cadence is that of a V8, which made us suspicious. Turns out the engine sound of both EcoBoost engines is being auto-tuned through the stereo speakers. Say what you will, but this fakery doesn't come across as fake.
A new Sport shift mode has been added alongside the familiar Normal and Tow-Haul modes. It improves performance by holding gears longer, kicking down more eagerly and downshifting as we brake into corners. But the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine doesn't need it to feel gutsy. Normal mode and Drive make for smooth running thanks to a healthy 375 lb-ft of torque that peaks at 3,000 rpm.
The overall lightness of the 2015 Ford F-150 makes it feel more nimble, a sensation that is further enhanced by a quicker 17.0-to-1 steering ratio in the popular SuperCrew short-bed configuration. Last year the same wheelbase suffered from a ponderous 20.0-to-1 steering gearbox.
But we're on the fence when it comes to the assist calibration of the electronic power steering. The feeling is a bit light, without much buildup in corners to help the driver sense what's going on. We like the Ram 1500 better here, but at least the F-150 duplicates the feel that current F-150 customers expect.
What About Ride Comfort?
On typical roads our empty XLT SuperCrew 4x4 with 18-inch Goodyear rubber shivers a bit as the leaf spring suspension struggles to filter out the small stuff. And that's the rub about the new F-150's lightweight body and the higher payload it enables; the difference between empty and fully loaded has widened, so the rear leaf spring calibration necessary to shoulder the load makes our empty F-150 feel a bit bound up.
Still, the damping is quite effective, and the front and rear play well together when the bumps grow larger. The bigger dips and cattle guards we encounter are sucked up with no crash or kick. Glassy-smooth interstate miles roll by with no float whatsoever.
The 18-inch Goodyears don't make much noise unless the road itself is well past its sell-by date. More noticeable is the early whisper of wind noise that enters the picture at the relatively low speed of 40 mph. But it's never a turbulent sound, and instead of ramping up as speed increases it eventually melts into the background.
What Is the Interior Like?
Extra interior cab width enables wider front-seat spacing for a broader console that both front-seat occupants can share as an armrest. The door armrests match perfectly and the lower side glass is friendlier to those who like to hang their elbow out the window.
Thinner front seats with re-contoured backsides enhance rear legroom and knee clearance to give rear-seat occupants more space. There was never a shortage, but the extra space makes it that much more pleasant. None of this ruins the comfort of the front seats, and the high-end Platinum and King Ranch versions can even be fitted with — wait for it — seat massage systems.
Materials quality is up everywhere we look and touch. And the layout and tactile feel of the various buttons and knobs is light-years ahead of the previous model. It's a big step forward, but enough of the familiar Ford vibe remains to appease the traditionalists.
The console shifter deserves special mention. It's chunky, has good action and fits well in the palm of your hand. And it has just the right shape to make a handy armrest while you fiddle with the climate control system or MyFord touchscreen.
From the Lariat on up, a revised and enlarged 8-inch "productivity" screen sits between the two main gauges. The array of information on offer is substantially greater, but it's also simpler to sift through thanks to the addition of a customizable home screen and a tab structure to quickly identify the various data categories.
What About Cargo and Towing?
As we said before, less weight in the body means more capacity for towing and hauling. The new base 3.5-liter V6 can carry 1,910 pounds and tow up to 7,600 pounds, and the new 2.7-liter EcoBoost has a maximum payload of 2,250 pounds and can tow as much as 8,500 pounds.
Year-over-year differences become clear when we look at the carryover 5.0-liter V8, which can now tow as much as 11,100 pounds instead of 10,000 pounds. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 can now tow up to 12,200 pounds, some 900 pounds more than before. Both can be equipped to shoulder optional maximum payloads in the 3,300-pound neighborhood.
Significantly, these tow rating increases come despite Ford's long-overdue switch to the SAE J2807 tow rating standard. We wonder why it waited because these increases are larger than the weight savings that came with all that aluminum.
The new beds benefit greatly from a new BoxLink system with integrated sockets for tie-down cleats, bed dividers, cargo ramps and other accessories yet to be dreamed up by the aftermarket. The optional tailgate step has been greatly simplified and better hidden. A pair of LED cargo lights sit just inside the tailgate and another shines overhead from the center-mount stop lamp.
On the towing side, the trailer brake controller, extendable towing mirrors and extended-range 36-gallon gas tank are all pick-and-choose options. And the optional 360-degree camera system includes a guide line that moves as you turn the wheel to help you guide the hitch ball under the trailer on the first try.
How About Off-Road?
As ever, the F-150 4x4 consists of a part-time four-wheel-drive system with a low-range transfer case. The 4x4 models cost between $3,500 and $4,500 more than their 4x2 counterparts, depending on configuration.
An electronic locking rear differential can be added for prices that range between $420 and $570, depending on the ratio. This pushbutton-activated unit will stay engaged up to 20 mph, and four-wheel drive does not have to be engaged for it to work.
But the locking diff comes standard if you spend $770 on the FX4 off-road package, which also adds skid plates, hill descent control, unique shock absorber tuning and the inevitable stickers on the sides of the bed. It's a pretty tempting bargain.
Our brief off-road drive didn't let us push the truck to its limit, but it was rough enough and sufficiently tight to appreciate the worth of the FX4 shocks and the value of that new 17-to-1 steering ratio. The optional 18-inch all-terrain tires doled out good grip on slippery surfaces. And the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 demonstrated ample torque and predictable throttle response at low speed in delicate situations.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
When it comes to fuel efficiency, the new 2.7-liter Ecoboost engine leads the way with an EPA rating of 22 mpg in combined driving. That's the highest combined number available in a gasoline-powered half-ton pickup. The Ram 1500 Ecodiesel is the only half-ton truck with a higher rating.
Both the base 3.5-liter V6 and the twin-turbo Ecoboost 3.5-liter V6 are now rated at 20 mpg in combined driving while the 5.0-liter V8 delivers 18 mpg in combined driving according to the EPA.
How Much and When Can I Get One?
At the low end, an XL regular cab short bed 4x2 with the basic normally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 starts at $26,615.
Move midway up the range to a Lariat SuperCab 4x2 with a 6.5-foot standard bed and you'll be looking at an asking price of $39,880. A top-of-the-line Platinum SuperCrew with the 5.5-foot short bed will set you back $52,155 before you add any upgrades.
Longer beds vary in price from as little as $300 to just over a thousand. The upgrade cost of the 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost ranges between $400 and $1,995 depending on which trim level and standard engine you're starting from.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
On a pure sales basis, the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500-series pickups are the Ford's biggest rivals. Both trucks underwent their full redesign just one year ago, and dimensional changes to the crew cab really paid off. These trucks benefit from a lineup of three powerful and efficient EcoTec 3 engines.
The 2014 Ram 1500 has been increasing its market share thanks to a functional and attractive cab and class-exclusive features like smooth-riding coil-spring rear suspension, available four-corner air suspension, a standard eight-speed transmission and an available diesel engine. The Ram's direct-injected 3.6-liter base gasoline V6 engine is a strong choice and the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is, well, a Hemi V8.
The 2015 Toyota Tundra was redesigned last year, too. The truck is solidly built, and its new interior is quite an improvement over the last generation. But its engine and transmission lineup was ignored in this round of updates. The carryover V8 and six-speed transmission are a strong pairing, but fuel economy lags behind.
Why Should You Consider This Truck?
If you're a Ford fan, there is no reason to shy away from this truck. Huge strides have been made, and there's a lot of exciting new content here.
Cross-shoppers and fence sitters will also find a lot to like here. The new 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine seems set to offer more than adequate capability and excellent fuel economy for those who don't want to buy something like Ram's 1500 diesel.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Truck?
The 2015 Ford F-150 seems laser-focused on the numbers in an attempt to appeal to those who want the most payload capability they can get. In so doing, the average gap between empty and full has widened, and that means those who don't load up their trucks that often may notice the busier unladen ride.
If your payload needs are modest, if you'll be hauling bulky items instead of heavy ones, if a smooth and quiet unladen ride counts for something, you might prefer the Ram 1500 pickup.
The manufacturer provided this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.