The Ford F-Series pickup has been part of the American automotive landscape for the past 68 years. Since 1948, the full-sized Ford pickup has served over 34 million with the F-150 being the most popular model in the F-Series line.
We experienced this slice of Americana when the blue oval officially returned to the Philippines in 1997. At the time, it was a pickup line like no other with its bold styling, big V6 and V8 engines, and even bigger dimensions. However, rising fuel costs and traffic congestion soon made it rather uneconomical for the market; ushering the entry of its cousin the Ranger as more viable 'global' solution.
In a recent trip to North America, we got to experience the new-generation Ford F-150 to see whether there is something to miss (or not) about the full-size American pickup.
Now on its thirteenth generation, the new F-150 follows on the new Ford design direction previewed by the Atlas concept truck debuted at the 2013 North American International Auto Show. This pretty much defined the latest generation of the latest 'Built Tough' direction under the One Ford strategy. While most of the high-tech gadgets from the concept didn't make it to production form, we're glad the bulk of the styling components and functional bits actually did. The 'Sport 4X4' package was particularly appealing to me as it deleted most of the chrome from the exterior which I personally find tacky for a pickup. It also gets 18-inch wheels wrapped with 275/65R18 all terrain tires for that extra big, tough styling appeal.
Inside, the layout is pretty straightforward. It follows the basic form of the exterior with the functional bits and pieces as well as tech components carefully built into the ergonomic and well-thought-of layout. The design theme is the perfect combination of black and aluminum accents which makes it look good for work and play. Clearly this is an interior built by someone who actually uses a truck rather than an 'engineer' forcing someone to adapt to his own terms.
What I found particularly useful was the folding rear seats which allow for fully flat floor in-cab storage. The split seating also allows for an additional 1 or 2 passengers in the back seat while allowing for more storage inside. The 'bench-style' rear seats also allow sliding items underneath to temporarily keep them away from prying eyes. In addition, the center console is large enough to store larger items and can probably accomodate an extra front passenger had Ford installed bench seats.
While the amount of buttons may have seemed overwhelming when I first got into the truck, it soon made a lot of sense with the long distances that people drive in North America, compared to the usual Philippine routes where everywhere is rather near. Infotainment came in the form of Sync 2 with 'My Ford Touch' which was similar to what we used on the Ford Mustang that we found quite cumbersome. It is worth noting that the Blackberry QNX powered Sync 3 will be available in succeeding models to offer better UX and functionality.
One would normally expect a large displacement V8 standard in a pickup this size. For this generation of F-150 however, Ford put in a 2.7-liter Ti-VCT V6 EcoBoost engine. Rated at 330 PS and 508 Nm of torque, it promises mid-range V8 performance without the heft and consumption. Auto start-stop is fitted as standard for efficiency purposes as well. This was mated to a 6-speed SelectShift automatic transmission which I found to be properly matched with the engine in terms of gearing.
In the city, power and torque is more than adequate, especially with a 50 km/h speed limit (Richmond, BC) in place. Out on the highway, it felt just right for the average user, you could easily overtake slower cars and weave through traffic with the turbo kicking in to augment the rather 'small' (in comparison to the vehicle's size) engine. Driving uphill through winding mountain roads put the engine to task but nonetheless took it with ease as the revs stayed within the economical range. Fuel consumption was in the range of 6.8 kms/liter in the city with light to moderate traffic, while the figures went up to about 9.4 kms/liter (average 95 km/h) on the highway.
Apart from the turbocharged V6 under the hood, Ford has also done something different to the body of their perennial best-seller. To make the new F-150 more nimble and efficient, engineers made use of high-strength aluminum-alloy for the body structure and a high-strength steel frame. New technologies make it possible to make a light, yet durable structure which allows it to use smaller displacement engines aided by a turbocharger.
Suspension is standard modern pickup hardware with independent double-wishbone front and leaf sprung solid axle rear. The combination of the long wheelbase (3683 mm) and larger dampers do their best to keep a comfortable ride. In the city, with a mix of smooth and sometime rough (yes, they have bad roads in parts of Canada too) roads, ride comfort is what you would expect from a large American pickup or SUV: Supple.
While (obviously) not designed and engineered to carve corners, it still handled well on the winding mountain roads thanks to the combination of its smooth ride, taut suspension and high-tensile body structure.
Having driven the F-150 for a little over a week in its 'turf,' one would realize that it does feel very much at home. In terms of safety and convenience, it comes with traction control, roll stability control, blindspot warning, reverse sensors and rear view camera, and inflatable rear seatbelts. Size-wise the F-150 measures 5890 mm long, 2459 mm wide and 1920 mm tall; significantly larger than its Asian-built 'global' cousin the Ranger (5274mm x 2163mm x 1818mm).
In North America, this pickup makes sense with the continent's wide roads and generous parking spaces, not to mention these pickups see their beds getting cargo on a regular basis. It's easy to see why the F-150 has been America's (and Canada's) best selling pickup for over four decades. But bringing it all the way to the Philippines might be a bit too much. Simply put,our roads are too narrow and parking spaces too short for this big rig.