Test Drive: 2015 Ford F-150 Off-Road and Winter Test

Since the invention of modern pickups, there have only been three companies – all domestic – embedded in the collective consciousness of North Americans. Dodge or Ram, depending on the day, has been building pickups since 1921. The ‘GMC Truck’ name first appeared as early as 1912. But Ford beat General Motors by 12 years when, in 1900, Henry Ford built his third vehicle. It was a truck (though, to be fair, Ford’s first truck-specific chassis wasn’t built until 1917 and their first factory-assembled truck rolled off the line in 1925).

To say the Big 3 domestic automakers know trucks is like saying IBM knows a thing or two about computers. Or that Marilyn vos Savant, lauded as the “World’s Smartest Woman,” is kind of bright.

Speaking of vos Savant, in 1990 she encountered a problem similar to that experienced by pickup buyers of today.

To say the Big 3 domestic automakers know trucks is like saying IBM knows a thing or two about computers. Or that Marilyn vos Savant, lauded as the “World’s Smartest Woman,” is kind of bright.

The television game show Let’s Make A Deal presented by Monty Hall was first shown on NBC in 1963. The show would regularly give contestants a choice of three doors or curtains; behind one of them a fancy-new car and behind the other two a goat or other live animal the contestant likely wouldn’t want to pay taxes on nor take home as a prize.

A contestant would blindly choose a door or curtain – let’s say it’s door #1. The host would then show what was behind door #2 or #3, revealing one of the unwanted livestock. He’d follow up his reveal by giving the contestant an opportunity to stay with the one they originally picked (door #1 in our case), or switch to the other unopened door. Your call.

Vos Savant, now a columnist for Parade magazine (where she solves logic and math problems submitted by readers), was asked some decades later: Is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?

Small displacement no longer means small performance

Ford, with their virtually infinite resources, took a calculated gamble when deciding to go down the aluminum-bricked road. And while I could go on and on about the intricacies of aluminum-alloy body construction, seven hundred pounds of weight savings, and all the talking points Ford would love me to stick to, I won’t.

Yes, the aluminum body is important. So is the new 2.7L EcoBoost V6 sitting under the new-fangled aluminum hood atop the equally new-fangled fully boxed frame. Important also is all the best-in-class boasting a pickup truck buyer is used to and takes into consideration whenever he or she is about to spend copious amounts of coin.

But, it’s how it drives, how it feels, and how it performs in adverse conditions that you want to know. So, let’s stick to our own script.

As we set off from Quebec City in a 2.7L EcoBoost V6 powered F-150, one thing was apparent from the get-go: turbos make a difference. As we navigated the tight streets of arguably Canada’s most European of cities, the F-150 was nimble and never felt too big. Stop-and-go driving was a cinch. Best of all, the new EcoBoost-powered pickup delivered commendable fuel economy, though not as good as an equivalent Ram EcoDiesel.

Toward our destination, La Malbaie along QC-138, the boosted six provided a certain punchiness at high speeds, restraining us little during passing maneuvers considering its diminutive displacement. Even with my bias toward turbocharging, I did not expect the new mini-mill to perform as it did. Nor did I expect it to provide such auditory bliss. While it doesn’t sound nearly as good as a traditional V8, the two-seven bellows a note one wouldn’t dare call wimpy.

After the nearly 150-km journey to our destination, we arrived at Charlevoix Airport, serving the local region in a seasonal capacity. The small airstrip, with its exceptionally lavish main building, was our home for half of the day’s testing. And with its snow- and ice-covered airstrip, it was immediately obvious what was in store.

Or maybe not…

We sat down and listened as the program wranglers gave us the plan for the day. Yes, we would be testing the new F-150’s handling abilities on the flat surface of Charlevoix’s airstrip. But, we would also be heading to a local quarry where Ford prepared a number of challenges for our arrival.

Another F-150, this time a King Ranch equipped with a 5.0L Coyote V8, awaited us in the parking lot. On our drive to the new locale, another characteristic reared its head.

The big eight-cylinder, with its 385 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque, isn’t all that much more powerful than the small EcoBoost six. When you look on paper, they aren’t that different at all, except in displacement. The smaller mill pumps out 325 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque. And the smaller engine, thanks to less mass, doesn’t need to exert as much effort as its bigger brother with two extra cylinders and almost twice the displacement.

We arrived at the private quarry where the 5.0L King Ranch performed admirably. We came, we saw, and we conquered the high slopes of aggregate with ease. The F-150 was even comfortable over the rocky surfaces while the suspension did its best to keep the new lightweight body as neutral as possible.

Hill descent control worked as promised, inching us down hills without a single hiccup. Design features, such as the front-bottom-cut windows provided excellent visibility. Yet one feature – the new 360-degree camera – was a bit of a disappointment.

Thanks to either design by Ford programmers or government regulations, the new camera system that produces a full view around the vehicle in forward motion kicks out at a very low speed threshold. As we took runs at some of the upward grades with the feature turned on, the camera display would automatically vanish and you’d have to slow down before hitting the button again on the dash to reactivate the system. And by low threshold, I mean very low – below 10 km/h. Unless you are crawling at a snail’s pace, it’s useless.

Also, another very crucial bit should be mentioned – the F-150s we were driving were equipped with BFGoodrich’s newest all-terrain KO2 T/A tire. I’ve tested this tire and it’s a marvel of engineering, able to slay mud monsters and abominable snowmen with ease. It’s almost like cheating. Almost. To equip an F-150 with these rubber donuts could cost upwards of $1,400. That’s not a small cost.

Our next test, after leaving the confines of the quarry, were the handling tasks offered up at the airport. Again, with the same King Ranch F-150 as before, we attacked the snow with reckless abandon and the truck – along with the tires – ticked in perfect harmony like metronomes on a rolling base.

With all the electronic aids off, save rollover protection, the F-150 offered up some slides and awkward drifting. But, with everything turned back on, the electronics successfully kept us on the straight and narrow, restraining us from the traditional genocide automotive journalists inflict on traffic cones.

The Monty Hall Problem: Pickup Edition

Marilyn vos Savant answered her reader’s inquiry with a yes: if you switch doors, you’ll have a greater chance of winning – 2/3rds versus 1/3rd to be precise; not the ½ and ½ you’d expect. But, that depends on the host – or in the case of pickups, the dealer – not offering you an incentive to stick with your first choice.

On Let’s Make A Deal, Monty Hall would offer up cash to those willing to stay with their initial door of choice. Much like the host, dealers and automakers offer up loyalty bonuses to stay with the brand. “Stay with us and we will give you $1,000 toward your next truck!” they shout over the airwaves.

But, as good as the F-150 is (and it isn’t the bestselling truck because their buyers are delusional), it does have its foibles. For one, the interior isn’t best in class anymore. That crown goes to Ram. Same for in-cabin quiet, a quality that’s been a mainstay in General Motors pickups for years. Ram and Chevrolet/GMC also feature some amenities not offered on the Ford, such as the RamBox in the Ram trucks and movable tie-down hooks on the GM offerings. And that makes this pickup buying business all rather tricky considering the aforementioned odds.

To the Ford’s credit, it has the best engine lineup of the lot, offers significant weight savings, and has exclusive features of its own, like Box Link and the oft-maligned man-step the other two truck makers are more than willing to ridicule while developing their own versions behind the scenes.

So, let’s consider this: the Chevrolet and GMC twins, while great trucks, are the odd ones out at this point in the game. Their engine lineup is 9/10ths by the standards of the other two manufacturers and they don’t offer up quite enough unique features to trump the competition. This is the option Monty Hall is going to show you behind door #3.

If you’ve been in a Ram all your life, does it make sense to switch to a Ford? You betcha’. That means the inverse is also true. But, that said, incentives are an interesting factor easily swaying a buyer one way or another. And, if incentives are your game of choice, there’s still a number of 2014 F-150s with cash on the hood looking for a new home.

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Chevrolet Silverado
GMC Sierra
Nissan Titan
Ram 1500
Toyota Tundra

2015 Ford F-150 2.7L EcoBoost V6
2015 Ford F-150 2.7L EcoBoost V6
Base Price NA
Optional Equipment NA
A/C Tax NA
Destination Fee NA
Price as Tested NA
Optional Equipment