Test Drive: 2015 Ford F-150 FX4 EcoBoost

What an engine! Some truck guys think a 2.7L V6 has no place under the hood of a full-sized pickup, and that said engine would turn in acceleration on par with a tranquilized sloth and achieve torque output comparable to the average wrist watch.

Some truck guys think a 2.7L V6 has no place under the hood of a full-sized pickup, and that said engine would turn in acceleration on par with a tranquilized sloth and achieve torque output comparable to the average wrist watch.

But the new F-150’s newly-available little six uses twin turbochargers instead of more, larger cylinders, generating 325 horsepower and a manly 375 lb-ft of torque. That’s V8 territory, and all from an engine with two less cylinders and half the displacement. When you leave the trailer at home and you’re just going to Sears, cruising the highway in no particular rush, or inching slowly through the Timmies drive-thru, engines like this one burn less gas in their smaller, fewer cylinders.

Call it EcoBoost, twin-turbo, or whatever you like, but the principle is the same: off-loading power output to a turbocharger system lets engines drink less, more of the time.

Drive gently, and the twin compressors quietly whistle and hiss the F-150 along from low revs, with minimal hunting for a lower gear, thanks to the mountain of torque available from right above idle. It’s effortless in traffic and during gentle driving, happy to surge along without breaking 1,700 rpm. Remember: torque is the important figure when you’re moving something heavy, and this new little EcoBoost engine has heaps of it, from really, really low revs.

Hammer down, and the iron-block powerplant revs to the moon, passing 6,000 rpm eagerly with heaps of thrust. It goes like the wind. And this is the little EcoBoost V6: a bigger one is available, with 3.5 litres and twin-turbo making it 365 horses and over 400 lb-ft of off-idle torque. If you prefer, there’s a conventional V6, and a conventional 5.0L V8, too.

Why so many engines? Simple: shoppers want lots and lots of choices, and especially, choices that don’t make them pay for capability they don’t need when it comes time to fill up. For what the majority of truck guys use their trucks for, the majority of the time, this little EcoBoost is the one to get: very decent on fuel, heaps and gobs of power, and confident towing with a reduced gas bill. It’s win-win stuff.

Of course, the engine doesn’t work alone. An idle-slashing AutoStop system slashes eliminates wasteful idling, shutting the engine down at stoplights and stop signs and restarting the millisecond you release the brakes. It’s not the fastest reacting AutoStop system I’ve ever seen, but it operates smoothly and effectively.

There’s a new aluminum body, too. In case you haven’t opened a Pepsi lately, aluminum is strong and light and helps the F-150 shed hundreds of pounds over the previous model. Making a vehicle lighter is one of the most effective ways to make it burn less gas and perform better, and some versions of the F-150 with this 2.7L V6 pack a better power to weight ratio than competitive V8-powered models.

Mileage on my late winter test drive landed at 14.6 L/100 km, with frequent and vigorous use of the four-wheel drive, plenty of remote starting, and an engine that was far from completing break-in. That consumption figure is on par with a big six-cylinder family crossover, though it should improve notably once break-in is complete.

Of course, there’s more than just fuel saving technology going on in the latest F-150.

It’s a handsome looker, especially with the FX4 grade tester benching the glitzy grandpa chrome for a more casually sporty look. On board, the cabin is even bigger this time around, with split folding rear seats that fold down, or up, to deal with goings on in your gear-hauling world. Flip both seats upright, and you’ve got heaps of space for a grand worth of groceries, a pair of large canines, a bicycle or two, or even, if needed, a small inflatable mattress should you be out camping and forget your tent.

Up front, F-150 favours a clean and tidy cabin layout, with much of the same tech found in the last-generation model – including the same Sync central command infotainment system, which is getting a little old these days.

The new cabin has the mandatory storage pockets, centre console storage cavern, and charging ports you’ll find in any other big pickup. Ditto a household power outlet up front, and another one in the rear, for keeping your laptop, camera batteries and the like juiced on the move. Whether you’re a single guy using your F-150 as a hauling rig, or a family fella running a mobile office out of your truck, you’ll find the cabin backs you up well with thoughtful and handy stuff that you’ll appreciate on the daily. Of course, none of this is exclusive to the F-150.

But there is a lengthy list of touches that you won’t find elsewhere, which help Ford’s latest stand apart. Your writer loved the frameless power sliding rear window, which is slick-looking and gives this area of the truck a more modern look. Side mirrors were fitted with handy LED spotlights, which provide plenty of after-dark lighting for the campsite, job-site, or just if you’ve dropped something getting out of the door. The built-in rear tailgate step is handy for hopping up into the bed to do your truck-guy things, and the gigantic sunroof makes the monstrously large cabin look even bigger. With huge windows, a frameless rear window, and the giant sunroof overhead, it almost feels like you’re driving a giant glass box.

A tough one, too. The tester’s FX4 package added numerous off-road implements, key among them being an off-road tuned suspension calibration that turns in a relaxed ride on smoother or even lightly-uneven surfaces, though it comes off as pure tough on rough roads or trails. Whack a pothole, and it feels like said pothole got the lousy end of the deal. I found it to feel robust, rugged and manly, and I loved it. If you’ve got a frightening beard and enjoy plaid, you will too. Some drivers will find this setup uncomfortable and excessively rigid and jiggly, though – so be sure to visit a rough road if you’re test driving an FX4-grade model to see for yourself.

The FX4 package also adds a locking rear differential for reduced tendency to one-wheel-peel, since one-wheel peels are for peasants. Skid plates beneath help lay the smack down on things you drive over, too. Further, drivers can also select the traction level they need via a dash-mounted knob, quickly engaging two or four-wheel drive, or low-range, and then adding rear diff-lock, in any mode. Add in the digital inclination gauges and readouts for wheel articulation, and you’ve got a nifty little off-road toolkit at your disposal.

Steering is notable here, too. On account of the reduced weight and some revised calibrations, F-150’s steering now feels more closely matched to the size of the truck, the weight of the truck, and the tuning of its suspension. Not too quick, not too light, just a nice blend of effort and ratio that works well towards the overall feel. It lightens up at low speeds too, enhancing the possibility of parking this giant roadbeast without looking like a toolbag. Further, on really, really rough roads, the steering is isolated beautifully, never feeling like its tugging at your hands or fighting you as the front wheels try to sort out bumps in the road.

Other notes? The standard halogen headlights are decent, the stereo is pretty darn good for a standard unit, and the brakes are powerful, though the pedal lacks much meaningful feel and could be more precise.

Complaints? The window switches are mounted too far forward for folks without lengthy arms, the SYNC system operated inconsistently on my watch, often pausing to think, lagging, or refusing to respond for several seconds on several occasions. Further, the kick-to-open side steps mounted ahead of the rear wheels were likely frozen, as I couldn’t get either of them open, all week.

End of the day, the stand-out appeal with this new F-150 will include the innovative and modern feature content: there are tons of little touches on this truck that add up. And moreso, the promise of great fuel mileage to fit your needs, with a range of engines and the truck market’s best use yet of lightweight engineering.

Of course, other fuel-saving big trucks are out there. There’s the Dodge Ram EcoDiesel, which is a torque monster and gets silly good mileage, if you cough up the cash for its diesel engine. And the new generation GM trucks turn in pretty darn good mileage from conventional EcoTec V8 engines, which don’t cost extra, like that EcoDiesel, or the EcoBoost.

Eco trucks: they’re a thing now. A big one. If you’re test driving one, be sure to test drive all three.

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 FX4 4x4 Supercrew
2015 Ford F-150 FX4 4x4 Supercrew
Base Price $41,549
Optional Equipment XLT Package ($6,000), 2.7L EcoBoost Engine ($1,300), Inflatable rear belts ($200), Blind Spot Monitoring ($650), Twin Panel Moonroof ($1,750), Navigation ($800), FX4 Package ($750), LED mirror lights ($250), Box Steps ($300), Tailgate Step ($400), Sport Package ($500), Spray-in Bedliner ($550)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,700
Price as Tested $56,799
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.6
8 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
8 Interior
6 Comfort
8 Fuel Economy